Because of Austin’s extra-sultry climate, master roaster Mike McKim of Cuvée Coffee has always known that if coffeehouses want to keep the lights on during the summer, they need to have a solid plan for their cold-brewed offerings. That’s why five years ago, he began to encourage his clients to sell cold-brewed coffee from a beer tap…to no avail. “Nobody did it,” he says. “Nobody listened to us.”
McKim had first seen this concept used with a Frappuccino-like beverage in Colorado years earlier and was excited by the idea, but admits that he hasn’t always been a fan of cold-brewed coffees.
“For me, cold coffees all tasted the same—they were one-note,” McKim says. “They were really heavy-bodied and chocolaty, which was fine, but there was no dynamic in the coffee.”
But he still wanted to attempt a kegged coffee, and hoped to be able to somehow produce a more complex-tasting cold brew. After some experimentation, Cuvée’s professional barista Lorenzo Perkins came up with the “hot bloom, cold brew” method—a technique of first hitting the coffee with hot water, letting it de-gas for a few minutes and then dousing it with cold water for the rest of the brewing time. “What that does,” McKim says, “is allow all those solubles that don’t come out with cold water, particularly the acidity, to come out with hot water for a more complex drink.”
The innovation didn’t end there. To accommodate larger batches and achieve better saturation, the Cuvée research team recently started brewing their coffee in a 100-gallon lauter tun that they purchased from a microbrewery in Michigan. They also began infusing the brew with nitrogen to create a cold coffee with a one-of-a-kind look and taste. “When it’s nitrogenated, you get that Guinness effect where a foam kind of forms on top and it cascades,” says McKim, who had an epiphany about adding the nitrogen after trying Colorado-based Left Hand Brewing Company’s Milk Stout Nitro for the first time. “It gets that creamy mouthfeel and texture, and that’s really crucial. That’s a huge differentiating point.”
These days, Cuvée’s five-gallon kegs range in price from about $50 to $168 for a limited-supply, single-origin coffee. Regular keg buyers include independent coffeehouses, special-event organizers and even bars that are serving the coffee spiked with everything from lager to rhubarb liqueur. In fact, demand for the product has been so great that larger keg sizes are now available, and there are plans to build a 2,500-square-foot facility at Cuvée’s roastery in Spicewood dedicated exclusively to the microbrewery-style enterprise.
McKim isn’t surprised that Cuvée’s kegged-coffee concept has caught on. “The consumer advantage is, it’s a much more approachable drink than an espresso or brewed coffee,” he says. “From the retailer’s perspective, there’s no training involved; you teach someone how to pull a tap handle.” But according to McKim, there’s one other important factor to consider, as well. “Getting a glass of coffee out of a beer tap…is just cool.”
Retail and bar: 1912 E. Seventh St.
(inside Salt & Time Butcher Shop)