In the past few years, two types of brewing have grown in popularity—coffee and beer. The two are just a natural match, since most folks start their day off with the former and end it with the latter. Coffee roasters and beer brewers alike spend a lot of their time testing ingredients, looking for just the right source of coffee beans or hops to create that perfect cup or pint. So it seems quite natural for breweries to collaborate with area coffee roasters in order to combine efforts and ingredients into great drinkables for all of us to enjoy.
There have certainly been some great coffee-themed beers throughout the state lately. In Fayetteville, Apple Blossom Brewing is serving up a beer called the Hazy Morning Stout, using coffee from Arsaga’s to create something that is akin to dropping a shot or two of espresso in every pint. Here in Little Rock, Josiah Moody and the Damgoode Beer folks wowed me with a beer made with coffee and milk sugar called the Cuban Pull. Those beers are as different as can be, just proving that with a change of technique can turn similar ingredients into wildly diverse finished products.
So when Mark Bray of Airship Coffee in Bentonville and Mama Carmen’s in Fayetteville called me up the other day with some news about a new collaboration between his company and Bentonville Brewing, I was excited. Bray’s Airship Coffee import label shares a building with Bentonville Brewing, and Bray had mentioned during a tour I took of his facilities last January that he hoped to work with the brewing company when they got open. Well, the brewery opened in June, and I was really impressed with their beer. Given that Bray has already played around with hops and nitro taps for his cold brew coffee, everything seems in place for something good.
So what’s going on with Airship and Bentonville Brewing? Well, first up, Bray talked about something I’ve never given much thought: Coffee flowers. Yes, flowers. You see, the coffee bean we’re all used to is actually the seed of a coffee “cherry,” which does, indeed, look like a cherry. And like other fruits, the cherry starts off as a flower, and once the fruit is set, the flower falls away and is generally disregarded. But Mark Bray is always thinking of different ways to do things, so he’s had the farmers he buys from collect these flowers to save them. He describes their scent as similar to jasmine, and plans to use them in a tea—and as far as I know, he’ll be the only person in the state doing coffee flower tea.
So where does the brewery come in? Well, instead of the stouts and porters that coffee-makers usually work on with brewers, Bentonville Brewing is developing the Airship IPA, a citron-hop heavy brew that uses some of Airship’s delightful Guatemalan beans for flavoring. Guatemalan coffee tends to be fruitier than African varieties, so that flavor should work quite well with the citron hops to create a unique flavor profile that should still be recognizable as an IPA. I can’t wait.
In addition to the IPA, Bray also wants to use some of those coffee flowers as part of the dry-hopping process. Admitting that he has no idea what that will do to beer, he laughs and says that taste-testing a lot of beer isn’t necessarily the worst thing that could happen. I agree, and given the skills of both Bray and the folks at Bentonville Brewing, I have no doubt things will turn out delicious. Look for more details coming up, as the Airship IPA should be hitting the Bentonville Brewing taproom within a week or two.