Coquito is back!
As the holidays roll around, there are a lot of things to look forward to.
The copious number of catalogs you receive each day. The Hallmark Channel and its endless stream of feel-good films. And, of course, the return of Coquito.
If you’re lucky enough to have Puerto Rican friends and family — or if you’re lucky enough to be Puerto Rican yourself — you know how wonderful this traditional holiday beverage can be.
Last year, we made it into a beer, and it was good. This year should be no exception.
Last year, this beer was kind of a surprise. We had some beer barrel-aging that we weren’t sure where it would end up, but, in some meeting somewhere, someone suggested that we do a Coquito-inspired beer for the holidays.
“Like any art form, there are different approaches to achieve different end results,” says Production Planning and Special Projects Manager Brian Hink. “Sometimes you are very methodical in your approach, setting out to achieve a specific end result, and other times you’re just jamming and a song comes out of it, or you’re doodling and next thing you know you have a drawing on your hands.”
With non-barrel-aged beers — and even with the beer going into barrels — we’re usually pretty methodical. We don’t simply throw together some ingredients and hope for the best. There’s a lot of thought and practice that goes into things.
“If we’re making an orange crush-inspired beer,” Brian says, “we’re going to tailor every ingredient and application of those ingredients to achieve that end goal.”
However, with barrel-aged beers, there’s a bit more room for improvisation. While we usually have an end-result in mind, like with our Boughs of Barley or Bourbon Barrel-Aged Concrete Ship. But, other times, we have beer, we have barrels, we put them together.
“Sometimes — usually in the sour barrel-aged world but also sometimes with our clean barrel-aged beers –,” Brian says, “we take a ‘let’s see what happens’ approach. Sometimes it doesn’t work, sometimes it works beautifully. So yeah, while last year Coquito kind of came out of a jam session approach, this year we had the end goal very much in mind when we laid the beer to rest last winter.”
Two years ago, we’d brewed some extra Ties the Room Together, then tossed it into the barrels that had previously held Bourbon Barrel-Aged Concrete Ship — simply to see what would happen.
“We had just racked Bourbon Barrel-Aged Concrete Ship out of the barrels and they still smelled divine,” Brian tells us. “I most certainly didn’t want them to be one-and-done.”
Typically, when you’re aging in spirit barrels, you get most of the barrels’ influence on the first fill — by the second time around, there usually isn’t a whole lot left to get out of the barrels and they essentially become neutral aging vessels.
“But sometimes you can get a second use out of those barrels that will still give you some barrel character,” Brian says. “It can’t be as hearty or strong of a beer as the first time. It definitely had to be something lighter on the pallet, and when were racking Bourbon Barrel-Aged Concrete Ship into stainless for further conditioning we were well into brewing Ties the Room Together for the first time so I threw an extra batch on the brewing schedule to be able to siphon off a tank to lay to rest in these beautiful Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels.”
We were certainly happy with the results, and, judging from the reaction this beer received from our fans, they were happy with the results, too.
“The barrel character really helped soften and smooth out the base beer,” Brian says, “and that heat — the little bit of booziness that lets you know you’re drinking a big beer that spent some time in the barrel — that really made its impact known on last year’s Coquito.”
However, we knew we couldn’t go back to the well a third time with the original barrels, so we switched it up this year. While those Woodford Reserve barrels were truly extraordinary, actual Coquitos are made with rum, not bourbon.
“Since we can’t go and throw actual rum into the beer — the government greatly frowns on that –,” Brian explains, “the best way to get spirit flavor into the finished beer is by aging the beer in that same spirit you’re looking for.”
So, this year, since we knew that we were going to be using the barrels for Coquito, we got ourselves some beautiful, freshly-dumped rum barrels.
“I gotta say, the spirit character really shines this year!” Brian says. “It’s boozy with a touch of heat and is most certainly not something you’re going to be guzzling back, but it’s the perfect beer for — safe, socially distanced of course! — family gatherings around the holidays.”
Aside from the change in barrel, we made another small adjustment to the recipe, swapping the lactose for maltodextrin.
“We’d much rather have our beers completely restriction-free,” Brian says, “and if we can achieve a similar end result without — in this case discluding lactose-intolerant folks or vegans –, I’d much rather take that route and make the beer available for all to enjoy. So no ‘tose this time around! Ties the Room Together on the other hand still most definitely has lactose in it.”
These small changes haven’t really affected the beer too noticeably.
“This year, Coquito is a touch dryer, not as sweet, and definitely boozier — hello 14% ABV! — but overall I feel they’re very similar,” Brian says.
In the grand scheme of things, Coquito is a relatively labor-intensive beer, as we toast the hundred-or-so pounds of coconut ourselves. We’d usually schedule it on a day when we’ve got a full house, but, this year, it made sense to do it on a Saturday when we only had a brewer, a cellarperson, and a lab technician in-house.
“JP killed it on this one,” Brian says. “It usually takes three of us a couple of hours to toast up all the coconut flakes, but, because of the timing of tanks turning over, unfortunately, the best day from a scheduling standpoint was on a Saturday. So, after talking it over with JP and coming up with a timeline of events to make sure it would be feasible, he agreed it was doable and to take on the normally three-person task solo.”
We’re all looking forward to seeing how Coquito does this year.
“Anytime we do a repeat on a Tasting Room-only release,” Brian says, “I’m always excited to see how the response is the second go-round. Obviously, we had a lot of fun conceptualizing, designing, and executing this beer, and the response last year was awesome, so obviously we’re hoping for a repeat performance this year.”
Let us know what you think! Coquito releases at noon on Friday, $18.99+tax per four-pack. Don’t miss it!