Roasted-to-order Brazilian coffee and strong Belgian-style ale may appear to fall at opposite ends of the craft-beverage spectrum, but master roaster Joel Shuler, owner of Casa Brasil, and brewmaster Jordan Weeks, owner of South Austin Brewing Company (SABC), prove them to be a perfect pairing at their monthly Up & Down Tour—a fun, industry-level look inside the raw materials, production and tastes associated with these world-class beverages.
“Both of us share a passion for the technical side and the geeky side of things, so this is a very in-depth class,” says Shuler.
The four-hour tour, which takes place amid the roasters and various beer-brewing vessels of these neighboring South Austin businesses, is rich with history and technical detail. Stories range from the legend of the Ethiopian herder Kaldi and his caffeinated dancing goats to the tales of Belgian monks placing pans of sweet liquid wort on their rooftops to capture the airborne yeast (a special Belgian strain that creates a distinctly flavored beer with a high alcohol content). “Belgium is unique in that the Saccharomyces strain that was in the air is very alcohol tolerant,” notes Weeks. “So it could go all the way to eight, nine, ten percent alcohol before it died of alcohol poisoning. It also produces very fruity esters. When it’s metabolized with sugars, it produces banana and clove flavors that are very unique.”
The tours are also experience based. For example, Shuler encourages tour goers to smell, touch and examine the coffee beans at a variety of roasting levels, including “first crack” (the point at which the bean’s cell structure begins to rupture as it expands), “production roast” (a light, sweet roast with the bean’s acidity detectable) and a dark, pungent French roast.
Up & Down participants gain a firsthand understanding of the passable, the awful and the sublime versions of both coffee and beer. For instance, awful frequently means a coffee brewed with unripe, broken or otherwise defective beans, while sublime might be the nuanced acidity and sweetness of Fazenda Recreio, a naturally processed arabica bean coffee of the Yellow Bourbon variety that Casa Brasil offers. “A lot of times we get comments in the class that it doesn’t even taste like coffee because it doesn’t have that charred flavor,” Shuler explains. “With its fruit flavor, it tastes more like a tea….It is very complex.”
Tour goers also get to try one or both of SABC’s two beers: their Belgian Style Golden Ale, a fruity, gently effervescent drink; and the Saison D’Austin, a rich farmhouse-style seasonal beer with hints of pepper. The ales are available both on tap and in hand-corked 750-milliliter bottles, which are naturally carbonated through bottle conditioning. This kind of artisanal brewing allows people to experience the world-class beers of Belgium right here in town.
Weeks and Shuler are quick to point out that the tour is much more than just an open house. Uchi host Christina Fallara, who attended the tour to gain a deeper understanding of the Casa Brasil coffee that her restaurant serves, agrees. “The whole thing took like five hours, but I would say it flew by,” says Fallara. “We had to drag ourselves away to get to work because the presenters were so fun and knowledgeable. It was just a great afternoon.”
For details, visit casabrasilcoffees.com/events/up-down-tour