Regrained Chocolate Stout SuperGrain Bar – “EAT BEER”

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From beer comes food

The crew over at Regrained has done something unexpected and amazing:  up-cycling brewery grains to make snack bars.  Right.  They run off with the grains that are left after brewing beer and use them as a base for food.  It works like this: fermentation of beer consumes most of the sugars in the mash, but leaves behind plenty of good stuff like protein, fiber and micro-nutrients.  Regrained’s patent-pending process uses what’s left to make satisfying snack bars.

Great story, but how do they taste?  They make three flavors now and I’ve honed in on the Chocolate Coffee Stout bar for obvious reasons.  This review won’t follow the usual format exactly since these are not solid chocolate bars.  Still, I thought you guys should know about this food innovation.

AROMA: There’s a lot going on here.  Peel open the end of the package and sniff.  Wow.  It’s like having a picnic in tall grass with a friend drinking sangria, another else having squash soup and another person smoking a cigarette off in the field.  Never had a picnic like that?  That’s the point – these are not like any common snack bar from the supermarket.  Notes: malt, tomato, strawberry, beer, pumpkin, tobacco, brandy.

MIDDLE TASTE: More chocolate and coffee than stout, but you get this sudden

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There’s a multitude of flavors in these little bars

brewery taste about three-fourths of the way through.  It’s a really interesting mix of flavors with just enough sugar to balance out the slight bitterness of coffee and grain.

FINISH:  Finally you arrive at breakfast cereal, my go-to comfort food.

TEXTURE:  It’s chewy, but in a satisfying way.  You don’t need to work so hard that your jaw aches because the bars are thin.  Even better, they don’t fall apart and sprinkle crumbs into your lap.  I take these bars when I travel because I usually can’t make it to the food service on long-haul flights before I get hungry.  What I hate is a bar that crumbles all over my shirt so I walk off the plane looking like I’ve been swimming in a box of Cracker Jacks.  The Regrained bars don’t have such messy problems.

LAST BITE:  Thumbs up.  I eat a ton of snack bars – two to three per day – because I have a hyperactive metabolism and need to even out my blood sugar so I can do important stuff like, um,  thinking.   This is not the only bar I eat, but it allows me to add some variety into the mix along with the bars I buy from Trader Joe’s.  I like that they taste completely different than the other more sugar-heavy bars and that they are more compact and portable.  I also like that they are up-cycling good food, using sustainable packaging and are members of 1% for the Planet.  Regrained SuperGrain Bars are available online at the Regrained website and limited retailers around the US.

Notes:

[1] Disclosure – I hold a tiny equity stake in this company.

[2] Cracker Jack is a trademark of Frito-Lay North American, Inc.

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Caribeans Single Estate Dark Chocolate

I had the good fortune of returning to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica to enjoy the waves, sleep in an historic jungle house, and eat some fine chocolate[1].  It was awesome to see how the local chocolate scene continues to evolve.  Caribeans is a cafe and chocolate proprietor located just across from Playa Cocles.  It was here that I met Caribeans owner, Paul Johnson, to talk about the burgeoning chocolate scene on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.

Paul moved to Costa Rica more than a decade ago with his wife.  They left famously chilly Minnesota for a less famous slice of paradise on the Caribbean sea.  Like many entrepreneurs, he spent some time exploring and tinkering with business ideas including a stint designing and welding funky art bikes.  Although PV has a funky, almost edgy feel and cycling is the preferred mode of transport along the cratered dirt roads, the concept just didn’t find legs.

In those early days, he came to realize there was no internet cafe in town, so he started a simple place by the harbor where people could get a decent cup of coffee.  Still, it wasn’t quite right – the locals who congregated by the harbor were less interested in coffee than more traditional cacao tea or drinking cocoa.  That drove him on a search for local cacao beans and eventually into the chocolate business.  Caribeans is now a place where you can get a great espresso drink, hot chocolate and single-origin chocolate bars from the region.

In the years since my first visit, he’s moved shop out of the bustling harbor streets to a more heavily-jungled area about two kilometers south. It’s here that he cobbled together a chocolate factory in the hills behind the cafe.  If sourcing high-quality cacao beans in a region decimated by the monilia fungus wasn’t hard enough, getting chocolate-making equipment was even harder.  He did buy a melanger, but the rest he built himself with some Rube-Goldberg-style innovation and help from experts back stateside.

Perseverance paid off.  Caribeans is the first Costa Rican bean-to-bar chocolate maker in one location.  In the shop, you can find a dozen or so single-origin bars many of which are single-estate bars acknowledging the contribution of the cacao growers themselves.  Caribeans now has direct relationships with over 20 cacao growers along the Caribbean coast.  This model not only improves bean quality though constant feedback between grower and chocolate maker, but also provides a premium price to the farmers.

After talking chocolate with Paul, I stepped into the walk-in chilled display room and selected from a couple dozen flavored and pure chocolate bars.  Here’s my take on two favorites.

CHOCOLATE REVIEW – Caribeans Chocolate

WHAT: Caribeans Single-Estate Maruin Gandoca 72% Dark Chocolate. 25 g (2.1 oz). Ingredients: cacao, sugar.

Where to buy Caribeans Chocolate.

WHEN: April, 2015

OVERALL RATING: 85.

AROMA:  Light tobacco, caramel, smoke, light floral – rose, ham.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Butter, almonds.

MIDDLE TASTE: Cherry, apple, cantaloupe.

FINISH: Fig, cashew, butter, whipped cream. Stays pleasant to the end.

TEXTURE: Looks like the melanger is working just fine.

WHAT: Caribeans Single-Estate Harta Lazo Kekoldi 72% Dark Chocolate. 25 g (2.1 oz). Ingredients: cacao, sugar.

Where to buy Caribeans Chocolate.

WHEN: February, 2015

OVERALL RATING: 82.

AROMA:  Melon, banana, guava, strawberry.  Overall a little subdued on the nose.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Apple, very slight hint of red fruit.

MIDDLE TASTE: Apple, strawberry, elusive citrus, rose.

FINISH: Banana, cafe-au-lait, tubers, some astringency towards the end.  It may be that the soft aroma and slight astringent dryness towards the end has to do with the heat – both the environment that they’re made in and storage.  Caribeans has a temperature controlled chocolate room in their shop and I tasted this bar within a couple of days of purchase, so it’s not so clear.

TEXTURE: Generally smooth. Some granularity towards end.

Overall, both were equally interesting bars, but I’m giving a nudge to the Maruin Gandoca for a bit more intensity and complexity.

LAST BITE: Caribeans has done an amazing job making chocolate under less than ideal conditions – the heat and humidity of the jungle for starters.  Eating this stuff reminds me of my first trip to Playa Cocles  where a all the chocolate seemed to exuded a certain local personality of buttery brown sugar and coffee.  Now,  by tasting the prolific line up at Caribeans, I’ve discovered there is more diversity in the beans of this region.  Depending upon the chocolate, the flavors span the range from coffee to dried fruit to melon to bananas.

Paul Johnson has a vision for the future: Puerto Viejo could become the “Napa Valley” of chocolate.  I have to agree that there is a lot of synergy in a concentrated food-tourism destination.  For example, Northern California and Bordeaux attract a lot of people keen on wine who want to learn and enjoy the world of wine.  Art enthusiasts go to Canyon Road in Santa Fe to peruse and buy art.   The wine makers and artists in these places are, in a sense, competing with each other and benefiting from each other at the time.  They’re mostly benefiting because a greater number of like-minded people are drawn to the destination.

So why not the same for chocolate?  Imagine a place where you can go and see how cacao is grown, watch chocolate being made, and taste chocolate from a range of different makers – all in one stop.   Unlike the wine tours, when you’re done tasting ten or fifteen different chocolates, you’re completely sober, so you can drive, walk or ride a funky bike to your next destination.  It seems the vision is starting to become real.  Since my last visit, they’ve held the first Puerto Viejo Chocolate Festival where for a day or two you can come together with others to explore the cacao of the region.

NOTES:

[1]  I first drafted this post in 2015…I’ve been busy.