By Lynn Monty, Editor in Chief
Ben Lee, owner of Northern Bayou Cold Brew, lives in East Charlotte and has a brew facility in West Charlotte. His small team does all of the brewing, kegging and distributing. Amanda, his wife, does the labeling, bottling and vending. His pal Justin Gonyea has been the go-to for design and branding work. We spoke with Ben on July 22.
The Charlotte News: Why cold brew?
Ben Lee: In about 2006 I found myself drinking a pretty large quantity of coffee to get me through college. After a while, it started to give me heartburn. I started to do some research and began to learn about the cold brew process and how it produced a coffee that was lower in acidity.
Coincidentally, I had become obsessed with the iced coffee from a long gone café on Newbury Street (I was going to school in Boston) called La Aroma, and I came to learn that this iced coffee was cold brewed. I started cold brewing coffee for myself at that point.
While living in Brooklyn, I saw bottles of cold brew start to pop up on specialty stores’ shelves and decided to hone my recipes for consistency. I met my wife and we moved away from the city and back to Vermont (well, I’m from Vermont, but she was new to it). There were no Vermont bottled cold brews to be found! The only bottles were from one of the New York companies, and it tasted stale and old by the time it reached Vermont. We realized the market potential for a fresh, local cold-brew coffee option and decided to start brewing, bottling and selling around the Chittenden County area in 2014.
CN: How successful is cold brew coffee in Vermont?
BL: There was a bit of an acceptance curve when we first started selling, but the Vermont audience is always welcoming to thoughtful, locally produced items. Vermonters really started paying attention in our first year and have steadily grown to be very consistent and excited customers.
CN: How do you get the word out?
BL: We’ve been able to get the word out through a few key avenues: our weekly appearance at the Burlington Farmers Market, food shows like the annual Burlington Wine & Food festival, local collaborations (like our inclusion in the wonderful Maple Breakfast Stout by 14th Star brewing) and general word of mouth.
CN: What is notable or unique about Northern Bayou?
BL: For every batch of our cold brew coffee, we have single-origin, farm direct, organic coffee beans roasted 48 hours before we brew. This window is the ideal amount of time, in our opinion, for the bean to open up. We aim to have brilliantly bright, punchy cold brew as opposed to the results from often over-roasted, old beans used for cold brew. Additionally, we brew fresh batches several times a week and immediately hand-deliver them to our accounts. Our hope is to always have the freshest and most unique cold brew on the shelves for our customers.
CN: Can you explain the name?
BL: When my wife and I moved back to Vermont (well, I’m from here, and she is from the south) we found an old farmhouse surrounded by peeper ponds and trees. The house reminded us of her Baton Rouge roots, so we named it The Northern Bayou. We then applied the name to the company.
CN: What other products do you sell?
BL: We sell a handful of different bottled cold brews as well as those same cold-brew coffees in kegs.
CN: Where do you sell them?
BL: Every week in the summer we are set up on Main Street in City Hall Park, Burlington, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for the Burlington Farmers Market. We also have our bottles for sale at many places like City Market, Heathy Living, Beverage Warehouse (Winooski) and at the Old Brick and Spears Corner in Charlotte.
CN: What’s special about doing business in Charlotte, Vermont?
BL: There’s a strong sense of support from the Charlotte community. It’s an honor to be one of the few small businesses in Charlotte!
CN: What else would you like readers to know?
BL: Visit our website, and our social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) to find out more about us, our products, what we’re up to and where to find us!