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Give Up The Roast: Raven’s Brew Coffee Dead Man’s Reach vs. ‘Junkyard’ by The Birthday Party

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Give Up The Roast is a column that collides delicious caffeine with wild thrashing a la a bi-monthly coffee and punk album pairing — the perfect combination  for perking you up during that midday slump. Here, columnist Shannon Shreibak investigates all of the notes, from fruit rinds and spices to perfect fifths smothered in grinding distortion. So come on all you coffee shop novelists, DIY freaks, and connoisseurs of fine taste — keep your mind here in the GUTR and catch a buzz with us.


OK, I don’t wanna call myself heartless right off the bat, but I couldn’t even begin to recount all the occasions I’ve been pinned as a shameless poster child of malevolence. From my sense of humor to my taste in coffee and proclivity for punk, it’s all pretty dark stuff; hence, my manhandling of the two into a sorta cohesive column. But enough pandering — let’s cut the chit-chat and chaff in favor of the more important things in life, ahem, the tunes and the brews.

BEHIND THE CURTAIN  (BACKGROUND)

One common thread running through my many (mostly comical) romantic misdoings and catastrophes is my takeaway of a musical artist that not only characterized the relationship, but also defined me at the time. My longstanding high school crush introduced me to Talking Heads; my first tryst in college got me hooked on Dr. Dog; my inaugural post-grad infatuation opened up my world to Modern Life Is War. The dude and the album that really changed the game, though, was the subject of my late teenage infatuation, who turned me onto the power and the glory of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Not long after this musical, introduction, though, he smashed my heart to smithereens. In the wake of my convalescence, I took a family trip to Alaska, where I discovered Raven’s Brew Coffee, as well as Nick Cave’s undeniable suitability for vast tundra and aching hearts.

BRASS TACKS (THE COFFEE)

Today’s brew in question is Dead Man’s Reach, all the way from Ketchikan, Alaska’s Raven’s Brew Coffee. Founded back in 1992 (when I was a mere embryo, people), one adventurous entrepreneur by the name of Michael Beech decided he’d roast coffee as best he could within his limited means. This culminated with Beech creating his robust blends in a cutting edge, state-of-the-art… friend’s garage. He’d crank out bags upon bags of the tasty beans and slap each one with a black-and-white sticker featuring a raven rising not from ashes, but from a steaming cup of coffee

It wasn’t long until the Department of Environmental Conservation got wind of Beech’s little ragtag roasting works, and they forced him to move. This shuffle led to Raven’s Brew hunkering down in an old bunkhouse in the heart of Ketchikan. But with new digs came new flavors; and due to the influx of electricity pulsing through his roaster, Beech had to master the art of the perfect roast all over again. It wasn’t long before Beech got his groove back and built a crazy contraption called the “Death Trap,” named so because it had the tendency to do cool shit like burst into flames during its infancy. (Lest we forget what a dangerous business coffee roasting can be.) After a long period of trial and error, RB made the final move to its third location, where I found them. 

I stumbled upon Raven’s Brew during a family trip through Alaska. After seven days on a cruise ship with nothing but swill water coffee to wake my tired eyes, I was desperate for a cup o’ joe that wasn’t spat out of a K-cup. Walking through Ketchikan’s answer to an “alternative,” Portlandia-esque cultural hub, I spotted Raven’s Brew’s open-air coffee hut like a beacon in the night. It was a glorious moment; I’m sure that a choir of angels sang upon my arrival. After chatting with the friendly barista about our Chicago roots and a mutual love for A.F.I., it was time to pick out some souvenirs. Admitting my dislike for citrusy roasts, the barista helped me settle on Dead Man’s Reach, their most famous (so popular that it deserves its own website) and darkest roast.

Out of impatience and undeniable biological need, I ordered a pour-over on the spot. Regardless of the brewing method, though, DMR is incredibly smooth and robust, with a sweet, almost chocolatey aftertaste. I can’t contest the claim that DMR is strong enough to fuel any hectic day, whether you’re pulling an all-nighter or muscling through a dreaded graveyard shift. Despite its manageable body and unruffled mouthfeel, DMR packs a huge punch, one that I can appreciate for days that seem insurmountable without the help of my favorite beverage. The brew is anchored with nutty notes, predominantly hazelnut, and is excellent when prepared as a cold brew. Needless to say, stopping by Raven’s Brew was certainly a detour worth its weight in coffee beans.

WHITE NOISE (THE MUSIC)

What artist could hold up to a brew that’s wonderfully sinewy, dark as the world’s deepest caverns and most rotten hearts, while keeping you begging for more? None other than the Prince of Darkness himself, Nick Cave. Due to my unwavering Nick Cave obsession, choosing one of the Bad Seeds’ 15 studio albums to go toe-to-toe with Dead Man’s Reach simply wasn’t an option — it’d be like choosing a favorite maladjusted child. But y’know what I CAN do? Tell you that the Birthday Party, Cave’s industrial-tinged post-punk band with Mick Harvey and Tracy Pew can hold their own against such a robust brew.

From 1978 to ’83, the Birthday Party brought grimy post-punk to the Land Down Under and beyond. Oscillating between themes of the hallowed and the irreverent, Cave crafted an eerie juxtaposition with his nightmarish yarns against Harvey’s shivering guitars and Phill Calvert’s stalwartly simple backbeat. Who would’ve thought to crash through a racket of stupid-simple drum beats and tremoring guitars with tragedies lifted from the Old Testament and slumlords alike? A tweaked-out Nick Cave with “HELL” smeared across his chest, that’s who.

Ultimately laying the foundation for the goth-rock scenes later dominated by the likes of My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Birthday Party were a bunch of misfits with brilliance pouring from their needle-worn veins. The band may have been short lived, but from the band’s ashes rose the almighty Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Crime and the City Solution and These Immortal Souls. A band that endures both time and everlasting darkness, these misfits are undoubtedly the only ones who would return Dead Man’s Reach.

Hail, hail the Prince of Darkness And His Loyal Legion!

Column by Shannon Shreibak. Go forth and be loud with her on Twitter @ShannonShreibak.



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