On our Indiana Jones adventure inside the Hidden King, we discover the fantastical powers of Super Duper Drinks, a fairy door, and the promise of beers to come.
Super Duper Drinks
It splashed on our social media screen, Christopher Lasher was launching a coffee company, Super Duper Drinks. OMG! I shouted! Then, of course, I liked it, shared it, and messaged him about an interview.
I was giddy with anticipation, not unlike the feeling of a caffeine high.
Christopher Lasher got his taste for brewing coffee at Dark Horse Brewing, where he worked with Teo Watson-Ahlbrandt. They’ve both moved on, Christopher is with Griffin Claw Brewing, and Teo Watson-Ahlbrandt, is the Head Brewer at Big Hart Brewing Co.
Chuck and I are connected to Teo and Christopher because they are part of the fabric of the Michigan Craft Beer scene. Plus, I’ll admit they are two of my favorite peeps to seek out at the Michigan Brewers Guild festivals.
So when Christopher was looking for a place to set up his roaster, Teo said, “I have a friend in downtown Ann Arbor that’s starting a coffee thing; maybe you two should connect.”
A sit-down was organized between Christopher and Mark Wilfong and his sister-in-law Emily. Christopher said, “And then he brought me in here, and I sat down with Mark and Emily. We drank cold brew and talked about coffee. And I think I brought you some of the bourbon barrel 3 Scrooges, right?”
“Yeah, you did,” replied Emily laughing.
When they mentioned the sit-down, I couldn’t help but think of the Sopranos and Tony meeting with the mob bosses.
The “coffee thing” Teo mentioned is the Hidden King.
The Hidden King is located at 210 S. Main St, where the Peaceable Kingdom had been operating for more than 30 years. But years before that, in the 1880s, the first tenant was a German beer hall. Surprise twist! Very soon, Mark will be pouring Teo’s beer when the Hidden King opens in May 2023. It is fitting that Teo’s beer will be on tap, given his German roots.
It definitely doesn’t look like a German beer hall. The space is bright and clean but somehow cozy. Mark was hanging pictures when arrived. All of which are a snapshot of local history. “A Netflix chef called his restaurant a social gesture, and I kind of stole that,” Mark Wilfong said.
The Netflix chef is Massimo Bottura if you are wondering.
Mark’s mom, Carol Lopez, owned the Peaceable Kingdom.
Carol opened the Peaceable Kingdom in 1973 on the west side where Pilar’s Tamales is now. Then it moved to Liberty Street, where Hyperion Coffee is currently. She bought her Main Street building in 1986. Mark points out a picture on the wall, “And the rubble picture right there is the before and after. I am five years old. My first general contracting job, there’s my dad taking credit for my work,” Mark said.
We all laughed.
Mark is fully approved for his liquor license and can serve starting at the end of the first week of May. “We have a full class C, but we’re trying to find where we fit on the street,” Mark clarified. Mark’s spirit of collaboration and community immediately reminded me of that same spirit in Michigan beer.
Super Duper Drinks
With the introductions and hugs done, we get serious.
It says on the Super Duper Drinks bag they are located in Rochester. I asked Christopher, “Do you have this set up in your basement?” His reply was quick, “No, at the brewery, Griffin Claw.”
His roaster is in Troy at their warehouse, and he brews and packages in Rochester. He admits it is a really good deal. Christopher adds, “We are going to put coffee on tap in the tap rooms. We are debating between nitro coffee, cold coffee, and straight up, just coffee, and then you can add ice.”
Christopher has been experimenting with barrel-aging beans using Griffin Claw barrels. He added pre-roasted green coffee beans to bourbon and “3 Scrooges” Whiskey barrels and then rolled the barrel around the brewery every day for two weeks.
“Hopefully, you got a picture of that,” I said.
Laughing, Christopher replied, “I did make a GoPro video of me breaking down the barrel. Because you’ve got to bust apart the barrel to get all the beans out.”
He roasted the bourbon barrel to a medium roast. For the “3 Scrooges” Whiskey beans, since it was holiday spiced liquor, he added a little cinnamon to amp it up. Christopher said, “That little splash of cinnamon made it really nice. ” The coffee beans were put in gold coffee bags with labels. Both were sold at the Griffin Claw Store.
“So yeah, it’s a pretty good partnership so far,” he said. He mentioned several times during the interview how grateful he was to Griffin Claw and all the many people who have helped him launch Super Duper Drinks.
“I’ve always loved coffee. I’d never gone a day without it. Then one day, I went without, I don’t know if you want to put this in the interview or not, but I woke up sick,” Christopher says rather sheepishly.
He couldn’t remember why he didn’t have coffee. He gestured to Mary, his girlfriend sitting at the table. “She made me go to take a covid test. At the testing facility, I said, I think it’s cause I didn’t have coffee. I drank a coffee on the way, and I feel better.”
Christopher added the moral of the story is, “You never should go without it.”
Years ago, when Christopher worked at Dark Horse Brewing, they started a coffee program. He helped with packaging. He’d watch over James, the roaster’s shoulder. Occasionally trying beans right out of the cooling tray. Christopher said, “I’ve always been obsessed with coffee.”
At some point, someone gave Christopher 30 pounds of coffee. “For a few months, I just had coffee anytime, like the best coffee ever. I never wanted to go without good coffee ever again.”
We talk about how it’s hard sometimes to get good coffee when you are away from home on an adventure, backpacking, camping, or hiking. “The first thing you think about in the morning, what am I going to do? Usually, someone has to boil water. It’s just a hassle. It’s messy. I wanted to make super duper good coffee that you can have at all times. You never go without it,” Christopher said.
The Cold Brew Process
Maybe a year ago, he bought a one-pound roaster that goes over a gas burner. Which was replaced by a bigger electric roaster. “The beans float in the hot air, so you control how much hot air is getting blown up into the hopper, and you control how much heat is being supplied by the electricity. You’re keeping a constant flow of beans floating around in the hot air that makes it more of an even cleaner roast than drum roasters. I think it is a better quality bean that comes from air roasters,” Christopher said.
He roasts every week, keeping the beans fresh.
Christopher said, “I found this new way of making cold brew that there’s only like two other companies I know that do a similar process. I cold brew in less than an hour. I completely remove anything in the environment that would be bad for coffee, like oxygen sitting around all night.”
He continues, “I do it really quickly using different pressures and stuff. I’m able to get a quicker, cleaner, more flavorful coffee. Then I package it. I like to let it sit and settle for at least a night. It makes packaging easier when it’s colder.”
“I’m keeping it small and fresh because then I can brew, roast, and package every week. And then I ship all that stuff out that week so that I know that everyone’s getting like less than a week old product. I found this new way of making cold brew through a bunch of research, and there aren’t a lot of companies that do it this way, but I can tell you it makes the cold brewing process a lot quicker and more efficient. It keeps all the bad stuff out, but ends up locking more and better flavors and aromas into the brew,” Christopher said.
How long does it last? I asked. He answered if you keep it refrigerated, it’s good for six months.
It packs a caffeine punch too. Currently coming in at about 1.85 TDS (Total Dissolved Solids). Soon he will introduce a half-decaf blend which he is calling a “sessionable coffee” you can have later in the day and still be able to sleep at night.
I couldn’t help asking if his coffee business was similar to brewing beer.
“Yeah. A lot of the equipment is similar. I’ve just been around it all the time, learning about brewing. Then having access to brewers who actually know all the stuff. For example, I’ve bought all this equipment that is not cold brew coffee equipment. It’s not craft brewing equipment. It’s essentially lab equipment, but it’s big. It’s stainless steel and I made it. I guess I kind of, I don’t want to say invented it, but it’s not meant for this. I made it meant for this because I use that crazy process I’m not allowed to talk about.”
This comment makes us all laugh.
We jokingly referred to his cold brew coffee equipment as the “Superlyzer 9000.”
“I’ve got it all retro-fitted. It’s basically like brewing equipment, similar cleaning, sanitizing methods, and chemicals,” Christopher said.
Christopher mentioned Super Duper beans have been used to make Griffin Claw’s “Soupy-C” a coffee, caramel, and cinnamon stout.
Dark Horse bought 40 pounds of very light roasted coffee from Christopher for this year’s “Zhaftig Ghastly” pale stout. Christopher said, “I remember when I was there (When he worked at Dark Horse.); that’s how they did it. It was a really, really light coffee, and then just hammered them (the beans), didn’t grind it. They just broke the beans a little bit and put it in a filter to run beer through it to just pick up the flavor and the color.”
Christopher uses a blend of beans with the same origin countries but different rations. He always uses Costa Rica with Colombian, Honduran, or Guatemala. He said, “The Costa Rican beans I get are kind of chocolatey. They give up some of those chocolate characters, and then the Colombian beans are just like that straight-up OG coffee. I can’t describe it besides just coffee. It smells and tastes coffee, and that is what I like.”
He continued, “So that mixed in it with a little chocolate, little sweetness. And then the Honduran just gives it more body and character. I like a little bit of fruitiness.”
The Adventure Pouch
Super Duper coffee is insanely good, but the pouch is the icing on the cake, so to speak. It reminds me of the Capri Sun pouches we hand out to the kids after soccer games. I’ve also seen similar packaging for “adult” drinks like the Dailys Wild Berry Margarita Pouch.
I asked Christopher who else is packaging coffee in a pouch.
He said, “There are other companies. You notice all of the big industries are turning to pouches and flexible packaging like apple sauce, baby food, and cleaning supplies. In other countries, these are like the most popular packaging.”
Of course, I googled it. Sure enough, Korea is all over it.
What about recycling? Can you recycle the pouches?
Christopher answered, “Yeah. I’m trying to source through another company to get even more sustainable packaging. It will be printed too, instead of a label. So they have pouches that are industrial compostable.
The plastic is the number four recycled plastic. So it can go right in recycling, or it can be composted in an industrial, not like your home compost.
The best thing about the pouches is they’re a lower carbon footprint overall. A couple of boxes is the equivalent of a pallet of cans or bottles. There’s less material in the manufacturing process, so there are less CO2 emissions. To ship it to me or whoever, it’s a box instead of a pallet or a full truckload of pallets or cans and bottles.”
Super Duper Points
When you create an account on the Super Duper site, you receive 50 Super Duper reward points. They are worth 7 cents a point, which you can use to purchase Super Duper coffee. You also get points for your first purchase and every other purchase. On top of that, Christopher randomly sends people points. For instance, it was someone’s birthday, and he sent them points.
Eventually, through his rewards program, Christopher plans to reward people for submitting media content. So when you take Super Duper into the wild, you can take a picture and submit it and get rewards points.
After you get your Super Duper Coffee at Hidden King, don’t miss learning how Hidden King gets its name.
In March 2019, Click On Detroit published a great article about the 8 feet by 8 feet mural behind the wallboard inside Hidden King. “The mural depicts Gambrinus, a European cultural figure celebrated as the icon of joviality, beer, and brewing. He is always depicted wearing a crown and holding a keg and a cup in each of his hands.”
Right now, you can only see a small 3-foot-by-3-foot section of the mural. The rest is still covered behind the wallboard.
The Original Fairy Door
As Mark is explaining where the Hidden King fits on the street and the community, he mentions, “Rocket Fizz came down. They leave taffy for the little kids that come to see the fairy door.”
I interrupted him, “You have a fairy door?”
Insert lots of laughter here!
“I’m sorry, my dear, we have the fairy door,” Mark said with a smile.
About 20 years ago, “In walks Jonathan Wright. My mom lovingly called him the head fairy. He’s a retired art teacher and a self-proclaimed old hippie. He started explaining what he wanted to do, and Carol went, whatever. Jonathan, I’m busy; gave him a key to the Peaceable Kingdom,” Mark said.
I was thinking I wanted a key to the Peaceable Kingdom.
Mark continued, “He came and worked every night for two weeks. And then all of a sudden, one day, one of Carol’s employees went, Carol. He had made doll house reproduction of her actual Victorian-era display cases.
And it turned into a whole thing. And there are homages constantly to the fairies. Rocket Fizz has special bottle caps. They’re going to mark them in a certain way, give us a little bag of them. We will give them to the little kids that come in and tell them these are special bottle caps. The fairies keep stealing them. You can take this back to Rocket Fizz and get a prize.
That’s what I mean by trying to fit into the community,” Mark explained.
We’ve got a few more pictures of our adventure in the Hidden King in our gallery.
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