The popularity of flavored beers has soared in recent years. Brewers are getting creative, and with beers such as Hudson Ale Works Coconut Vanilla Stout, Last Wave Right Coast Coconut Porter, and Slow Play The Coco-Nuts, it's clear that coconut is emerging as one of their go-to ingredients.
Yet brewing with coconut can unravel a whole set of issues. Imitation flavors can quickly overpower other flavor profiles, while preservatives found in many grocery-store varieties of sweetened coconut can be detrimental to yeast. Brewers who experiment with coconut and wind up having to dump a batch might be hesitant to dip their toes into this atypical ingredient pool again.
As with any food or beverage item, starting off with quality ingredients makes all the difference. That is where The Coconut Cooperative shines.
“Our organic toasted coconut chips are 100 percent a single ingredient item with no added preservatives or processing aids,” says Ben Weingarten, the company’s founder. “We rely on excellent manufacturing practices and meticulous handling. All of our farmers are carefully vetted to make sure their farming practices are transparent and ethical.”
The company also engages in regular communication with every level of the supply chain to promote improvements and share best practices.
So, how do these golden, delicious coconut morsels make their way to breweries? It all begins with hand-picked organic coconuts from the Coconut Triangle in Colombo, Sri Lanka, which then go to a central processing unit. There, the coconuts are visually inspected, and those that do not pass inspection are removed. Next, each coconut is de-husked and then de-pared, leaving only the white coconut meat.
This meat is fed to a conveyor belt and shredded. It is then oven-dried to reduce the moisture content. After drying, the desiccated coconut passes through several sieves to reduce clumping and ensure size consistency.
The unsweetened coconut chips are then gently oven-toasted. After once again visually inspecting the chips for imperfections, they pass through volt magnets and metal detectors before being packaged in bulk and shipped.
“It is quite a process, but in the end, it ensures that our high-quality standards are maintained and that our brewers receive chips that will enhance the flavors in their brews rather than detract from them,” Weingarten says.
It appears to be working. Chris Tropeano, head brewer and co-owner of Resident Culture Brewing in North Carolina, incorporates the Coconut Cooperative’s toasted chips into his BBA Twice as Lonely and BBA Twice as Lonely with Coffee brews. “When we spend over a year and a half creating a high-end product like our barrel-aged imperial stouts, the last thing we want to do is compromise all of the hard work by adding any ingredients that are anything less than the highest quality possible,” Tropeano says. “The coconut we use is no exception to that.”
Chicago’s Saint Errant Brewing uses the toasted chips in its Sina and the Eel and Coconut Cauallier beers.
“Coconut is an ingredient with no comparison,” says Saint Errant brewer and co-owner Ryan Jacobs. “Especially when utilized in the significant amount of dessert-inspired stouts we brew, it provides a unique array of rich, deep, yet fresh waves of flavor that perfectly compliment the cocoa and caramel undertones in the base beer.”
At Slow Play Brewing in Rock Hill, South Carolina, owner/operator Matt Poston says the coconut is an important part of the flavor profile in their kettle-soured Piña Coladas Full. For the porter The Coco-Nuts, Poston says, “we wanted to offer a dark adjunct beer that wasn’t super-high in ABV, so we thought a porter with vanilla and coconut would be tasty.”
However, The Coconut Cooperative didn’t start off with toasted coconut chips as their star ingredient. The company formed in 2014, when the founders—living in Southeast Asia at the time—were asked by family friends and food-industry experts to source sustainable, high-quality organic coconut sugar. According to Weingarten, topping the list of priorities was “making sure our manufacturer’s relationship with their farmlands and farming cooperatives was very strong.” Quality control was also top of mind. After about a year of due diligence, including trips to Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, The Coconut Cooperative formed its first manufacturer partnership.
The coconut sugar project was successful, and The Coconut Cooperative slowly increased its North American client base through its high-quality and attractively priced material imports. After a year of only importing coconut sugar, several clients began asking the team to add more premium organic coconut ingredients, including the widely popular organic toasted coconut chips. Visits to Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Vietnam became regular bi-monthly trips, stressing relationships and understanding of the full supply chain, from farmers to client.
The expansion was successful, and The Coconut Cooperative saw that a focused importer of high-quality yet affordable coconut ingredients was a benefit to many clients.
“When you compare the taste of our toasted coconut chips to those you can find in the grocery store, there really is no comparison,” says Katrina Martin, director of operations at The Coconut Cooperative.
Indeed, that taste difference is why brewers throughout the United States are ordering their toasted chips from The Coconut Cooperative. “We realized there was a niche there,“ says Laura Funderburk, web marketing manager at The Coconut Cooperative. “Brewers value the premium taste our chips provide. It simply makes their flavored beers better. Our organic coconut ingredients come straight from the source and are minimally processed to ensure the flavor shines through. We keep them sealed tight in a temperature-controlled environment to maintain freshness. It’s a difference you can taste and see.”
This difference has not gone unnoticed by brewers. “Side by side, the quality and freshness of the coconut we source from The Coconut Cooperative is noticeably better from other 'more readily available' sources,” says Jacobs at Saint Errant. As such, we are able to use less to achieve the desired results with less beer loss.”
The fact that the toasted chips are delicious doesn’t hurt either—well, it might lead to some “shrinkage.” At Hudson Ale Works in Highland, New York, owner and brewer Adam Trapani says that “during the brewing process, we need to account for the lost coconut due to frequent snacking.”
In fact, The Coconut Cooperative is so laser-focused on quality, they have put measures in place to ensure that all of their coconut ingredients are not only tasty but also safe. Their food safety program includes testing their products for such things as E. coli, salmonella, and other contaminants. “All of our ingredients are ready to eat,” Funderburk says. “We don’t want our brewers to worry about putting something into their beer that might contain anything harmful.”
The company provides a certificate of analysis or grade certificate for all of its products and lot numbers to track the ingredients and their expiration dates. The Coconut Cooperative’s warehouses (located on both the East and West coasts) utilize a FIFO system to ensure that all clients receive the freshest batch of ingredients available at any given time.
“Ensuring that our coconut is the best-tasting and most fresh on the market is top of mind for us,” Funderburk says. “If our brewer clients are successful with the beers they make using our coconut, we consider that a huge win. It’s all about helping each other succeed.”
Brewers are catching on. “Throughout the last year or two, we have increased our brewery client base by five times,” Funderburk says. “They really appreciate not only the quality and taste of our toasted chips, but also the convenience of having them pre-toasted.”
“Prior to buying the toasted coconut from The Coconut Cooperative, we would buy 50 pounds of regular coconut flakes and have to take them home to toast, which took several hours,” says Poston at Slow Play.
At Last Wave Brewing in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, cofounder Nick Jiorle is familiar with that conundrum. “Before working with The Coconut Cooperative, we used to have to go to a local restaurant to toast our own coconut, which was time-consuming, inefficient, and inconsistent in its final results. We’ve worked with The Coconut Cooperative for three-plus years now and have always received high-quality toasted coconut without any major issues, which makes it easier to hit the high standards we’ve set for one of our flagship beers in Right Coast Coconut Porter.”
Funderburk adds, “There are any number of suppliers out there who sell coconut ingredients. However, one thing that sets us apart is that we only sell coconut. It’s not an add-on for us, as it is with so many others. And, I can honestly say that each person in the company cares a great deal about keeping our brewers happy.”
“Using top-notch ingredients is pivotal to our beer program’s success,” says Ross Darren Cooley, head brewer at Roughtail Brewing in Oklahoma City. ”Moreover, it is without question that The Coconut Cooperative’s quality is exceptional. However, where they truly shined for us is in their superb customer service. Easy ordering, great pricing, streamlined logistics and almost immediate responses from customer service makes continuing our partnership a no-brainer.” Roughtail’s Migrating Coconuts and Kuchenloch beers both contain The Coconut Cooperative’s toasted coconut chips, not to mention lots of other delicious ingredients.
But why use coconut in beer? Judging on the number of different coconut beers available, brewers see a great opportunity to experiment with flavors.
At Roughtail Brewing, Cooley describes Kuchenloch as “a prime example of ‘good things come to those who wait.’ This viscous, cake-laden liquid emerges from the bottle. Everything you would want from a pastry stout is present—aromas of freshly baked chocolate cake, vanilla icing, and heaps of candied coconut goodness are supported by a well-rounded barrel presence that’s only achievable with extended aging.” Tasty!
At Hudson Ale Works, Trapani describes what the coconut brings to their Coconut Vanilla Stout: “The flavor profile of fresh roasted coconut works well with the stout malts to create a perfectly balanced unique stout,” he says. “We add just the right amount of fresh roasted coconut, so the flavors extracted from the coconut blend perfectly with the roasted barley, chocolate and caramel malts, and fresh vanilla to create its own deliciously unique flavor which makes this stout one of a kind.”
At Saint Errant, Jacobs says the intention of Sina and the Eel “was to be fully saturated with coconut flavor, complementing the chocolate and caramel undertones we incorporate into the massive imperial stout base. And there is no missing it, coconut and chocolate assault the senses the second the beer is opened. We use a combination of both toasted and raw coconut so as to provide a nuanced and rich coconut expression and as such mimic almost a coconut-macaroon-type vibe into the stout. For us personally, we have found this to be more successful than using solely raw or solely toasted coconut.”
At Last Wave, Jiorle says this of incorporating coconut into his beer: “Since trying Maui Brewing’s version almost 15 years ago, it was a dream of mine to make a beer like it that was available year-round on the East Coast. Our coconut porter has become one of our most popular beers.”
While the popularity of coconut beers has gained traction recently, some brewers are still hesitant to work with the ingredient, fearing that it is difficult to incorporate into the brewing process. However, this hasn’t stopped Trapani, Jacobs, and countless other brewers. When asked if he has difficulties working with coconut in his brews, Trapani says, “Not really. We had to adjust our quantity of coconut used once or twice, but this is typical and part of the process.”
Expanding on the issue, Jiorle says, “We add our toasted coconut post-fermentation. We drop the tank temp to 60°F [16°C] and harvest the yeast before setting up a hop back full of coconut chips. The beer is then cycled through the toasted coconut over the course of a few days, working hard to limit oxygen pickup and pull out the richest coconut flavors without any particulate in the finished product.”
Jacobs at Saint Errant uses a slightly more aggressive approach. “When using coconut, we do not want anyone to miss it. For our most coconut-forward beers such as Sina and the Eel, we are using upwards of 30 pounds per barrel. We know it sounds absolutely crazy and almost comical, but we have found that coconut being such a delicate flavor really requires a commitment to the ingredient in order to achieve those eye-opening reactions from it in the beer. To do this, we have a custom-modified infusion vessel that we load the coconut into and steep the beer cold-side on until we achieve the flavor profile we desire. In some cases, we will perform this as multiple infusions.”
At Resident Culture, Tropeano says, “In the past we have had issues when we tried adding the coconut loose into our adjuncting tank, which would cause the false bottom to get clogged up and make recirculation difficult. But we remedy that by bagging it in mesh bags before adding to our adjuncting tank and haven't had any issues.“
The Coconut Cooperative’s focus on high-quality organic coconut ingredients has certainly paid off. Their targeted approach has played out well with creative brewers who use coconut to achieve a unique, flavorful beer. “Our brewers are some of my favorite clients,” Funderburk says. “They take our coconut and pair it with other flavors to create some of the best beers around. It’s so rewarding to see that.”
To purchase fresh, organic toasted coconut chips from The Coconut Cooperative, visit their website here.
The Coconut Cooperative continues to rely on its founding principles: Quality, Affordability, Sustainability, Transparency and Trust.