May 2, 2008

Pandan Brown Ale: No Laughing Matter

Vasco%20and%20Castillo.JPGTwo local techies, Chris Castillo and Joe Valvo, owners of the new Laughing Buddha brewery, follow the market price of hops with rapt attention. Five bucks a pound six months ago, a spike at $50, now settling down at a relatively affordable $20. Galena and Northern Brewer they buy for the bitterness in the brown ale, a Czech variety for the lager. So far, they've been getting what they need from other breweries. The grain comes from Larry's Brew Supply in Kent. The pandan? From Viet Wah, the Asian supermarket group.

Pandan, you ask? It's also known as screwpine, a plant native to Indonesia whose leaves give up a fragrant extract that's typically used to flavor rice and an assortment of baked and frozen desserts. Laughing Buddha uses it in their brown ale, which has a delightfully nutty taste and makes a terrific accompaniment to Asian food (from the subtlest sushi to fiercest phad thai).

Other flavors, too: ginger, mango, lychee, all designed to complement Asian food. Laughing Buddha is in an industrial building in South Park around the corner from Baron Brewing, a five-year-old outfit that rolls its eyes at such doings. They follow the Rheinheitsgebot, a Bavarian edict in 1516 that limited ingredients in beer to water, barley and hops. Germany actually repealed the regulation in 1987, but many brewers continue to maintain its standards. (American industrial brewers like Budweiser at one point switched from costly grain to cheaper rice, only to watch as rice became more expensive; the saving grace is that spent brewer's rice can be sold as dog food.)

Back to the Laughing guys: they got picked up by a serious distributor, Click Wholesale, and are brewing as fast as they can. Big ambitions: Castillo's hero is Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery, the godfather of the new wave of American craft brewers. Pandan in all 50 states? Why not?

Posted by Ronald Holden at May 2, 2008 10:03 AM | TrackBack

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