Talking craft coffee and craft beer with Jack Twachtman
1. Tell us about BREW Five Points
BREW is a craft beer and espresso bar. Our focus is exclusively on espressos as opposed to drip coffee and pour overs. For beer, we’ll have a few draft taps but our main focus will be on craft beer in cans.
2. What did you envision BREW to be when you were creating it?
We wanted to present the bar and coffee shop in a way that hasn’t been done here yet. We definitely wanted to have a clean, modern, stylish design. We knew we’d have a smaller space so we wanted to make sure it was warm and inviting. It’s a place where you can bring one person or a small group of friends. It’s about community and conversation and trying new things. Our tables are community tables as opposed to little two-tops with bar stools. We’re never going to have cheap beer and PBR specials. It’s about getting people to try new things and hopefully finding new favorites.
We want to educate on both sides of the concept - beer and coffee. The staff will all be very knowledgeable about what it is they’re serving and hopefully able to make recommendations based on what you like. More than anything we want to highlight the story behind the product. That’s why we went the craft route. The people who make our coffee, for example, some of them went as far as visiting the farms in South America where the beans were grown. There are real people and faces behind the products. We could potentially show you a picture of the person who roasted your coffee beans or the person who brewed your craft beer. Behind all these people are stories and reasons about why they’re doing what they do - they’re not just using a set formula based on focus groups and marketing research - it’s something they’re passionate about and what they want to do.
3. How will you share those stories with people who come to BREW?
We’ll be using things like social media to provide teasers about the stories and if you want to know more you can ask. We’re not going to lecture to people who don’t care. It’s also a function of being in a smaller space. It provides a personal environment that’s conducive to talking and sharing information.
4. Why Five Points?
My partner, Jason, approached me about the concept for BREW. I’ve always been passionate about coffee and wanted to get into it but there are a lot of startup costs and I didn’t really know how to do it. The opportunity to rent out the space was given to us by the owners of the building. They wanted a coffee shop here and they wanted us to run it. Our idea was to have a concept that included both coffee and craft beer, so we presented that and they were cool with it.
So, the opportunity presented itself, but it’s also the right time. Within a few months there won’t be an empty storefront in the neighborhood. Five Points has always had these stops and starts and things are starting back up now. At one point when it was really fun it was all about these young people doing their own kooky things. Now it’s more … and I definitely don’t want to say gentrified, but people are doing it right. Things are being handled the way they’re supposed to be. Rain Dogs has opened. Corner Taco and Hawkers have just opened as well. Now, when you come here you can’t park - if they could get more parking around here it would be awesome.
5. With many bars upping the ante with more and more draft beer taps, why did you decide to focus less on draft beer and more on beer in cans?
It’s an emerging trend with craft beer and we really liked the idea of cans. It’s something that seemed really simple and sort of nostalgic. Canned beer also lasts longer and it doesn’t get damaged by the sun, so many argue that canned beer tastes better. It’s more fun too - you get to crush the cans and recycle them.
I also own Burro Bar and we have 20 taps there, which is pretty cool. A lot of people like draft beer, but from a management perspective it’s much nicer dealing with smaller little discrete units versus liquid inventory, which is very hard to manage. With taps you also waste a lot, which many people don’t realize.
6. Who’s the audience for BREW?
I think it will be young professionals through to middle-aged Riverside people who are still cool. Burro Bar is my punk side and my party side and BREW is my me-growing-up-a-litttle-bit side. I think BREW will appeal to my designer friends, developers, and people like us who are craftspeople in their own right. Whether they’re artists, entrepreneurs, furniture makers, or whatever - all people who appreciate craftsmanship in their lives. There are people who have regular jobs who also appreciate these things. BREW will be for people who are looking beyond commoditized products to something that reflects the person who is making the product and that allows them to be closer to the stuff they consume.
7. Will BREW be an all day venue or will it focus on a particular part of the day?
I want BREW to be the first place you stop before work and then the first place you come after work, whether you want a coffee after work or to meet friends for a beer. Believe it or not, or goal is not to get you drunk. There are other places to go for that and they do a fine job of it. For that reason, we'll close a little earlier than everyone else. Plus, we want to go out and party after work too!
8. A lot of coffee places have moved away from classic espresso drinks to focus on blended drinks and coffees with syrups and whipped cream. What sort of coffee drinks will you carry?
We’re very rigid in our approach to serving classic espresso drinks. The original, old-school Italian espresso tradition was very strict as well. When Starbucks came along they added their own twist to espresso. Now there’s a new wave of American espressos that’s driven by advancements in technology. Even twenty years ago there weren’t machines that could easily control temperature or regulate pressure. Now, with the new espresso machines that are available there are all kinds of ways to extract different flavors from the beans. The old style espresso bars didn’t have access to all the varieties of coffee, particularly the South American ones and relied almost entirely on blends of the robusta bean, which had to be nearly burnt during roasting. Brewing back then was shorter and stronger and the espresso was almost always mixed with sugar. Now people are using lighter single origin roasts and experimenting with dosage, brew time and the myriad variables that go into making espresso. The result is a sweeter, more complex cup, with more fruit and floral notes to them.
So our approach will be classic, but in the emerging style that takes advantage of the newer technologies and available beans. There’s that and there’s the preparation itself. People are often confused about things like cappuccino, which they assume is made with a big dollop of foam, which it’s not - it’s more about the ratio of coffee to milk - and there’s more technology to steam your milk into a better texture.
We even take a harder line than Bold Bean does in some areas. If you want milk, we only use whole milk and not skim milk. You shouldn’t be drinking more than a few ounces of milk anyway. We’d even like to move people away from any milk towards just drinking espresso. We're not going to snub our noses at you or anything, but we want to help you learn to appreciate the coffee in its purest form. Many of us still drink lattes on occasion and have no problem making them for you but we do draw the line at flavored syrups. Coffee is delicious and doesn't need that stuff!
9. With all the espresso making technology out there, what’s the role of the barista at BREW?
Something I heard when I was boning up on my espresso making skills is that a barista can’t make a better coffee, they can only take away from it. Once the beans are roasted, it's up to the barista to extract the flavors hidden inside. A lot of people love the smell of roasted coffee but dislike the taste - that's what I'm talking about. It shouldn't be like that. A perfect cup tastes like the beans smell, but getting there is no small feat. It’s an art form and a science. You can’t just push a button and make a coffee the same way every time. Coffee is impacted by things like the outside temperature and pressure - so it requires a lot of attention to detail. You have to be passionate about it because you’re going to have to drink and taste a lot as you learn. It definitely helps to have a low sensitivity to caffeine.
10. How did you find your baristas?
It’s hard here in Jacksonville. I wouldn’t consider any of us to be really expert baristas (yet). There are a lot of people who want to be baristas with us but there’s a steep learning curve. We trained for a long time and we’re still learning. It takes months to be even decent at it. I really looked for people who had a passion for it and who wanted to learn. It’s a fun, cool job to have and, because of the learning curve, once you get some skills you’ll be able to get a job some place else if you were to move away or if a new shop were to open. It’s hard to know who will be really good at it. We focused on a person’s passion more than their current technical expertise.
11. Do you envision roasting your own coffee beans or brewing your own beer at some time?
No, we’d rather focus on expanding to more locations. We compete in the same retail space as Bold Bean but they’re killing it with their roasting and we couldn’t do it better, so we’d rather leave the roasting to them.
12. What’s your relationship with Bold Bean?
In the beginning some of the people from Bold Bean were going to be involved but they had to step back to focus on opening their new location in Jax Beach and Murray Hill Roastery. We’re all good friends with the entire staff and they help us as much as they can. They took an active part in training us when we got started. We’ll be representing their product so it was important to them to make sure we knew how to make a great cup of their coffee. At least 60% of our coffee will come from Bold Bean. We’ll aways carry Sweet Spot which is Bold Bean’s flagship espresso roast and then we’ll rotate a featured espresso. Sometimes it will be a single origin bean from Bold Bean and sometimes it’ll be from another supplier from Texas, Portland, San Francisco or wherever. When selecting who to work with we prefer to go with companies we've established a personal relationship with. When I travel, I make it a point to meet the people behind my coffee. It makes for a better, friendlier business arrangement that goes beyond profit.
13. How will you decide on which craft beers to carry?
At the moment we’re at the mercy of the distributors and the fact that with cans, although things are growing, we’ll only reach our capacity by ordering every single variety available to us. Hopefully that’ll change over time as more craft breweries start to can their beers.
For the draft beers we’ll have a lot more options. We’ll be focusing more on the higher gravity beers and the interesting products that aren’t available in cans or bottles. Our goal is to introduce new things so most of our taps will come from small brewers doing interesting things.
14. You’re also offering beer cocktails. What is a beer cocktail?
It’s like a regular cocktail but with beer instead of liquor. It’s usually between a half to a full beer. I’m from Texas where we have Micheladas, which is a Mexican inspired drink with many, many variations, usually involving a salted rim, lime juice, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and beer over ice. There are other cocktails that are more Bloody Mary-like with beer and tomato juice. Justin, who’s handling the beer side of things, ended up scouring the internet to see what sort of interesting beer cocktails were out there as well as working on his own creations. We’ve got a few now that we’ll be rolling with. We’ll definitely do the Micheladas. We have one cocktail that’s like a strawberry lemonade with beer. We’ll have a Sangria made with wine and lambic beer. There’s a traditional Cuban cocktail called a bul - it’s like a Moscow Mule but with beer - we’ll be carrying those.
15. What’s sour beer?
It’s an emerging style that Justin is really stoked on.
Justin: sour beers are usually brewed with a special yeast called Brettanomyces to give the beer a taste almost like a glass of vinegar. They’re based on Belgian style beers and are gaining a lot of popularity in the US. There’s a lot of experimentation going on and people are brewing different styles of sours with things like guava to add a little bit of a fruit note. Sours don’t come in cans and if you serve them on draft you can’t use the tap line for anything but a sour because of how they mess with the line. That means we’ll carry sours in ‘bombers,’ which are 750ml sized bottles, which are about the size of 2 - 3 regular beer bottles. We'll have a few varieties of those with a focus on people sharing a bottle and experiencing the beer that way.
16. Why did you decide to carry so many sodas?
It was my partner, Jason’s, idea. He has a 3 year old and he wanted to be able to bring him into BREW. We also have friends who don’t drink and we wanted to offer something crafty and crazy for them. We found a really awesome distributor who had an amazing selection of the weirdest kind of sodas. A lot of the sodas come from this one manufacturer whose been buying the old vintage brands that have gone out of business and re-bottling them. So, we’re carrying about 22 sodas now. We have some cool varieties like an espresso soda and a cucumber soda.
17. How did you come up with toast as your main food offering?
It’s another trending thing that we thought was really interesting. It's also a function of the constraints associated with our space. We can't operate a full kitchen and a toaster is an affordable piece of equipment that doesn't take up much room. The menu is a collaboration between ourselves, Community Loaves, and Dig Foods. The menu will feature various styles of bread with associated toppings. We cut the slices an inch thick and dress them up. Our most popular topping right now is goat cheese, kimchi jam and arugula - it’s almost like an open faced sandwich. Dig Foods made the kimchi jam - it tastes like a pepper jelly. They also made a marmalade out of calamondins, which are like kumquats, and a spread that’s like Nutella but made with pecans instead of hazelnuts.
18. What’s BREW CREW?
When we started up we knew we needed to raise some money. We had the idea of a social club and then put together a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to offer people something special for sponsoring us. With BREW CREW people will get special deals on the beer and we’ll also have members-only events to bring people together. We wanted it to be more than about just discounts.
Although we had some 6-month memberships in BREW Crew to start with our intent is to have year-long memberships which we’ll offer through our email list. We’re pretty much sold out now but we will open membership up once a year to new people who want to join.
19. At One Spark 2014 you had a pop up coffee shop. What was your goal for One Spark?
I used to work with One Spark and had this idea of collaborating with Bold Bean. My idea was for Bold Bean to roast a One Spark coffee and then have a pop up coffee shop. I’d seen the idea at another festival and thought it would be a perfect fit for One Spark. Bold Bean was totally onboard to roast a special One Spark coffee but they were so focused on their expansion that they didn’t have the time to run the pop up coffee shop. I’d left One Spark to focus on BREW and when Bold Bean couldn’t do the pop up One Spark asked if I was interested in taking over. We teamed up with Will over at Vagabond Coffee. Will and I had both trained together under Zack at Bold Bean. Will’s thing is to do a mobile coffee shop and pop ups so he came over to help with that part. We’d originally expected BREW to open just after One Spark so it was a way for us to get the word out.
20. Who’s the crew behind BREW?
The main management team is myself and my partner, Jason. Jason is an architect and interior designer. He designed our space, as well as both locations of Bold Bean. I have the bar and marketing experience. We also have an amazing team of investors that bring something unique and valuable to the table, be it legal advice, graphic design, or public relations.
21. What’s your longer term vision for BREW?
We’d like to open more locations. We already have loose plans to move into some other neighborhoods. We’d also like to explore some different concepts that are somewhere between a restaurant and a retail space. There are so many people who have great ideas and are really good at what they do but they lack the management expertise or access to a designer in their pocket. We have both the management experience and the design expertise. We also have tons of ideas we can bring. We just need to find the people who want to invest along with us.