The Northern Bayou Cold Brew Company is a recent venture by Vermont native Benjamin Lee. Lee brews the small batches of caffeinated concoctions by himself, enlisting others to help with various aspects of the company such as serving as tasters once he has found a taste that is “worth spreading.”
But wait: what is cold brew coffee, you may ask? The process is more time intensive but yields a subtly sweeter, smoother, and less acidic final product. By soaking the ground beans in cold water for about 24 hours the water has more contact-time with the beans, soaking up the flavor and becoming caffeinated. Factors such as “grind, roast, origin, water, time, and storage” all play a part in finding that perfect final product. Additionally, the amount of coffee require is substantial compared to traditional brewing methods, which can translate into a pricier final product. I have always been partial to African beans for iced coffee, and Lee’s use of Ethiopian beans is a perfect choice as the floral, citrus notes and low acidity translate perfectly.
The overall description of Northern Bayou coffee can be summed up as smooth, slightly sweet, and damn drinkable (that’s an official term). There are two varieties to choose from, Original and Hopped. Wait, hopped? You mean, like, beer? Oh yes. Lee currently uses Citra hops from the Pacific Northwest and whole-cone Newport hops grown in Addison County in Vermont, though Lee says he is working on some different flavors using different hop profiles. “I’ve never been a fan of any flavored coffees,” says Lee, “but I’ve found that I can make these cold brew variations without making it taste like the added element. I aim to make it taste like coffee with a twist.” I would love to see what he could do with Galaxy or Cascade hops!
The use of the hops gives the coffee a bold floral smell and flavor with hints of citrus, but it retains the smooth sweetness that is the core of both varieties. Lee is keen to use local ingredients as much as possible, and he has said that we should “keep our eyes peeled for local collaborations” because he has some “interesting things in the works.” If he can do great stuff with an unlikely ingredient like hops, what other unlikely ingredients will cold brew coffee cozy up to next?
Here is what you really want to know: does it taste good?! I tasted the coffees side by side, both undiluted and diluted. Here are my impressions. (This is exactly what I wrote down, though I’m not sure if it makes sense but there you go):
Original — [undiluted over ice] a “light” slightly floral smell; lightly nutty sweet flavor; not too acidic; smooth; quickly hits the back corners of my mouth [diluted over ice w/ 2 Tbsp water] same subtle sweetness but even more drinkable
Hopped — [undiluted over ice] a more pronouced floral smell; the floral notes of the hops hit you right away; citrusy, but retains the same subtle sweet flavor; finishes smooth [diluted over ice w/ 2 Tbsp water] has an almost black tea flavor that is unique and really tasty; still smooth and just a drinkable
Both varieties are amazing. Really. Not that I am a coffee snob (I’ll drink diner coffee and Chemex coffee alike), but as a barista I do know my coffee and I know what “good” coffee tastes. This stuff is good. Really good. Probably some of the best iced coffee that I have had. It is going to make it really tough to drink anything less than cold brew from here on out. I also gave some samples of the Hopped to my coworkers (at a “to remain unnamed” coffee shop) and all of them love it as well! They were amazed at both the flavor and the smoothness.
Where to Get It
Sadly for you out of staters you can only get Northern Bayou Cold Brew at the recently opened Growler Garage in South Burlington. Should you be in the area you can get two sizes, 8oz and 16oz. I picked up the 16oz bottles, which will run you $10.99 for the Original and $12.99 for the Hopped (I am assuming that the 8oz bottles are half the price). This may seem steep, but if you remember that (a) Lee home-brews this stuff on his own and (b) cold brew coffee requires much more coffee to achieve the end results then the steeper price makes sense. While Northern Bayou Cold Brew might not be an everyday drink, as a treat let me say that picking up a bottle or two is totally worth it.
Just click the link below to enter for a chance to win two 8oz bottles of Norther Bayou Cold Brew Coffee (1 Original and 1 Hopped)! (I am using Rafflecopter, something I’m not entirely competent with, so I apologize ahead of time if there are complications with the giveaway.)
a Rafflecopter giveaway
You can read a great review of Northern Bayou Cold Brew Coffee at Seven Days.
I’d also like to thank Benjamin Lee for generously answering the questions I threw at him.