In Bond Brothers Beer Co.’s efforts to make agave beer, it took a forklift, tarp, meat smoker, hammers, knives and plenty of elbow grease.
In other words, not your normal beer-making tools.
Wednesday, it’ll start flowing from the tap of the downtown Cary brewer – a smoked agave saison with some added notes of tamarind and ginger.
There are limited quantities available. If you get a pint, savor it and appreciate all the odd twists and turns that led to its creation.
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Any agave beer automatically would be considered an uncommon find. But this one has more than just a rare recipe. It came from the sacrifice of a local celebrity of sorts – a decades-old agave plant in Raleigh’s Oakwood neighborhood that fell victim to code enforcement rules.
The plant, known as “Big Blue,” had grown 20 feet tall (and a few too many feet onto the road) when the City of Raleigh told Joey Hester to dig it out of his yard. He didn’t want his beloved behemoth to go to waste.
Agave is most famous as the key ingredient in tequila and mezcal, but the plant was past its prime for making liquor. So Hester gave it to Bond Brothers. The brewers there worked with mezcal aficionado Marshall Davis, of Gallo Pelon Mezcaleria in downtown Raleigh, to craft a recipe for an agave beer.
Bond Brothers is known for its inventive beer styles, and this one was no different – except for the amount of physical labor it took.
“Lots of work and love went into this one!” the brewery posted on Facebook.
But take it from someone who was there when they brewed it – there was a lot more work than love.
How they did it
When the beer was brewed in June, parts of the process were no different than any other brew day. Grain had to be milled, water had to be boiled, and plenty of other beers had to be imbibed during downtime.
This one required more sweat than usual, not to mention rubber gloves and safety goggles.
As it turns out, agave is not easy to turn into an edible ingredient.
The husks, which look similar to the aloe plant, can cause skin irritation. They’re also spiky and incredibly hard. It goes without saying that the first humans to discover its edible properties deserved all the tequila they made from it, and more.
Just to prepare the plant for being split open, the brewers had to chop it up and roast the pieces for days. Then they soaked the smoked bits in water for hours before starting their attempts to crack open the husks to get to the sweet fruit inside.
Their first idea was to run it over with a forklift. That ended up being more fun than useful.
The forklift cracked the board they put on top of the agave, but its massive weight did nothing to the pesky pieces themselves. The brew team of Whit Baker, Paul Wasmund and Sean McKinney, plus Hester and Davis, broke out the hammers and knives and attacked the plant.
It took hours in the hot warehouse, with bugs biting and thumbs falling victim to errant hammers, but they eventually got the good stuff out of the husks and into the brew tanks.
Now, after a weeks or fermenting, it’s ready to be poured.
In addition to tasting it at Bond Brothers, located at 202 E. Cedar St., Cary – until it runs out – a small amount is aging in wood barrels that will be released later this fall at Gallo Pelon. Gallo Pelon is in downtown Raleigh above Centro.
And there might just be another opportunity to do it all again in another decade or so. Hester has planted some new agave seedlings in his yard.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran