It's 8:30 in the morning and Brew, the newest shop in Seaboard Station, is abuzz. A couple shares one side of a communal bench, while two toddlers claim individual seats at the bar. A line of customers winds along the window and, at the front, a man orders a cold brew. That's when a bandana-wearing barista gives the keg below the bar a good shake.
Though curiously not advertised on the chalkboard menu, Brew's cold brew is nitro-made, a method popular on the West Coast and slowly spreading eastward. In many ways, the drink encapsulates Brew's binary platform: a bar for coffee and beer.
For those who don't frequent barista blogs, the process goes something like this: Brew steeps its own cold brew for 16 to 24 hours, transfers the product to a keg and runs 100 percent nitrogen through it. The bar's draft system was designed to include the cold brew; that's why ordering one leads to a tap handle. The result is smooth and un-acidic, with the rich, airy body of a Guinness.
To co-owner A.J. Viola, bringing together coffee and beer was like pairing chicken and waffles. It just made sense.
"It seemed like an easy decision, to merge the two things Raleigh is most excited about," Viola says.
He and longtime friend Mike Sholar opened Brew on Sept. 1. A few years before, the pair had started the Raleigh Coffee Club, which Sholar described, with a laugh, as, "a selfish way for us to try a bunch of new coffees." The club not only led to tastings, but also connections with local roasters—and soon enough, too many subscribers.
"It got to the point where we had to shut it down because we couldn't keep it going with our daytime jobs," Viola says.
The local-centric, communal spirit of Raleigh Coffee Club is all over Brew. The handwritten menu—with a drink price range from $2 to $4.50—features nearby producers. While Raleigh Coffee Company will permanently supply beans for drips, pour-overs and espressos, each month the shop will highlight a "Guest Roaster" from the Triangle.
The concept goes hand-in-hand with Brew's "Tap Takeover," which rotates two draft beers on a monthly basis. For its opening month, Brew selected Crank Arm Brewery, and is now serving Holy Spokes Porter and Hefebiken.
Only the tea selection ventures beyond the Triangle. The iced, loose leafs and chai come from Wisconsin's Rishi Tea Company, which caught Brew's attention for its organic, fair trade mission. That, and Rishi's loose black makes for an unsweetened iced tea that even a native Southerner could love.
Viola's wife, Cynthia, serves as Brew's pastry chef, and is turning out treats such as lemon-blueberry muffins and chocolate-peanut butter macaroons. The shop is also teaming with Yellow Dog Bread Company to create more savory menu items, including a pimento cheese crostini board.
And the Raleigh collaboration doesn't stop at the chalkboard.
The walls—from the bar area to the back nook designated for outlet-seeking laptop users—are decorated with vast, striking paintings, all by artist Corey Mason, who owns the landscape design company, Clyde Oak.
The art, too, will rotate at Brew, an undertaking the owners are excited and anxious about, as customers keep asking whether Mason's paintings were specially created for the shop. (They weren't.)
"I feel like we've set the bar pretty high," Sholar says, noting that he and Viola are still looking for their next artist.
Indeed, Brew's space somehow straddles the comfort of being in one's own home and the feel of being in a gallery—a casual, yet carefully crafted atmosphere.
"This is essentially a gallery for coffee, beer and people," Viola says. "There's so much great stuff, so many great people in this area, we felt like all we had to do was create a platform to show how great Raleigh is."
He then excused himself, to make a latte for a customer, before returning and adding, "People always ask me, 'So you're brewing your own beer? Roasting your own coffee?' And I say, 'We don't have to. We don't need to reinvent the wheel.'"
This article appeared in print with the headline "'A gallery for coffee, beer and people' ."