Monday, February 21, 2011

The Legend of Curly's Coffee

Spalding "Curly" Landecker is a legend around Montana. Curly grew up in upstate New York in the 1820's (records of his birth are long since lost from the famous Albany city records building fire of 1835). His father was a state congressman for New York and also owned a fairly successful printing press repair business. The Landecker's never really wanted for money and had over 20 servants. Curly was mostly brought up by his French nanny Dominique. Curly really bonded with Dominique and followed her around constantly.

Curly Landecker
Dominique died when Curly was just 16 years old. Her death sent Curly into a tailspin and he could no longer focus on his studies in school and much to his father's discontent, Curly headed west to the frontier territory of Montana, the big sky country. He had no real goals in mind, he just wanted to be in nature and somehow make a living doing what Dominque loved and he had learned to love, cook.  The only problem with that plan was that Curly was mostly an awful cook. But he had learned one great thing from Dominique, how to make a great pot of coffee.

Coffee in the 1830's was nothing like it is now. People didn't have access to Ethiopian shade grown coffee beans, they had pretty much no choice in their coffee flavors, whatever the general store carried. Mostly coffee was made by pouring coffee grounds into a pot, covering with water and bringing to a boil. Some enterprising people who didn't like getting a cup full of grounds would fill a sock with the grounds and boil the water with the sock (often fresh off the foot of a cowboy). The coffee mostly sucked but the caffeine was very important, especially to the cowboys of Montana. Curly, though, had a French press that he inherited from Dominique and his coffee tasted wonderful and was free of grounds. His secret, which he revealed to no one until his death in 1874, was to cold press the coffee which made a kind of coffee concentrate that kept for several days. When he needed to make coffee, he boiled some water then added some of the coffee concentrate and the coffee was much more vivid in flavor. The coffee bitterness was gone and other much more palatable flavors were present. Curly became the most sought after cook for cattle drives because of his "magic coffee" and he made a very good living for over 30 years.

Long before Starbucks even existed, Montana had its own coffee culture with a chain named Landecker's after ole Curly. The folks at Big Sky brewing were toying with a porter and just couldn't get the flavor right. Over a cup of coffee over at Landecker's down the street one of the brewers had the great idea to throw some of Curly style coffee concentrate into the porter to make the porter's flavors pop a little bit more than they were without the coffee. It worked, now the coffee porter had a nice coffee taste without that coffee bitterness that throws so many people off of coffee beers. The coffee really complements the chocolatey, roasty flavor of the porter that was really stymieing  the brewers. Now Big Sky Brewing had a much more complex porter with 3 nice flavors, coffee, chocolate and roast working together to make the drinker as happy as a dog tired 1840's Montana cowboy.

If you want to taste a bit of Curly's legend mixed with a pretty good porter, you can pick up a sixer of Big Sky Cowboy Coffee Porter on both sides of the state line. It's well worth your time and you can get a taste of Montana history.

Disclaimer: I got a couple of bottle of Big Sky Cowboy Coffee Porter free from a source interested in selling more Big Sky Cowboy Coffee Porter. This freebie did not affect this review. Oh yeah, and none of the above story is true (except maybe 1830's coffee brewing methods). I don't even know if the coffee is cold brewed, but it kinda tastes like it was.

1 comment:

  1. Haha! Well its a good story anyway. I was enthralled only to find out I'd been lied to! I'll try the beer anyway. Sounds good.