To brew Oscura Beer, Furthermore started out with a brown Mexican lager to complement the coffee of choice: Nicaragua La FEM, roasted by Just Coffee Coop of Madison. They included flaked maize both for added creaminess and employed extra-warm fermentation so that the yeast would create more interesting flavors. This style of fermentation was once referred to as “steam beer,” but since Anchor Brewing Company trademarked that name, the style has become known as the California Common.
The California Common, is a unique 100% American style lager. It’s usually brewed with a special strain of lager yeast that works better at warmer temperatures. Historic steam beer, associated with San Francisco and the U.S. West Coast, was brewed with lager yeast without the use of true refrigeration; instead, the beer was fermented by ice or mechanical means. It was an improvised process, originating out of necessity, perhaps as early as the Gold Rush and at least 1860 in Nevada. It was a style lost to history until Anchor Brewing brought it back in 1981.
Hop bitterness was increased to offset the sweet flavor of unbrewed coffee while whole beans were soaked in the beer during cold maturation; the alcohol extracted and retained aromatics and flavors that would otherwise be lost to hot water.
Nicaragua La Fem Grower’s Cooperative
La Fundacion Entre Mujeres is a well organized all-women’s NGO in northern Nicaragua that promotes ideological, economic, and political empowerment of rural women through projects such as the fight against violence by creating community networks of rural defenders, an education program promoting literacy, primary and secondary education with a focus on gender equality, education in alternative careers connected to sustainable development, the promotion of sexual and reproductive rights and access to health services for women, and promoting a strategy of economic empowerment, prioritizing food sovereignty, diversified and organic production. All projects are carried out under a focus of sustainable economic development for the adults and youth that these programs reach. Through such programs, women from the rural communities are able to participate and be real actors in transforming their own realities, making decisions in the development politics carried out by la FEM.
FEM began in 1995 when director Diana Martinez began to organize women from rural communities in the north of Nicaragua. The initial focus of the organization was to create an autonomous space for rural women that would challenge the traditional, male-dominated model of rural development and to promote women’s rights. Access to land has always been a key aspect of FEM’s proposal, allowing women to be autonomous and individual subjects of their own development. With that, comes the need to provide adequate access to reproductive resources such as credit, seeds, alternative technologies, infrastructure, and markets. With an overarching feminist vision, FEM participates actively in the larger Feminist Movement of Nicaragua and promotes raising consciousness on the rights of women.
Under the larger umbrella organization of La FEM are six smaller cooperatives of Las Diosas scattered throughout the northern region of Nicaragua and groups together nearly 200 women farmers. These women are cultivating a total of 164 manzanas of land, focusing on organic production. Through their connection with La FEM, women farmers have access to trainings on different topics relating to organic coffee production in order to improve their production. At a centralized location, women also have access to a large nursery full of 80,000 healthy, new, organic plants as well as organic fertilizers made with recycled materials from the nearby farms, as well as a coffee roaster. Each of the cooperatives contains a wet mill, where coffee is depulped before it is sent to a nearby processing facility to be dried on patios, milled, and exported. Focusing on alternative markets and being educated on the entire production chain, FEM sells their products both locally in Esteli as well as internationally. All local products are marketed under the label “Las Diosas” (goddess in English), with a symbol that represents the moon and the rain together with the women’s symbol.By having access to their own parcels of land while also participating in the fair trade market, women organized under La FEM have seen dramatic changes in their lives. This organization not only helps women to increase their household incomes, but it is also changing the machista culture of each of the communities that it reaches. Through their relationship with Just Coffee, many women farmers have gained access to new information through delegations and farmer exchanges both in Nicaragua as well as in Madison.*
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re sipping Oscura Beer—a collaboration from Furthermore Beer in Spring Green, Wisconsin and Just Coffee Cooperative in Madison, Wisconsin. Feel free to pull up a chair.
region: Esteli, Nicaragua
producer: smallholder farmers
association: Nicaragua La Fem Grower’s Cooperative
elevation: 950 – 1200 meters above sea level
cultivar(s): Caturra, Bourbon
process: fully washed, patio dried
style: Coffee California Common Beer
alcohol by volume: 5.3%
international bitterness units: 37
color: Dark Amber
Visually, Oscura is a pretty beer. It has a deep amber hue—not quite clear, but not what I’d call hazy, either—and it’s topped by a quarter inch, crema-colored foamy cap. The foam doesn’t have great retention, though, and it dissipates to a very thin, lacy sheen that resembles more of a collar than a cap. The beer does have legs, though, as thick ropes of lace cling to the glass after each sip.
Oscura’s aroma is, surprisingly (for such a unique concept), pretty standard fare, but with the additional faint hints of the coffee’s influence—toast, caramel, pretzel, barley, nuts, cardamom, citrus, and dark berries.
Taking my first few sips of the beer, it definitely follows the nose but has even more of a coffee presence. It has a full presence on the palate, but it is a soft and creamy medium-bodied beer. Flavors of pretzel, graham cracker, mild spices (particularly nearer the finish), caramel, multigrain toast, lightly roasted malts, and – as odd as it is to taste in this style of beer – milk chocolate, baked berries (i.e., raspberry pie filling), and something vegetal (a la bell pepper) spill over the taste buds. The finish is pretty clean, but it leaves behind a lingering aftertaste of molasses and cornbread.
Medium body; creamy mouthfeel; berry acidity; clean finish.
Well, I don’t know quite what to make of Furthermore’s Oscura Beer, but it’s unique and one I’d definitely say is worth seeking out. It’s very sessionable, as a California common ought to be; but the Nicaraguan coffee added a layer of complexity that kind of put the beer into its own weird category. It wasn’t necessarily a great representation of the style, but it was certainly tasty – and that’s probably all that really matters in the end.
The coffee and beer base flavors worked in perfect tandem with one another (particularly the fruits, nuts, and spices) and it was very refreshing (particularly on these hot Summer days).
*content provided by Just Coffee Cooperative
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