Cold Brew Meets Keg, Not to Mention Nitrogen
Editor’s note: Our summer series on cold-brewed coffee began on Saturday, June 28, and continues each Saturday through July. To read part 1, go HERE.
By Jeremy Martin
Until recently, cold-brewed coffee had been crafted in the same general way—either using a Toddy or similar steeping system, or by going full cowboy and using just cheesecloth and bucket. Further, the way in which it’s been served hadn’t changed all that much either.
Toddy systems have a plastic nozzle near the base to pour the brew from; some cafés choose to fill growlers, and pour into customers’ cups from that. All in all, however, there are only a handful of ways to get the coffee into your glass, most of which have a serious lack of curb appeal.
Over the past couple of years though, a more exciting cold-brew method has been gaining momentum, as has the way in which it’s served: It’s nitrogenated cold brew served on draught.
For nitro, the cold brew is prepared much like it would be in the Toddy method, but instead of serving it straight from the brewer, it gets kegged, and nitrogen—which is largely insoluble in liquid—is added much like it is to a nitro stout beer.
“It changes nearly every sensory experience,” says Diane Aylsworth, head of cold brew for Stumptown Coffee Roasters. “You get a cool visual from it: It pours like a Guinness, comes out cloudy, and you watch it cascade down and separate out into a darker brew and a lighter head. From an aromatic standpoint, it gives off this beautiful coffee aroma, much stronger than a normal drip. From a mouthfeel perspective, it’s creamier and thicker.”
The idea of putting cold-brewed coffee in a keg and serving it on draught has been with us for perhaps a decade or more, with café’s, beer bars, and restaurants discovering that pulling coffee from a tap as opposed to serving it from a jug or bucket is both a novel conversation starter as well as way to free up counter and storage space.
“It’s brewed the same way and cut the same way with water so the ingredients are exactly the same,” Aylsworth continues. “The keg just gives us a more efficient way to serve en masse. It works fantastic in our cafes, and we have quite a few wholesale accounts catching on.”
Which is where a Portland, Ore., ice cream store comes into play.
“Our initial idea was to have something to pair with ice cream, but once we started putting the ice cream in the Stumptown, it was kind of magical,” says Tyler Malek, co-owner of Salt & Straw in Portland. “In our stores, we love doing just a simple vanilla; honestly I think the coffee itself is so special, I don’t want to cover that up, and we’re just bolstering it with the cream and sugar.”
Nitro cold brew has just recently joined the Stumptown cold brew family, which already included the original cold brew in bottles and non nitrogenated cold brew on draught. The company has also recently unveiled a cold brew and milk blend packaged in paper cartons.
“I picked up a four pack of Left Hand Milk Stout, and I poured it hard into a glass and was watching it cascade,” says McKim. “I was watching the whole nitro effect and thought ‘dude, we’ve got to do this with our coffee.’’’
That cascading effect McKim saw was courtesy of the added nitrogen in the Milk Stout keg, but also because his bottle was filled using a special piece of technology called a restrictor which forces the beer through tiny holes as opposed to allowing it to flow freely from a larger tap. This is the same technology is affixed to Guinness taps, creating the iconic, thick khaki colored head.
With this in mind, McKim and his Cuvee staff set out with the mission of creating a stout-like cold brew pulled off draught. They call this nitrogenated cold craft coffee Black & Blue.
“We put a little video online, and I’m not kidding when I say I’ve had no less than 500 coffee roasters ask how to do the nitro,” McKim says.
And it wasn’t just other roasters and café owners who were curious—customers, too, wanted to know about the method.
Cuvee now does most of its cold brew sales through wholesale, supplying other cafes, restaurants, bars, and special events.
“Originally I thought coffee shops were the no brainer, but now we’re in a fast casual restaurant, we’re in a handful of craft beer bars. We average between 80 to 100 kegs per week,” McKim said.
Even a company in an office building requested it; They installed a kegerator so employees could pull glasses of fresh cold brew while they worked.
“Nitro is getting pushed on a broader scale, into numerous markets,” Aylsworth said.
It may be making a splash with consumers right now, but it still has a long way to do to catch up with the demand for portable cold brew, something we’ll discuss in the next installment.
Our summer series, Completely Cold Brew returns on Saturday, July 12.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeremy Martin is a freelance writer and photographer who has reported on coffee, craft beer, college sports, and business for a variety of publications over the past six years. A veteran of the café industry and graduate of Western Michigan University, Jeremy lives in Seattle where can often be found making sandwiches from whatever is left in the fridge and cracking wise for the amusement of his adoring wife Amanda.