For those who don't already know, Ross Street Roasting is so-named because I (founder/roaster Brian G.) started home-roasting in my garage in Toledo, which faces Ross Street. For a year and a half before we started this business and I bought a real coffee roaster I stood in that garage with a heat gun in my hand, blasting heat on coffee beans that were being moved around by the dough hook in an electric bread machine pan.
But there's precedent for me doing these DIY/maker/craft kinds of things in garages. Behold...
That's me and my dad in the early 90s, brewing beer in our garage on N. Park St. in my hometown of Prairie City, Iowa. So you can see that I've been a craft beer fan since way before I ever started roasting Specialty Coffee.
Tonight I'm headed down to the Peace Tree Brewing Co. Grinnell Branch/taproom for the release of a Coffee Stout that their head brewmaster, Joe Kesteloot, and I worked on. I actually haven't tasted it yet, but reports from inside the brewery have been good!
I've had a soft spot for Peace Tree because they started out in Knoxville, Iowa, a town not much bigger than Tama-Toledo and it's very close to where I grew up in Prairie City. Founded in 2009, Peace Tree was one of the first of the latest wave of micro-breweries to start in the state, and they've achieved some great success in a relatively short time. Their owner, Megan McKay, has become a role model for me as a small-town entrepreneur who began with a focus on craft and quality, but then scaled it far beyond their small town.
In the past year we've also done coffee beer projects with two Cedar Rapids-based craft breweries - Lion Bridge Brewing Co. (a coffee kölsch that was dynamite) & Iowa Brewing Co. (the "Covfefe Brown Ale") - and those projects have been a lot of fun. Working with craft beer brewers is a blast, because in our respective beverages we're always chasing the flavor unicorn. We're trying to get the best flavors out of our ingredients, trying to stay true to traditions & crafts, while also innovating and creating new flavor experiences for those who respect our crafts and enjoy the fruits of our labor.
And besides coffee beers, we also did two barrel-aging projects last year working through Lion Bridge to secure the barrels. The second one last fall - The Stumbling Money, a bourbon barrel-aged Colombian coffee - took a bourbon barrel that then had Lion Bridge's (delicious) Gobble Wobble imperial brown ale, before I finally got it and aged the un-roasted coffee beans in it for a month. The result was a well-rounded sweet, chocolatey, boozy, and barrel-y masterpiece that sold out in just over a month. (Don't worry, we'll be doing more soon!) Just this month I even started experimenting with dry-hopping un-roasted coffee beans, aging hops and beans together prior to roasting. Stay tuned for the results of that alchemy!
To close, I just want to say that being able to collaborate with awesome, kind, smart, passionate people in a craft that I love almost as much (okay, maybe just as much) as Specialty Coffee is a true joy and privilege. It makes my job that I already love that much more enjoyable. Thanks, Iowa craft beer peeps. And thanks to my dad for showing me at a young age how much fun making stuff in your garage can be. :)