Duane and David Hogg started their barrel-aged coffee business as bean-roasting nomads without a permanent place to make their spirit-infused batches. But in the last year, the twins' business has grown enough that they were ready to set up shop: The two recently moved into a roasting space on the 2300 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District.
Because the brothers use barrels to bring in flavors to their roasts, and the barrels they get are ever changing, no two batches are the same. They typically use whiskey, bourbon and gin barrels.
The Tampa Bay Times chatted with the brothers about the growth of their business and what’s coming now that they’re settled in at the new roastery. The interview was edited for clarity and length.
For starters, what is barrel-aged coffee? How does your process different than how most other coffee companies operate?
Duane: We’re taking the typical model of roasting single-origin beans to a different level. We’re trying to disrupt a bit by using a purely experimental model. We specialize in barrel-aged coffee, which means we actually source barrels from all over, and even outside the country, from different distilleries through a broker. And we actually age our beans in there, and then roast them.
So we’re constantly switching each batch up, so no batches are alike. It disrupts the whole idea of a consistent cup of coffee.
How common is this? I’d never heard of it before your business.
David: We have come across some other companies where they have done some barrel aging. But what a lot of folks tend to do is more of a barrel rested or infusion, where they’re actually putting the alcohol on the coffee beans, either before they’re roasted or after they’re roasted to get the effect.
We really honed in on actually using the barrels so that the process is a bit more complex and natural. It also allows us to age and maintain freshness of our beans a lot longer. To top it all off, the process we use also allows us to roast out alcohol to the point where there would be zero-to-trace amounts. So, it could be considered a non-alcoholic beverage that you can enjoy at any time.
We try to find beans we think will complement the spirit in the barrel, what that barrel produces for the bean, so that we’re not overpowering or over shining the characteristics of the coffee.
How did you two know it was the right time to get your own space?
David: We were working with some different local partners to contract space and roasting time, but we were outgrowing those limitations. We needed to have more flexibility over our fulfillment and production. That’s what drove us to start looking for a space to create our own roastery. So, we could grow the business and start to take on more volume and scale our processes.
We were going from aging, sourcing, aging, roasting, packaging, shipping and such. There was a need for our own flex space for that.
How would you describe the new space? How did you select it?
Duane: We do have a tasting bar in our location. We didn’t go in with this idea of being a full-time coffee shop because we like to do things very different. But we do have this tasting environment and we do intend to do occasional pop-ups.
We like to call it our roaster museum because we have our roasters right there at the front and we have the big windows for patrons when they walk by. A lot of coffee shops hide that part of it and we wanted to showcase that.
All of this was happening during COVID. So we looked at some much larger spaces. But we thought we’ll have to do the whole brick-and-mortar shop to make it make sense. Then once March hit, we just said let’s dial in on this and focus on production. A big thing we want to do with the space is help bring up upcoming roasters to give them an opportunity to have a place where they can learn, scale and grow, without having to put in that upfront investment.
How else did the pandemic affect the business?
Duane: It definitely shifted our focus to really push online. There was an increase in the amount of home brewing and stuff going on. Since that was our model from the beginning, we’ve been really trying to focus on how to make that experience the best it can be.
We even want to do some innovative things with how we do our pickup situation so it’s more flexible and contactless.
So, have those in the traditional coffee industry — the ones striving for that consistent cup — ever told you guys were crazy for your model?
Duane: In a more subtle way, yeah. I think we even knew it too when we were getting into it and we decided that we wanted to do this inconsistent model. We use the word “disrupt” a lot in and throughout our business. It’s our motto and plan and it’s our mantra.
We’re breaking out of that routine and we have had some people think it’s crazy, some people think it’s crazy in an awesome way, which is what we are leaning more toward, because it is different. It’s kind of how they do certain beer releases or spirit releases where it’s just that release, a small batch. Then when that thing sells out, they’re never recreating it. But there’s a level of excitement and exclusivity around that.