The Chocolate Life

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Colin Gasko — Rogue new kid on the block

Rogue Chocolatier is the newest American “bean to bar” chocolate maker. Located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, this efficiency apartment sized chocolate factory was started just a few months ago by Colin Gasko. Aside from the fact that he has created what is most likely the world's smallest chocolate factory, there are a few things you should know about Colin. He is 22 years old, he doesn’t own a car, he does a lot of the work himself, he has not yet been to a cacao plantation and he makes fantastic chocolate.
A “bean to bar” chocolate manufacturer means a maker who does everything from the raw bean, starting with cacao beans that have been fermented
and dried by the grower, but not yet roasted. So the beans are taken all the way from this raw state to a molded bar of chocolate by the same maker. The process begins with sorting, then roasting, then winnowing and cracking, then grinding, then mixing, then conching. And then there is tempering, molding, cooling, and wrapping. Colin does not have employees, and much of this is his one man show. He is helped out by his father four days a week, and a friend pitches in ten hours a week. Colin often relies on friends for transportation.



There aren’t many bean to bar makers in the world, some 50 or so at last verified count. About 20 are in the United States. When I say verified, it is because bean to bar has become a desirable label denoting an artisan maker, and so many chocolate companies seek to elevate their status by claiming to make their chocolate bean to bar, but they are what else fudging the truth!

So without a car, Colin gets rides, takes the bus, or rides his bike to his Southeast Minneapolis warehouse space each day, which happens to be right next door to nationally known Twin Cities chocolatier B.T. McElrath, and there he usually spends 14 hour days perfecting his chocolate.

This manufacturing operation is all in one open space, with one small storage alcove in the back, where Colin stores his beans in 5 gallon plastic pails
there is no room for large sacks of beans. As we progress along the tour, he says things like “I use this as my cooling room,” as he makes a sweeping motion to the wall in another part of the space, just a couple feet away from the “conching room” we are standing in, which is the middle of the room. This funky metal rack is the “room” where the bars cool inside their molds resting on shelves. There are maybe 50 bars in the cooling room today. And some 100 more against another wall await their packaging in their very own “wrapping room.”

Much of the equipment has been custom built to a scale fitting the digs. The batch size at the time of my tour is small
30 lbs. A new conche is being built and is slated to arrive next month, and this will increase batch capacity to 200 lbs.

Colin prefers a shorter conching period of about 18 hours. He conches to about 20 microns. The chocolate is currently aged one month. He prefers to age for two months, and says this will become possible when the batch size increases with the new conche. With increasing demand due to a recent article in the local weekly City Pages, and such small batches, it has been difficult to let the chocolate sit a full two months as of yet.

The first time Colin got the idea to go into business as a chocolate maker was one year ago, only six months after the first time he had made his own chocolate at home. He had been making truffles for awhile and found that to be limiting and an already crowded field, and so decided to embark on a little home made experiment, and his first bars were made using equipment from Chocolate Alchemy, a one stop shop for the home chocolate maker and the same way others have gotten their start. Like many other small batch artisan makers, Colin is teaching himself the trade by reading old manuals, consulting with other artisan makers, and by the experience of trial and error.

Colin has eaten a lot of chocolate since he was a boy. When the tides of chocolate making in this country began to gently turn toward a more artisan approach, he took notice and became an early fan of Scharffen Berger when their first bars came out in the early 2000s.

Currently Rogue offers a Sambirano and an Ocumare, both at 70%. The next origins on the docket are Trinidad, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. I had a chance to sample the Trinidad, I’m a big fan of this origin, and commented to Colin that what I liked best about his take on this interesting bean was the way he handled the coconut, differently than Trinidad bars I’ve had by other makers (namely Pralus and Amadei.) And with a smile he proudly told me that it was a trick he had pulled to balance the coconut and fruit, and this was the reaction he was going for.

I also had the chance to sample some raw, unroasted cacao beans (below) for the first time, they were from Jamaica. I found them much less bitter than I had anticipated, and with a sweetness I did not expect
still evidence of the sweet cacao pulp before some of its delicate flavor is roasted away. I really enjoyed it.


Colin offered me a sample of the Ocumare, then the Sambirano, and he was anxious to hear my response to his work, and kept pressing me for more feedback than simply “good.” I told him that he would have to read the rest on the blog. I told him “I need to give this the full treatment, with the fresh palate in the morning,” and he said “À la Chloé!” “Yes exactly,” I replied, “à la Chloé!”

Chloé is Chloé Doutre-Roussel, whose name is inevitably encountered early on in the world of fine chocolate. Her famous little pink book, the introductory manual Chocolate Connoisseur, is familiar reading to most of fine chocolate’s initiated. More about Chloé and her book later on the Chocolate Note. For now let’s say she is notorious for her six a.m. chocolate tastings, conducted with a fresh palate
no eating first!

Colin told me that he had just recently received an email from Chloé, who heard about Rogue from the City Pages article, and is already on the scene offering guidance, asking questions, without even having tasted Rogue chocolate. She has been encouraging him to stop using vanilla, which many in the new artisan movement are tending to omit. Colin does not use soy lecithin, also becoming more common practice among artisan makers, and he uses nondeoderized cocoa butter. He would like to take Chloé’s advice and experiment with no vanilla, and also with no added cocoa butter down the road. He would like to play with other percentages, but at this time his plans are to unveil the Jamaica, Trinidad, and Dominican Republic as 70% bars, sometime later this year. He is also working on a blend using some of the above origins plus Arriba, and this will likely be a limited edition run.

Colin looks forward to these and other experiments and admits he has a lot to learn, and that his palate is still developing. When asked if he would have a presence on the chocolate salon circuit next fall, he said he may not be ready. He really wants the chocolate to be as close to perfectly where he wants it to be as possible, even if he thinks it is not too far off now. For the time being he is content to work with solid bars
no flavored bars, no milk chocolate, no bonbons. He is happy to explain that since he only processes cacao, sugar, and vanilla in his workshop, his products are currently 100% vegan, gluten, nut, and dairy sensitive friendly!

And what chocolate bars other than his own is he happy to eat? “I like the Theo Ghana, that’s a good one for that nice cocoa-y kick. And I liked Scharffen Berger’s last Cuyagua, once it settled a little bit, for a couple months.” And he can't say enough good things about Steve DeVries and his chocolate. Steve has served as a source of inspiration and guidance to many of the newer artisan chocolate makers.

And so, as promised, I have conducted my morning tastings and present my conclusions below. Colin himself is not so into these rituals around tasting
times of day, palate cleansing, special methods “No,” he says “I just put it in my mouth and chew.” For his first two efforts, I will say Bravissimo! As to the new chocolate, I look forward to having new Rogue chocolate to put into my mouth and chew!

Where can you get Rogue chocolate? Outside of a few Twin Cities retail locations, currently limited to the Kitchen Window, Surdyk's and Kopplin's Coffee, it is currently only available through Rogue Chocolatier. And once you've ordered online the rest is simple, you know what to do
put it in your mouth and chew!


Ocumare
origin: Venezuela (Ocumare Valley)
rating: 9.2

An Ocumare to get your motor running. The champagne explosion is balanced by an appropriate amount of coffee and bitter notes.
Don't let the fact that my flavor notes are the shortest fool you, the taste is is the most amazing part. The finish has an aromatic herb bouquet that is best described as sprucey. More often than with any other chocolate I have so far tasted, I had the feeling that there were distinct flavors and aromas which I should be able to recognize, but was not able to quite name. "What's that, oh, wait, what's that?"

aroma: raisin, currant, mint, olive, tobacco, banana, coffee, blackberry, walnut, cranberry, must, soy/tofu, bee pollen, blueberry, raspberry, leather, palm tree

flavor: chocolate, coffee, plum, cranberry, nutmeg, banana, bouquet of fruity wine/ champagne, bouquet of tropical fruits

finish: cream, coffee, dirt, hay, tobacco, mint, plum, water chestnut, hibiscus,
doughnuts, bouquet of fruity wine, silk, mushroom, honey, bouquet of aromatic herbs: sage, lavender, and spruce, resin, lemon, cinnamon, apricot, flax seed, smoked fish, dandelion wine, orange, tomato, strawberry


Samibrano
origin: Madagascar (Sambirano Valley)
rating: 9.1

For the aftertaste, at first I thought, "This finish is not so stellar as the aroma and taste had led me to expect," but every time I thought,"Okay, that's it," it kept coming back, if subtly, with waves of the most pleasant chocolate, overlapped at turns by nectar, marshmallow, craisin, and rose. So that by the time it really was done, my taste buds, like a child just finished with a ride at the fair, said "Let's go back and do it again!"

aroma: leather, cherry, walnut, almond, champagne, banana, blueberry, chocolate, dirt, coffee, caramel, nutmeg, cinnamon, floral

flavor: coconut, banana, chocolate, rose, blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, wine, bilberry, peppermint, hay, lime, plum, caramel, mint, mango

finish: blueberry spritzer, zinfandel, old leather boots, shoebox, lemon, lime, mango, white wine, Chardonnay, lime jello, cigar, toffee, plum, coffee, green apple jolly rancher candy, clove, lavender

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Comment by Clay Gordon on February 4, 2008 at 9:42pm
Casey: Thanks for pointing out about the COPIA Festival - it's on The Chocolate Life Events Calendar. For everyone who's going, I will be leading the keynote, giving a tasting, and signing books. Good luck with your entry!
Comment by Casey on February 4, 2008 at 7:16pm
Culintae is having a contest for a trip for two the Napa Valley Death by Chocolate Festival on Feb. 23. They are sending one food blogger and one Culinate reader (and their companions.) A food bloggr who writes about chocolate can submit entries. I submitted this post about Rogue as my entry in the contest. Check it out and vote for me here, and enter yourself! http://chocolatenote.blogspot.com/2008/02/vote-for-chocolate-note.html
Comment by Chocoflyer on February 4, 2008 at 2:50pm
I would like to commend Colin for really going for it! Its like reading about a rising singer/ songwriter who crafts his own lyrics/ music/ and plays multiple instruments- putting it all together and creating a masterpeice album- Im sure we will be hearing about Rogue much more in the coming months & years...Im heading to the website to buy some now!
Comment by Sera on January 31, 2008 at 9:21pm
Casey, what a great idea! ;)

I gotta try these, I can't resist tasting new chocolate!
Comment by Lorna on January 31, 2008 at 6:58pm
Look at that snap and sheen! Great photo.

Woo hoo, I'm going to Minneapolis in June! Going to be putting things in my mouth and chewing, I expect.
Comment by Clay Gordon on January 31, 2008 at 6:53pm
Casey:

Really love the attention to detail and thoughtfulness on this. I haven't tasted it, so please encourage Colin to join so I can ask him to send samples so I can review them.
Comment by Casey on January 31, 2008 at 6:33pm
This is cross posted from my blog as Clay suggested.

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