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Updated: February 19, 2020

Bar Harbor, Bangor businesses partner to expand 'nitro' coffee market

Courtesy / Coffee Hound Coffee Co. Chris Keegan, co-founder and head roaster at Coffee Hound, pours green coffee beans into the company’s coffee roaster. The automated roaster, built in Idaho, can roast up to 2,000 pounds of coffee per day.  

Two Maine beverage businesses — Coffee Hound Coffee Bar and Roastery, and Geaghan Bros. Pub and Brewery — are partnering on a plan to scale up production and distribution of nitrogen-infused cold-brew coffee.

Coffee Hound operates coffee bars in Bar Harbor and at Sunday River South Ridge Lodge in Newry. Last May, the company opened a 1,000-square-foot coffee roasting plant at 55 Baker Blvd. in Brewer.

Geaghan operates a pub at 570 Main St. in Bangor and a brewery and tasting room at 34 Abbott St. in Brewer.

The two companies formally announced their collaboration in December. The collaboration involves creating a cold-brew coffee line in kegs for sale in restaurants, cafes and bars to sell nitrogen-infused cold brew coffee on tap. 

Last week, the two companies finalized their first distribution through beer/wine distributor Maine Distributor, Coffee Hound’s co-founder, owner and president, Jennifer Litteral, told Mainebiz. 

Clients coming online include large and small venues in Bangor and beyond, Litteral said, but wasn't ready to reveal names yet.

“Maine beer/wine distributors have been clamoring for non-alcoholic Maine beverages, especially large-scale cold-brew coffee,” she said.

The partnership between a “micro-brewery” and a “micro-coffee roaster,” working at distribution scale, is the first of its kind in Maine, she said.

Trending up

Coffee Hound has been serving nitro-infused cold-brew coffee in Bar Harbor since last June. It launched the product at its Sunday River outlet in November. Geaghan’s followed suit at its tap room and restaurant in December.

The concept is riding a wave that’s sweeping the country, beginning on the West Coast, she said.

“It’s trickled into Maine in the last three years,” she said. 

Courtesy / Coffee Hound Coffee Co.
Maya Albee, operations manager for Coffee Hound, is seen here at Geaghan Brothers Brewing Co. looking into a 150-gallon vat of cold brew coffee with Andrew Geaghan, one of the owners of the Geaghan business.

Cold-brew coffee was originally designed as an alternative to making iced coffee by pouring hot coffee over ice, which makes the coffee taste bitter, she said.

Nitrogen is infused through a specialized pressurizing system. The infusion gives cold-brew coffee a creamy taste and texture with a hint of sweetness, she said.

Coffee Hound has been making cold-brew in 5-gallon batches since the company launched in 2013. The Bar Harbor café sells about 20,000 cups of cold-brew per season, or about 100 gallons per week. Making cold-brew can take 10 to 20 hours per week.

“It’s time-consuming,” she said.

Coffee Hound started roasting and grinding coffee beans at its Brewer roastery when it opened last May. The roastery was set up, in an existing building, at a cost between $50,000 to $100,000, she said.

“We had a silent investor help us build that and get the equipment and get it going,” said Litteral.

But they were looking for a different model for the cold-brew process. 

“So we partnered with Geaghan’s about brewing our coffee,” Litteral said. “We roast it and grind it, then bring it to them, and they make cold-brew coffee in their huge vats.”

Cold-brew  is made by grinding coffee beans into water, letting it sit within proprietary parameters, then extruding the liquid. The longer it sits, the more caffeine it has.

The partnership kicked off in May 2019; Geaghan’s started by making 150 gallons per batch. It’s produced 1,000 to 1,500 gallons since then. They’ve named the product 207 Cold Brew Coffee.  

“We selected ‘207’ because we are micro-roasting, micro-brewing a Maine-made product and wanted to tip our hat to being in Maine and that we are launching it during the 200-year birthday of Maine,” Litteral said. “There is talk of having to add a second area code to Maine, but 207 will always be coveted and remain prestigious and synonymous with a Maine brand. “

Coffee Hound is one of 44 entrepreneurs throughout Maine participating  in Maine Center for Entrepreneurs’ 2020 Top Gun Program, the annual startup cultivation competition that culminates in a $25,000 prize.

Geaghan’s Pub and Craft Brewery opened its doors in 1975. In 2015, Geaghan’s expanded capacity and opened a production facility and tasting room in Brewer.

Explaining nitro

Selling nitro cold-brew on tap involves something of a learning curve for restaurant and bar operators as well as consumers, she said.

When it was introduced at Coffee Hound’s Bar Harbor shop last summer, she said, “We went from having to explain nitro to every other person in June and July, and by August people knew what it was.”

Courtesy / Coffee Hound Coffee Co.
Coffee Hound founder and president Jennifer Litteral has partnered with Geaghan Bros. to grow the nitro coffee market.

Still, she noted, many customers see a tap labeled “coffee” and think it means coffee-flavored beer.

“There’s a learning curve about what the product is,” she said.

But the product opens up new markets and revenue streams, she added.

“For restaurants or bars that haven’t produced cold-brew coffee before,  this gives them access to a coffee that people expect everywhere now,” she said.

There are other advantages, she said. Nitro cold-brew provides inclusion for customers who are the designated drivers or who don’t consume alcohol. It gives access to new cocktails or beer drink recipes using cold brew coffee, such as coffee martini. It gives access to restaurants that don’t have cold-brew coffee access and eliminates the time and labor involved to produce it themselves. It gives a product to customers who drink iced/cold coffee anytime. It gives establishments a new revenue stream.

The partners plan to eventually can the product for retail sales, Litteral said.

White Cap Coffee in South Portland was an early player in nitro cold-brew, starting in 2016.

An entertaining video by Bill Nye The Science Guy explains how nitro-infused coffee is made. Click here to see it.

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