Sure there were coffee roasters in L.A. before Chicago's Intelligentsia moved in, but no one has pushed forth with experiments into the presentation and culture of specialty coffee as much as these adopted locals. With three locations across L.A. in six years, the third-wave roasting pioneers have tasked themselves with spreading and furthering the craft coffee gospel — even if it means talking beer.
Next weekend, the Intelligentsia in Pasadena (which also has an alcohol license) will be hosting a one-of-a-kind event centered around the growing combinations of coffee and craft beer and the ways in which booze and caffeine are working together to create new culinary intersections.
Spearheaded by Intelligentsia's Marketing and Communications Director Stephen Morrisey and his good buddy Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting, the event — called “Uppers and Downers” — will showcase brewers from some of the Midwest's most famous names (think 3 Floyds and Goose Island) in a roundtable discussion with some of Southern California's local coffee beer creators.
Beers with a jolt by Eagle Rock, Angel City and Stone Brewing will all be on tap as well as a special version of Firestone Walker's Parabola made with Intelligentsia coffee called Parabajava. The goal after the event is to always have beers made with coffee available (whether they're made with Intelligentsia or not), and turn the Pasadena location into the brick-and-mortar home to the trend where they can showcase what other breweries are doing around the country.
Morrissey, a major craft beer fan himself, calls it “the morning one and the evening one –we're just passing along the dopamine.”
Squid Ink: Are you the resident beer geek at Intelligentsia?
Stephen Morrisey: I'm Irish and when I moved here four years ago for Intelligentsia, people thought I would know about beer. But in Ireland, everyone drinks the American macro lagers so when I came to the States, craft beer was very new to me. Let's just say I got a crash course where I tried to familiarize myself with beer.
SI: And the Goose Island Brewery is right next to your roaster in Chicago, right?
SM: Yeah, the impetus for the event was us seeing the coffee version of Bourbon County and then you also have Dark Lord from 3 Floyds out here as well. These two beers are known throughout the country and both have intelligentsia coffee. We became conscious that this trend is mounting more and more.
I feel like every new craft roaster seems to be pairing with a craft brewery and playing with these things. It sparked some interest in my friend Michael Kiser, who runs Good Beer Hunting, and we wondered, “Is this some novelty treatment of coffee in the same way people use coriander or grapefruit rind?” We think it's something more culinary with more opportunities. We wanted to have a discussion to bring beers together and bring brewers together and have a discussion.
SI: Was L.A. chosen because of the Pasadena location?
SM: It's because we have a location that's perfect for it. We have a coffee shop that is also a bar. Also because of those two beers especially: It's a rarity to get them outside of Illinois and Indiana, so it's a novelty to bring them to an L.A. audience.
SI: It's also a novelty to hold a discussion about coffee beer.
SM: Yeah, the two I mentioned — Dark Lord and Bourbon County — are both stouts. You don't see an awful lot of people playing with IPAs or lagers or witbiers and using more floral coffees and finding ways of highlighting those qualities. We've worked with Eagle Rock since we came out to L.A. And so their goal from the beginning has been not just use the roasty coffee flavor, but to highlight the inherent flavors of the coffee and pair that with the beer. We're looking to find more people doing these types of things. I don't think we have a sense there's a certain answer to this, but more that it deserves discussion.
SI: Do you see the specialty coffee trend growing alongside craft beer? Are the two similar movements in the eyes of coffee people?
SM: We're very jealous of beer, actually. In a very short amount of time, the craft beer industry has managed to distinguish itself form the mass beer industry. It's not scoffed at and people understand the value.
I think progressive coffee shops are always looking how they can distinguish themselves. My charge at Intelligentsia is that we are trying to find ways to distinguish our coffee from gas station coffee. We're all trying to find a way to say. “There's also this coffee.” The challenge that coffee has is that the nature which it is consumed and the nature we have been conditioned to think about it, its very difficult to say, this is a $7 coffee and people thing you're cheating them. With beer, most consumers don't care if it's $7.
SI: What do you think the hindrance is with coffee?
SM: In coffee, we're acknowledging that people are going to want great coffee quickly. We're never going to get to a point where people aren't going to want coffee quickly, even if they don't have time for a long protracted ritual. But it shouldn't have to be bad for it to be quick. That is a real thing that is never going to go away, but knowing what coffee is, knowing that it is a cropped, harvested product that has to be picked by hand, sorted then travel vast distances and people work very hard to get it roasted as quick as possible.
If you charge over $4, people will balk at it. At the same time, they'll buy a bottle of water for $3.50 and it's fine. Something about coffee and how its been presented to the public on a global scale, they think it should be cheap. The convenience of a coffee is almost as important as the quality of it. There is that tension. The value proposition is not there right now. We need to find ways in the industry of elevating that.
SI: Is aligning with craft beer one way to do that?
SM: Yeah, absolutely. Each of our L.A. stores have been experimental like that in some way. In Silver Lake, we played with menu design and adjusted small details. In Venice, we were trying to play with the idea of multiple bars in one location, not holding up the line and having a more prolonged experience with the customer. And in Pasadena, we are putting coffee alongside beer and wine and putting it in the forefront and saying it's the same kind of thing — it's a culinary product.
We definitely want to be aligned with craft beer and the whole craft culinary world. We think of coffee as a craft culinary product and are trying to find ways of aligning with other craft products and investing in education so the consumer knows how to enjoy it.
SI: What was it about L.A. that made it the place you wanted to bring these experiments?
SM: When we first moved out here, there wasn't much coffee going on and that was part of the draw. There's definitely a sentiment here that people seem to be okay with experimentation. People seem to be okay with disrupting the norm, trying new things, whether that be in bars or restaurants or retail stores.
SI: Who do you guys hope comes out to this event?
SM: We definitely would like to see people who are coffee and beer people, but it's a great event for anyone who appreciates either. If you appreciate good coffee and good beer, you should be there. It's going to be a really interesting evening, simultaneously caffeinated and boozy.
Uppers & Downers: At Intelligentsia in Pasadena on Saturday, Oct. 19, from 7 – 10 p.m.; tickets are $95 and are available online.
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