On a normal day, the air in New Belgium’s sprawling wood cellar carries hints of dark, earthy fruit—a delightful aroma for passers-by. But on a particular Friday this past October, those strolling through the cellar were met with a slightly different scent: a delicate, citrusy tea-like aroma courtesy of the world’s most exclusive coffee bean, shipped all the way in from Panama.
At a blending table tucked between towering French-oak foeders, wood cellar director and blender Lauren Woods Limbach was huddled around a variety of partially-filled stemware, tasting versions of the loftiest sour beer ever crafted at New Belgium: La Folie Grand Reserve Geisha, an epic collaboration with local maltster Troubadour Maltings, Fort Collins-based Bean Cycle Roasters, Sustainable Harvest coffee importers, and Panama’s Hacienda la Esmeralda. It’s a bold amalgam. Blending sour Oscar from the wood cellar, a “smuggler” beer from Troubadour, and the highly sought-after Geisha coffee bean, this unique opportunity wasn’t lost on Limbach.
“Having this bean available is pretty amazing,” says Limbach. “It’s the bean that sparked people to rethink coffee, which feels so incredibly relevant to us as craft brewers, so it’s really close to my heart.”
For the uninitiated, the Geisha coffee bean originated in the town of Gesha, Ethiopia, but became internationally famous after it was imported to Panama and produced by Hacienda La Esmerelda. The family-run coffee growers submitted the bean—unique for its citrusy, floral aromatics—into the Best of Panama Auction in 2004, where it won first place. It then went on to win first place five more times between 2005 and 2010, firmly establishing it as the pinnacle bean in the coffee world.
At New Belgium, the Geisha bean provided an interesting challenge: Marrying the bean’s delicate aromatics with the bold character of sour Oscar, the base beer that’s blended into award-winning La Folie Sour Brown Ale. To do so, Fort Collins-based Troubadour Maltings provided malt varieties to brew a special “smuggler” beer—named for the “smuggling in” of essential oils to help promote foam retention in the finished product—which lends rich concord grape character to the final blend, bridging the gap between the fruity, funky notes of Oscar and the delicate, citrusy tea-like notes of the bean.
The result is an exquisite sour beer that leads with the character of the bean, a feat that came with its fair share of anxiety.
“There’s this apprehension to do right by Geisha,” says Limbach. “I’ve thought more about this beer than any beer I’ve made in my life. Not just because of the expense of the coffee, but because we’re attempting to put something that doesn’t have the classic coffee aroma—floral, tea, notes of citrus and stone fruit—into a coffee beer.
Geisha will release Friday, Nov. 3, at our Fort Collins and Asheville breweries at $48 for a 750 mL bottle. It will be available at select retailers nationwide starting mid-November."