Most everyone has heard of cacao, or cocoa, the roasted, sweetened and pulverized bean that becomes chocolate, but few have ever tried or seen the cacao fruit. Recently though, Lompoc Brewing and myself teamed up with the Portland Fruit Beer Festival and a company called Repurposed Pod to brew a Cacao Cream Ale using pure cacao fruit juice. Repurposed Pod is a cool new company that has teamed up with farmers in Ecuador to save and process the Cacao Fruit for a new product simply called Cacao Juice that is being marketed as a health drink but also, increasingly, as a drinks ingredient.
Repurposed Pod was kind enough to send a case of small bottles to Lompoc Brewing for us to try and decide if it was a viable ingredient for a beer. I was blown away by the flavor of the Cacao Juice, which does not taste like chocolate at all but has the look and consistency of coconut water and the tropical flavor of pineapples and bananas. We knew we wanted to brew with this ingredient and the collaboration became the Cacao Cream Ale which debuts this weekend at the Portland Fruit Beer Festival.
Most of the world’s chocolate is farmed in Central and Southern America within 10 miles of the equator where the Theobroma cacao tree thrives in the hot, wet climate. These trees produce football shaped green fruit that is the cacao pod. Inside that fruit and it’s yellow-white flesh are white fleshy large beans. The beans and pulp are removed from the pod and sun dried where they undergo a natural fermentation due to the sugars, heat and natural spontaneous yeasts and bacteria. The flesh ferments away leaving the bean which is eventually roasted, ground and combined with sugar to become chocolate. The dried up and roasted beans are the nibs, dry, nutty and bitter, the nibs are similar to coffee beans before they are ground and steeped to make coffee, except the finished chocolate product is much sweeter.
Farmers in cacao growing regions remove the pods from trees, slice them open with machetes and remove the beans and flesh by hand. The rest of the fruit is typically discarded except what little comes out with the beans to later be processed into chocolate.
Repurposed Pod works with the farmers to save that white flesh of the fruit and press it into pure cacao juice. The juice is flash-pasteurized on the farm to keep it stable and prevent natural fermentation. As Steven Wood, Creative Mixologist for Repurposed Pod told me, they initially did experience fermentation in the juice even before they could pasteurize it, it’s like the fruits sole purpose is to ferment which also makes it a natural for beer, and I can imagine, some day, distillation. After the juice is sent to America, they also high-pressure pasteurize it for packaging. Repurposed Pod is putting their juice into small, personal sized cartons.
Lompoc Brewing and I teamed up with Repurposed Pod to get larger packages of frozen Cacao juice sent to Portland. Some of it ended up at Woodblock Chocolate, perhaps destined to become a cacao soda drink they are developing and more may make it into other local beers. Our collaboration with Repurposed Pod and Lompoc is just the second beer to be brewed with Cacao juice that we know of.
Before we received the bulk frozen cacao juice, Lompoc head brewer Bryan Kielty brewed a Cream Ale. I thought that a cream ale would be the best vessel to let the cacao juice sing, especially since we werent sure how much of the flavor would be lost in fermentation, or how much juice we cold even get or need to get the flavor to come through. Plus, it works as the same sort of concept as White Chocolate or a Blonde Stout since the juice is actually hazy white and the cream ale golden blonde. We also decided to add actual cocoa nibs for two reasons; so that people trying the beer wouldn’t be disappointed to find no chocolate flavor, and to play up that contradiction of chocolate being dark in color.
The Cacao Juice didn’t make it to Portland until a little late into the brewing process. We may have added some into primary fermentation but instead mixed it into the brite tanks at the same time the beer was added. We also added about 1lb of cacao nibs per barrel at this point.
The beer sat for a week in light refermentation with the juice before we got to try it. At a media preview for the Fruit Beer Festival, Bryan Kielty pulled off a couple growlers of the unfinished beer to try. Though the fermentation is essentially over, it’s still mingling and picking up flavor from the nibs and mellowing out. The beer as we tried it was a magical fruit cocktail, a tart and sweet malted milkshake of a beer reminiscent of a Piña Colada without much coconut but more carmel malt. The chocolate flavor from the nibs also comes through to create a true dessert beer. It’s admittedly quite sweet but there is also a ton of juicy tartness to balance it out and so many fun flavors that it’s truly something unique.
From the time we had it, the beer has sat melding with the juice and nibs for another week or so to pick up even more flavor. I can’t wait to taste the final product at the Portland Fruit Beer Festival this weekend June 8-10th at 7th and E. Burnside. I expect you will find more on tap at Lompoc Brewing shortly thereafter. Track down Repurposed Pod’s Cacao Juice at https://repurposedpod.com