If an ale is cask conditioned with cascara, should it be called a caskcara? You can cask—err, ask Steve Pominski, the brewmaster and owner of Barrage Brewing Co. in East Farmingdale: He is experimenting with cascara, the dried fruit and skins of coffee cherries, in a new beer he will debut this weekend at Blue Point Brewing Co.’s Cask Ales Festival.
The idea was born in February, when Pominski and Georgio Testani, the owner of Georgio’s Coffee Roasters in Farmingdale, started working on a cream ale brewed with coffee. The Cream Team first sampled eight joes from the specialty roaster by cupping, the specific, multistep process in which industry professionals taste, analyze, and grade different beans for quality. “It’s how you separate the Jimi Hendrixs from the ones who shouldn’t be playing guitar,” Testani said.
The pair then drank tea brewed from cascara, which means peel, skin, or husk in Spanish. This is the outer layer of the coffee cherry and is typically treated as a byproduct of the coffee-production process—either composted, used as feed, or discarded altogether once the green beans, which are really seeds, have been removed from the round, ripe red fruit and are ready for roasting. But not always: for centuries in countries like Yemen and Ethiopia, the fruit of the coffee plant has been dried and brewed as tea (and often steeped along with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg), called quishr, or hashara.
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Though it’s not commonly found in retail shops, a growing number of coffee roasters have started selling cascara in recent years, and all kinds of creative beverages highlighting its sweet, fruity flavor and subtle caffeinated boost have emerged, including sodas, cocktails, and beer. That’s right: While Barrage is the first we’re aware of to make use of the coffee-husk stuff on the East Coast, both New Belgium and Dry Dock in Colorado have released ales with it.
Using the versatile adjunct is a “no-brainer,” said Pominski, who has gained some notoriety for brewing beers with unexpected flavors, including Devil’s Whisper, a “cappuccino tiramisu milk porter,” and Assault N Fudgery, a “salted caramel fudge porter.” A big fan of “Seinfeld,” he also makes three beers, all brown ales, incorporating foods featured in episodes of the consecrated sitcom: Yada Yada Yada (Snickers bars), The Restivus (chocolate babka), and Hootchie Mama (Bosco Chocolate Syrup).
“I was completely blown away. I’ve never had anything like it,” Pominski said of Testani’s cascara, which is being sold at the roaster’s shop for $40 a pound. (It’s worth noting that, like coffee, the flavor profile is dependent on where the cascara is grown. His crop is from Aida Batlle, a highly regarded fifth-generation farmer in El Salvador.) “My immediate thought was that it could work great with the crisp, lightly sweet canvas of a cream ale.”
About two weeks ago, Pominski added five pounds of the little dried coffee cherries to his cask ale (roughly one pound per gallon of beer), and expects the conditioning will impart a “rich, rust-red color and flavors such as cherry and dark chocolate, along with a dry, tannic finish.” And if the test batch is well-received at the cask festival, he plans to brew a larger one and age it in wine barrels—so should the result be called a cascabernet?
Barrage Brewing Company Cascara at the Cask Ales Festival, sold out, Saturday from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. at Blue Point Brewing Co., 161 River Avenue, Patchogue, bluepointbrewing. com/cask-fest.