The letter A is becoming quite heavily populated among the artisan bean-to-bar makers nowadays. First Amedei, then Amano, and now Askinosie (all of which end in vowels, by the way). Named after its founder, Shawn Askinosie, Askinosie is just one of seven companies in the USA that produces small batches of chocolate bars straight from the beans.
So far, Askinosie makes two single origin bars: Soconusco from Mexico and San Jose Del Tambo from Ecuador, which are also available with nibs, called Nibble Bars. These chocolates also come in one-kilo (2.2lb) blocs, and for those who wish to taste the bean and the bar side-by-side, Askinosie makes 160g (6oz) canisters of cacao nibs.
This is the first bar I tried from Askinosie, and I loved it because it reminded me of the brooding nature of Pralus, courtesy of indiscriminate dark roasting. The chocolate is bold and powerful yet the cherry notes are subtle and understated, not in your face, which adds a lovely depth of flavor. I was also impressed to encounter a chocolate that reflects favorably on an origin that rarely, if ever, receives the limelight.
I gave Soconusco a good review on Seventypercent.com and although I still hold it with high regards, I think perhaps Askinoise could have injected their own touch to the bar to make it distinctly theirs. Amano can be criticized for the same with their Ocumare bar as well, but both companies delivered awesome flavor in the end, and that’s what counts.
San Jose Del Tambo 70%
This one is definitely unique among Ecuadorian bars because it’s the lightest and sharpest one I’ve tried. Usually, bars made from these beans are powerful, chocolaty, and heavily redolent of blackberries. The origin has lots of potential, yet many mediocre interpretations exist, presumably because makers focus too much on rectifying the bitterness and dryness of the beans. Invariably, success with this origin is a hit or miss.
Askinosie hit the nail right on the head with this bar. In some ways, it resembles a Madagascan more than an Ecuadorian because it’s sharper and brighter than it is deep and bold. It is chocolaty, though, and blackberries (and plums) are in your face all the time, so you’ll never forget the geographical constituency of the bar, that’s for sure.
It sort of tingles in the mouth, which is a special feeling reminiscent of Valrhona’s Manjari. It’s a cheerful Ecuador Nacional, not a serious or feminine one, which I suppose could be equated to Santander’s interpretation of Colombian Nacional.
I’m also a huge fan of their mission to promote the financial viability of the farmers who grow their beans. It’s refreshing to pull up Askinosie’s website and see pictures of the farms and read commentary on the company’s relationship with the farmers rather than a minimalist layout and poetic embellishments that could just as fittingly describe a rear fender. (Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with those websites. I just find no value in them if I can’t learn a thing or two.)
Overall, I’d say that Askinosie has a capable foundation with these two bars. Not only are they vastly distinct from each other, but they also offer characteristics that you can’t easily find in similar chocolates.