The Great Potoo

Back in February, my wife and I left the tundra of Albany and took a vacation in Costa Rica. For most of the trip, we stayed at Cashew Hill Jungle Cottages in the very veg-friendly town of Puerto Viejo. The food was excellent and plentiful. Wendy, one of the owners of Cashew Hill, is a long time vegan and at least one other guest was also vegan. Their advice helped us choose among the many food options in and around town. For better or for worse, most of C.R. does not have the infrastructure we in the U.S. are accustomed to. The novelty of roads and an electric grid has barely worn off for most of the natives, so don’t go expecting to stock your cabinets with 365 deals from Whole Foods Market. Nonetheless, in large part thanks to Wendy at Cashew Hill, you can find soy milk at the local grocery store in Puerto Viejo and locally made tofu and tempeh is available in town. Also, Veronica of Veronica’s Place, a small vegetarian café situated in Veronica’s car port, makes her own seitan.  Most of the meals out  involved Gallo Pinto, a traditional Tico rice and bean dish, and generous portions of fresh “exotic” (to us anyway) fruit. Since we were on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, several meals involved really tasty jerk sauce or coconut curry. The beer selection was dominated by Heineken and fizzy yellow beers made by Cerveceria. The best beer available was Bavaria Dark, a Munich Dunkel. Good enough to hold me over, but boring enough to make me appreciate the micro-brewed cerveza available back home.

Two things that keep Costa Rica’s economy running are coffee and chocolate. Unfortunately, the sad reality is most of the cash crops grown in Costa Rica are stripped out by enormous agribusinesses, leaving behind pollution and exploited impoverished communities. Fortunately, not everyone is trying to F things up for this beautiful place. There are a number of businesses and organizations working with local farmers to promote environmentally sensitive organic farming and sustainable, community-empowering trade policies. In Puerto Viejo, we had breakfast at a place called Mighty Rivers, one such organization trying to make a difference. Part of Mighty Rivers is a “Coffee Factory,” where fair trade organic coffee and cocoa is roasted and sold as Caribean organic coffee and chocolate. I picked up a pound of whole cocoa beans and a block of bakers chocolate.  Crucial ingredients for a homebrew recipe I had thought up while relaxing in the hammock in our cottage. The cocoa, along with some old Dean Beans Italian Espresso seemed like a nice touch to an organic Imperial Porter, which I named The Great Potoo after a crazy red-eyed bird local to C.R. From our cottage, we heard the eerie cries of the Potoo in the middle of the night and wondered what the hell was about to attack us. Evil.

So a few weeks back, Kevin came up to Albany and helped brew up the porter, along with my friend Reed. Here is the recipe I came up with, using all organic grains from Northern Brewer.

14.00 lb  2-Row Malt
2.00 lb  Munich Malt
1.50 lb Caramel 60L Malt
1.00 lb Organic Quick Oats (added to the recipe last minute – see below)
.50 lb Chocolate Malt

1 oz Chinook (08 crop from my garden) 90 min
.5 oz Organic German Saphir pellets (4% AA) 15 min

2 packs Safale US-04

2.5 oz bakers chocolate (15 mins)
3 oz Dean’s Beans coarsely ground espresso beans (flame out)

1.5 oz Cocoa beans (secondary)

I attempted to Mash at 154 with 4.3 gallons of water, but it was a bit lower – maybe 152. That quickly cooled down to around 150 before we could get boiling water into the mash to bring it back up. To add some body I lost with the lower mash temp, I added a pound of quick oats I had on hand. Mashed for about an hour, then sparged and collected about 7.75 gallons of wort. I hit the gravity I estimated I would end up with, based on the shitty efficiency I keep getting (65%, which is, sadly,  good for me).  Pre-boil gravity 1.059. After a 2.5 hour boil, I ended up with 5 gallons of 1.082 wort. I tried to melt the bakers chocolate with some hot wort, before adding it to the kettle. It did not melt completely, but I expected the rest to liquefy in the last 15 minutes of the boil. Turned out to be a huge mess, as most of the chocolate did not melt and just gunked up the kettle with a waxy chocolate coating.

Fermentation was a little warm, despite the room temperature being in the low 60s. It started at about 68 and climbed up to about 70 – 72 for a day or two before finally dropping down to 66 for the last few days of fermentation. When I transfered to secondary, my gravity was 1.012, which is about .10 points lower than expected. Way over attenuated, hot tasting, and thin boddied. Not sure how this will come out. The color is off too – almost brown ale color. I would normally add black patent, but NB did not have any organic. Maybe more chocoalate malt could have helped with that.

Anyway, I removed the skins from 1.5 oz of cocoa beans, crushed them into nibs with a coffee grinder and added to the secondary.

I’ll keep it on the cocoa nibs for about two weeks and see how it tastes. I may brew up another full-bodied robust porter to blend with this to cut out the boozyness and give it more body. Just not sure if I want 10 gallons of heavy porter going into the summer.