Brothers Brendan and Cary Hanson have always had a hand in brewing at home. They’re the founders of Cold Brew Avenue, a website that helps home enthusiasts brew coffee, beer, or kombucha at home.
BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Cold Brew Avenue
Sibling rivalry can be a problem in some families—there are brothers who wouldn’t want to spend a long weekend in the same place, let alone run a business together. Fortunately for Brendan and Cary Hanson, getting along has never been a problem. The enterprising brothers have complementary skill sets and interests, and have been joining forces for years for projects leveraging keg technology for the home-brew market. Their latest endeavor is Cold Brew Avenue, a website that makes brewing cold brew more accessible. We talked to the brothers to learn how the project came together, what it’s like working with a sibling, and much more.
Ashley Rodriguez: What was your first experience with coffee?
Cary Hanson: Personally, I didn’t start drinking coffee until my first year out of college, when I started my 9-5 job at California Lutheran University as their graphic designer. Up until then, I really didn’t care for it too much—the flavor was just a bit harsh. But I quickly learned that a little cream and sugar helped with that, and I was on my way to drinking coffee every morning.
Bren (Brendan) introduced me to cold brew while I was in college, but I just wasn’t interested in coffee at that time so I didn’t pay much attention to it. He started making cold brew at home over 15 years ago and loved it. Cold brew quickly became a staple to have in the fridge, ready to go over ice all spring and summer long.
Brendan Hanson: I got into coffee during college … primarily the sugar-bomb espresso drinks. Shortly after graduating, I discovered cold-brew coffee and loved it due to the fact that I could enjoy it plain without all the milk, cream, and sugar additives. I think our first ‘a-ha’ moment was when we first put coffee into a keg and poured it out of a beer tap. Shortly after we launched Keg Outlet and were building custom ‘kegerators’ for our home-brewed beer, we began experimenting with other beverages on draft. There is nothing more satisfying than being able to use your kegerator in the morning!
AR: What inspired you to want to work on cold-brew systems?
CH: Brendan and I started a home-brew supply company about 10 years ago because we started home-brewing beer and really enjoyed it. After looking around for an online store for buying home-brewing equipment and ingredients, a good one really didn’t exist at that time. There were some, but the home-brew industry just wasn’t what it is today, and companies didn’t spend the time or money on sites and design back then. We saw this as a good opportunity for us to work together. I designed a website, Bren programmed it, and within a couple weeks we had a pallet of home brewing-equipment and ingredients to fill up the unused conference room space of Brendan’s day job office.
Having access to home-brew supplies at wholesale cost increased the quantity and the frequency of our brewing. Bottling 5+ gallons of beer is a lot of work, and we eventually got tired of doing that. So we looked into kegging the beer into one 5-gallon keg rather than having to wash, fill, and cap 50+ 12-ounce bottles.
Once we realized how easy kegging the beer was, we never went back to bottling. We started selling kegging equipment for home brewers and launched the website (Keg Outlet), which has options for serving many kinds of draft and craft beverages— from beer and soda to coffee and kombucha.
Eventually, we thought to ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be nice to just have a keg of coffee on draft at home so we don’t have to brew a 32-ounce mason jar of coffee every few days?” Next thing we knew we were taking all of our stainless steel brewing equipment and figuring out ways to be able to brew 5+ gallons of coffee at a time!
AR: How is it working with your sibling? Do you both work on things together or does one have a particular strength versus the other?
CH: It’s truly a blessing. We have always been close and have a lot of fun together no matter what we are doing. We naturally made a perfect team with my background in graphic design and his background in web development.
BH: Working with Cary has been great. I know some people can look at working with a sibling and/or a family member and think, “Wow, that has to be awful,” but we get along well and work well together. We started small too. We both had full-time jobs when we started our first company on the side. Honestly, working with my brother is a ton of fun. We have different talents and skill sets, but we collaborate closely on just about everything we do as a company. Our unique skill sets allow us to move ideas from concept to reality very quickly.
AR: How would each of you describe the other sibling?
CH: Bren is patient and logical and very hard-working. He is really good at analyzing risk and planning for the future. He has been self-employed for nearly his entire adult life, so running his own business seems to come very naturally to him. He is constantly looking for new ways to grow our business and stay ahead of the curve, which really helps out a small company like ours.
BH: Cary is creative, and a real go-getter. He’s a bit more “let’s dive head first into this,” where I’m a bit more “let’s think this through,” and our differences really seem to balance out well for our business. Aside from his creative side and all of the killer branding and marketing materials he’s created for us, he’s always eager to try new things and move us in new directions, which has been great for us reaching into new markets.
AR: Why cold brew? What do you like about it and what do you think it lends to the coffee community?
CH: It’s just so good! As I mentioned before, cold brew is such a smooth, clean-tasting product. Cold brew has really started to change the energy and health drink market as well. Drinking black cold-brew coffee as an energy drink, or just as your daily cup of coffee, is so much better for you than adding cream and sugar to your hot coffee, or even worse energy drinks loaded with sugar.
We have only really been dealing with coffee professionals for a couple years now, but in talking to some of the leading companies about cold brew and the draft coffee evolution, it’s been really cool to hear their responses. We have heard from a handful of these companies about how cool it is that coffee is somewhat adopting the craft beer world mentality.
BH: Draft coffee opens up an entirely new market for existing coffee companies, plus the ability to be able to serve a coffee as flat cold brew or as nitro coffee gives consumers more options. Also, in addition to selling and serving by the cup, the cold-brew movement has opened the ability for coffee companies to distribute kegs of coffee to bars, restaurants, tap rooms, and more.
AR: What type of coffees do you enjoy on cold brew?
BH: Really any type of coffee. I used to not like beer and I hated IPAs. As we started home-brewing, I began to gain an appreciation for not just one style of beer, but all styles because each offers something unique. The same can be said for coffee and all the different origins and roasts that are available. I think we’ll start to see more and more types and styles of cold brew on tap as well as in cans and bottles, giving the consumer more choices like they have with beer.
AR: Are you working on any other projects? Any other ways to improve coffee?
CH: We sure are … we are hoping to be launching more products this year that could help cut down on current cold-brew times, as well as some solutions to make serving nitro coffee on draft a little easier.
BH: We’re always tinkering and experimenting!
AR: What do you want the specialty-coffee community to know about you?
CH: Essentially that we are here to answer questions, and help provide the equipment necessary to start cold brewing and serving on draft. We have two ebooks available (The Ultimate Guide to Cold Brew Coffee & The Definitive Guide to Draft Coffee) that have a wealth of knowledge in them on these subjects, as well as a weekly podcast called Drips and Draughts where we have leading professionals from the draft beverage and coffee world on discussing everything craft!
BH: We love the collaboration and openness that we see in the beer and brewing community, and we moved into the coffee community with that same mindset. I think that’s one of the biggest compliments that we get from people is how great it is that we’re so open with our information. In fact, we started a podcast in order to help answer more questions and share more information.