Ever since my recent visit to Brew LoCo, a new shop in Landsdowne that sells brewed beverages and brewing supplies, I’ve been pondering the verb “to brew”: how you can define it in a way that’s consistent with making both coffee and beer? From the drinker’s perspective, the two processes have nothing in common but water.
Also grains or grounds or leaves, a brewer might point out, from which the water rinses flavor and stimulants of one kind or another, with the help of heat. But as a drinker, I don’t associate beer with heat.
Most dictionaries say that to brew means to make beer or coffee or tea, which is like saying that to bake means to make bread or cookies. The Oxford English Dictionary explains that the word comes from the Old English verb breoawan, which is uselessly defined as to brew, but it also offers the Proto-Indo-European root bhreue, meaning to bubble, boil, or effervesce, and the related Sanscrit word bhurnih, meaning violent or passionate, which might explain why we say that trouble is brewing, or a storm.
I can see how beer might be associated with effervescence, or with storms, but I don’t see a link between tea and trouble.
Somewhere in the middle of this contemplation, it dawns on me that what’s happening in my head right now epitomizes the difference between Brew LoCo and the coffee retailer with the green straws and so many shops that you can hit one with a stone from anywhere you stand — even from Brew Loco.
The difference is that Brew LoCo makes me think.
“Mary spent a lot of years in education before we opened, and I’m a big fan of ‘the more you know the better off you are,’” said Cathy Frye, who launched the shop with her sister Mary Battaglia in October of 2014. “So one thing we want to do here at Brew Loco is stress the educational aspect. On Thursday of this week, we have a pro brewer coming in — he’s just going to answer people’s questions for an hour. There’s no fee. It’s full access; we ask only that you come in and fill the room.”
“The point is that we would like people to find us for education,” Mary added, “whether it’s about coffee, tea, or beer.”
I learned a number of things during my visit with Mary and Cathy.
I learned, for example, that the robust flavor of dark-roast coffee doesn’t mean that it wakes me up any faster. In fact, Cathy explained, the milder-tasting light roast may have more chemical kick because the beans are denser and because over-roasting may diminish caffeine’s power.
I learned that micro-climates have as much influence on hops as they do on grapes, so even if two local breweries use the same recipe, one beer may taste more bitter than the other, or more grassy, or more like pizza, depending on factors such as soil composition, humidity, and the hour of the day when the sun first comes over the trees.
I learned that growlers, which are jugs you fill with beer from kegs at local breweries, got their name from the sound of beer sloshing in buckets carried through the back streets during the late nineteenth century.
One of the questions I asked Mary and Cathy that morning was how might they define themselves against a mass phenomenon like Starbucks.
“The nicest thing about the place with the green straws is that they’re everywhere, and they’re amazingly consistent,” Cathy said. “We’re perhaps the antithesis of that. I don’t think people should be coming here all the time instead of going there.”
The biggest difference, Mary suggested, is that Brew LoCo wants to enhance the developing sense of community in Landsdowne and Belmont by listening to the people who live there and responding to their needs and interests. When they learned that a customer couldn’t digest gluten, they started sourcing gluten-free muffins and scones. When a customer developed nostalgic thirst for the beverage he drank on vacation in South America, they figured out how to make an Argentine cortado. And when an aficionado of cold-brewed coffee repeatedly arrived just as their keg had kicked, they initiated the practice of emailing him whenever a fresh keg was ready.
Brew LoCo is licensed to brew beer on the premises and to sell commercially brewed beer for carry-out, and they offer classes in brewing for beginners on the second Saturday of every month, as well as evening events such as coffee tastings — they use the word “cuppings” because the events involve much more than simply putting coffee in your mouth. They offer a variety of steeped, brewed, dripped, poured-over, expressed, and extracted beverages, as well as equipment and supplies for making a lot of those drinks at home.
They’re also inviting local chefs to run workshops on pairing local foods with local beers, and in June they’ll join our Community Supported Agriculture program as public group site.
“People sometimes think it’s a crazy combination,” Mary said, “but the more you know about coffee and tea, the more they remind you of beer, and vice versa.”
And the more you know, as Cathy says, the better off you are.
Brew LoCo is located at 19382 Diamond Lake Drive in Landsdowne. During the winter months, they’re open every day but Wednesday. Take a look at the video that won the Loudoun Small Business Development Center’s 2013 contest for best video, which is part of their annual business plan competition: http://youtu.be/VZZrPId15FY