Today we stop by Sixpoint Brewery, Brooklyn’s own bastion of brash, creative American-style craft brewing to chat with brewmaster Jan Matysiak, and to try one of their latest special very limited batch concoctions, 3Beans. 3Beans is a chocolate and coffee-infused Baltic porter developed by Jan and brewery founder Shane Welch in collaboration with old friends at Mast Brothers Chocolate in Williamsburg and the Stumptown Coffee roastery, just a few blocks away from the brewery in Red Hook.
So Jan, what should we try today?
The 3Beans beer, is our latest release, and we like to think it’s kind of a perfect beer for a cold winter day like today. It’s a medium-dark Baltic-style porter brewed with Romano beans and chocolate, infused with cold-brewed coffee, and then aged in toasted oak barrels. It’s very smooth, very creamy, and very rich with a lot of deep, dark, and complex flavors.
It’s special because it’s the result of a collaboration with our friends at Mast Brothers Chocolate in Williamsburg, and at the Stumptown Coffee roastery just a few blocks away from here in Red Hook. This beer has been a long time in the making. We’ve been wanting to collaborate with both the Mast Brothers and Stumptown for quite a while.
They’re friends of ours, and we really respect the way they both approach their products. Both Mast Brothers and Stumptown really focus on showcasing the pure, natural, strong, and unadulterated flavors of the beans they work with – cacao in the case of Mast Brothers and coffee in the case of Stumptown. Unfortunately, we could not find any Romano bean farmers in Brooklyn to collaborate with on this project, but someone will probably be farming beans here soon enough. [laughter.] When they do, we will work with them.
Our mission with this beer was to start by developing a really, really great beer, an outstanding beer, to which we could add some real depth and complexity and layers of flavors and aromas by incorporating Mast Brothers chocolate and Stumptown coffee. We approached it together with them like a kind of jam session.
Tell us about it.
So we began with a Baltic porter-style of beer. The porter style originally became popular in England in the 1700s. It was a rich, malty, roasty, full-bodied, dark brown style of beer that was fairly high in alcohol. At some point in the 18th century someone began brewing an even stronger, more robust version of porter for sale in the countries around the Baltic Sea, where they were used to some really, really strong beers like Russian imperial stouts. That stronger version of porter became very popular in that region and eventually came to be known as Baltic porter. In a Baltic porter, you’ll traditionally see a smooth, dark brown beer with warm, roasty, nutty, caramel flavors and a pretty high alcohol content.
The porter is where the Romano beans come in. Of course, brewers traditionally have always used malted barley grains to make beer, but in ancient times, particularly in northern areas like those in the Baltic region, there often was not access to barley or other grains like wheat all throughout the year, so they had to be creative and find other things that had starch in them that could be broken down into sugars for the yeast to turn into alcohol in the brewing process. One thing they used was beans. Beans could be dried and stored pretty easily for very long periods, so it made sense to use them.
We had read about this and thought we would try using them along with malted barley in the Baltic porter we were developing as the base for this beer. What we found was that the beans add proteins to the mash that added an extra layer of structure which really enhanced the mouthfeel of the beer. Basically, the Romano beans added a really nice, creamy, smooth quality to the texture of the beer, which we really thought was pretty great. So the Romano beans are a little more about texture and structure than flavor.
For the chocolate element, we used the husks of cacao beans from the Mast Brothers. To make chocolate, the cacao beans are harvested fresh, then fermented and cured, before being shipped to the Mast Brothers in Williamsburg. There, they are roasted, and then put through a winnowing machine which separates the inside part from the hard outer husk. The inside is a fatty part called the nib, and that’s what they use to make chocolate. The husks aren’t used in the chocolate, but they’re still packed with those complex rich, dark, bitter and fruity chocolate flavors.
Both the Romano beans and the husks of the cacao beans are steeped with malted barley in the initial stage of brewing. When it came to the coffee, we considered steeping coffee beans along with them at that stage as well, but we kept coming back to how much we love the mellow, smooth flavor of cold brewed coffee. When you brew coffee with hot water, it draws a lot of acidic flavors out of the beans. When you brew it properly with cold water, you get a much less acidic product in which all of the complex and nuanced flavors of the coffee bean can be appreciated.
Brewing coffee properly is a very complicated thing. The guys at Stumptown are really masters at it, and they’ve perfected the process of cold brewing. They actually bottle and sell their cold brew. Since steeping the coffee beans ourselves in the initial stages of the brew with the Romano beans and the cacao husks would have required brewing them with hot water, we decided to infuse the beer with Stumptown’s own cold brewed coffee after the brewing process, when everything has cooled down and is ready to age. Doing it this way allowed us to incorporate the smooth and mellow but rich and roasty coffee flavors without any of the astringency drawn out by hot water. It adds a whole other level of complexity that just really makes sense in the context of this beer.
And last but not least, we age the entire concoction in toasted oak, which provides some creamy, vanilla flavors, but in a very subtle way, at the very edge of your perception. It just rounds everything out in a very nice way without being dominant whatsoever.
So when you first pour this beer into the glass, you can see that it’s nice and dark with a firm, creamy head. Of course you always want to smell your beer first. The coffee is definitely right there on the aroma. It’s nice and rich and smooth. Underneath, you get the chocolate, and a little bit of the vanilla notes from the oak. When you take a sip, you get a nice, pleasant, roastiness balanced by a little bit of bitterness in the background from the hops, the rich and complex flavors of the coffee and the chocolate with the toasty vanilla of the oak. You’ll also notice the really rich, creamy and nice texture that’s brought in by the Romano beans.
This is a pretty high alcohol beer, at ten percent, but I think the alcohol is quite well hidden. I personally am not a fan of really boozy, alcohol-forward beers. I always try to create beers in such a way that the alcohol does not show as much, so it sneaks up on you a little.
I would also say that this is a beer that’s best when it’s not too cold. You want to let it warm a little before drinking it, to something like fifty or fifty five degrees. There are a lot of warm and complex flavors and aromas that really blossom at that temperature, so letting it warm a little before pouring allows you to enjoy it at its best.
Can you tell us a little more about how you actually make it?
The process is similar for most beers. You have your malted grains, usually barley, but sometimes wheat. Basically, malt is made by taking the grain and soaking it in water to get it to sprout, and then it’s dried and heated in varying degrees in a kiln. Some are dried lightly and are very pale, others like crystal or caramel or chocolate malts are dried longer. Malting serves two purposes. It allows enzymes to develop which will convert the starches in the grains to sugars that the yeast converts to alcohol in the fermentation process. And the degree to which the malts are heated also affects the flavor and color of the beer. Darker malts are heated longer and have a more roasty, full-bodied flavor. In this beer, we use a pretty dark malt.
So the malt is ground and crushed to expose as much of those starches and enzymes as possible, and then we more or less mix it with water in a big tank called the mash tun and we heat it to a precise temperature to give all those enzymes the opportunity to really break down the starches and proteins. With this beer, it’s during the mash that we also add the Romano beans and the cacao husks to steep.
After the malt has steeped with the beans and the cacao husks, you have a sort of sugar water called the wort. If you taste it, it’s sweet with the sugars that are going to be turned to alcohol by the yeast. When it’s done, we separate the spent grains from the wort, and pump the wort to the brew kettle, where it’s brought to a boil, and the hops are added. Depending on what style of beer you’re making, you can have anywhere from just a little tiny bit like we do for this beer to massive amounts, as you would use for something like a double I.P.A. In the 3Beans, we use just a small amount of hops to add some bitterness, but the hops are not the focus of this beer as they are for some other beers.
After the brew, it’s pulled down to the fermentation tank. Yeast is added, and in the case of this beer it ferments for about a week. It’s then allowed to cool and is transferred to a conditioning or maturation tank, where it ages for a while. As I mentioned, in this case of this beer, we age it on oak. It’s at this point that we blend in the Stumptown cold brew.
When we made our first batch the Stumptown guys came in and brought their cold brewed coffee. We had a rough idea form our test batches about how much coffee we thought we would need, but we wanted their help to perfect it. So we actually took samples from the brew and added a few drops of coffee at a time, tasting very carefully until we nailed the perfect ratio of beer to cold brew – the perfect formula. So we add the appropriate amount of coffee at that stage, and then the whole concoction ages on oak. After that, it goes into the can and then out, to Brooklyn and lots of places all around the country.
We’re very happy with this beer. It was eight months in the making. There were a lot of moving parts. A lot of thought went into it before we even did the first test batch. It started with a rough template of the type of beer we wanted to make, and that led to month after month of constructing a theory and thinking about it and making sense of it and trying to wrap our heads around what we wanted it to actually be, how we wanted to incorporate all of the components in just exactly the right way so that the end result would be perfect. I think we came pretty close. [laughter.]
So what about you Jan? How did you end up here in Brooklyn brewing beer?
Well, I grew up in Germany. I was born in the north, but when I was a kid, my parents relocated to the southwest part of the country near Frankfurt. After high school and a couple of years in the service, I did an apprenticeship at the local brewery near where I grew up. I liked it, and so I ended up going to the University of Munich to get my degree in brewing science at the Weihenstephan Institute, which is a program associated with one of the oldest German breweries, dating a thousand years.
After that I worked for a series of breweries in Germany, ranging from brew pubs to breweries with several hundred thousand barrels produced annually. Eventually I got a job offer to join a brewery in Austin, Texas. I was young and adventurous, so I thought, “Why not?” So I came to America, to Texas, to make beer at a place called Live Oak Brewery.
Eventually I stumbled across an ad that Shane, the founder of Sixpoint, had placed. He was looking for a brewmaster to take over the work he had always done in the brewing department because the brewery was growing and he no longer had the time to focus on just the brewing as much as he once had. We started talking, met up a couple of times, and I came onboard just over a year ago, at the end of 2011.
It’s been very interesting for me, to have been educated in brewing back in Germany and to now be brewing here in the United States. It’s very different. In Germany, the selection of beers that people are interested in is very narrow. The approach is very different. The emphasis is on precision and on knowledge gathered over hundreds and hundreds of years of brewing a just few very specific, traditional styles of beer. Here, it’s like the opposite. Here you have hundreds of styles of beers, some of them very traditional, and many more of them very creative and completely new styles. At first it was an entirely new world, but I completely embraced it. I think it’s awesome.
What we’re trying to do here at Sixpoint is to combine these cultures – to bring together the really wild, creative, artistic approach of the American craft beer culture with the really strong scientific, precision-driven approach of German brewing. This is what we’re all about here. We like to come up with new beers. We like to explore old styles, and to be creative with new ideas, but we always have a scientific approach, a methodology to it, so we can reproduce our successes consistently on a larger or smaller scale. Combining those things is I think the way to go.
There are so many good breweries in America now. So many good beers. I think it’s the place to be. And it seems like the world is really waking up to that. It’s almost as if the American craft beer culture has become the global trendsetter in brewing. More and more brewers from other nations are starting to embrace this creative ideology. They’re being creative, exploring new styles. It’s great. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this.
Sixpoint‘s 3Beans beer is available at shops and bars throughout Brooklyn. It’s one of the brewery’s many special one-time, limited batch beers, so get it while you can – when it’s gone, it’s gone. Check their ‘Beerfinder‘ for specific locations.
Photography by Heather Phelps-Lipton. All rights reserved.