Mast Brothers, known for a particularly distinctive style, provide here a blend in addition to their line of single-origins. There is interest in how they’ll interpret a blend – will they stay with their style, or will they opt for a more balanced approach? Perhaps this should be seen as their “base” chocolate, the standard choice against which the other chocolates in their line are alternatives to try later or occasionally. It’s notable too that while they list all ingredients as organic, the bar carries no explicit overall certification – an intelligent choice that can indicate where a company’s philosophical and quality leanings lie without generating additional bureaucratic overhead whose cost could end up requiring compromises in product quality. They are definitely reviving the concept of a blend as a good thing in its own right; it’s not necessary or even particularly valuable for a new, artisanal manufacturer to create nothing but single-origin bars.
Alex Rast: 24-May-2011
Where Mast’s unique style somehow doesn’t seem to quite get the best out of origins, it reveals its strength in a blend. Where one interpretation of a great blend is the balanced, even approach exemplified by Michel Cluizel’s Noir 72%, Mast show an alternative and equally valid interpretation, a display of vivid but complementary flavour contrasts. It would seem too that Mast is blending sources processed differently – as it should be: a different process for each bean is the only way to get the best out of all of them. Here the bar presents both fruity and roasty elements, in a chocolate that shows that an extreme style can generate a great result in the right situation.
Mast bars never look particularly impressive out of the wrapper, and this one is no exception, with a rustic, somewhat rough look even if the colour is quite appealing: a darkish red-brown. Considerable unevenness makes it clear this is an artisanal product rather than the output of mass production. The aroma, too, is anything other than mass-produced, in the best possible sense. It must be said that it’s extremely bipolar, on the one hand having a powerful raspberry fruitiness, but on the other an equally powerful roasted earthy note. Hints of coffee and molasses suggest that perhaps the roast will end up dominating in the flavour, but this awaits concrete proof.
As it turns out, though, the flavour has a lot of dominant elements but no one of them takes command. There is an initial, very bright raspberry fruitiness, which gives way only reluctantly to coffee. Then the flavour starts showing sharp, sour suggestions of vinegar, with a mahogany cast and hints of molasses. All of these flavours vie for attention, yet never seem to clash, and the finish is endless, never flattening or dissipating. Mast has succeeded in a very hard task: achieving a marriage of strong, distinctive flavours.
It can’t be said that the texture is as much of a success, although self-evidently a process choice; it’s rough and dry, forcing you to focus on the flavour for any sense of satisfaction. Luckily the flavour is in fact completely satisfying, a perfect resolution of opposites. Why does Mast do so well here if their efforts at varietals are interesting but flawed? In a word: compensation. Varietals allow really only one process set, and this makes it difficult to create a distinctive style that works because perhaps only one style will best exhibit the beans. But with blending, it becomes possible to offset individual problems with a varietal while revealing the best the style has to offer. Mast certainly has its own very particular style, and perhaps in time they’ll find a bean that complements it, but for the moment they have a fine blend that could be the ultimate argument for why blending remains a good idea.