When Progress Coffee opened in 2003, the barista bar’s mixture of local art, fair trade coffees, and an East Austin address seemed novel. But a decade later, Progress’s owners found themselves with a mature business model in an overcrowded area. This prompted a sale of the 78702 location to three young investors who will open Wright Bros. Brew & Brew this fall. The idea behind the new shop is simple but noteworthy: it will offer a menu of carefully curated craft coffees and beers under one roof. As Brew & Brew’s Matt Wright explained, “This was the place my partners and I wanted to hang out at, but couldn’t find.”
They aren’t the only ones working this new angle. Texans can find riffs on the craft beverage hybrid bar at Houston’s Down House, which focuses on coffee, beer, and cocktails; Fort Worth’s Brewed, coffee and beer; Dallas’s Ascension, coffee and wine; and Waco’s upcoming Dichotomy, cocktails and coffee. As Down House owner Chris Cusack pointed out, “Great restaurants often had bad coffee; great bars often had bad food; great coffee shops had a beer selection that was obviously an afterthought. So we got to work.” Though each business is different, they reflect a trend toward one thoughtful and comprehensive shop for beverage lovers who nerd out equally over single origin coffee and bottle-conditioned ale.
The surging Texas craft beer market serves as another catalyst for this shift. As recently as 2008, only 24 microbreweries and brewpubs produced beer in Texas. Today, that number has swelled to 87 and looks primed for further growth. As upstart brewers like Austin Beerworks and Peticolas collect prestigious Great American Beer Festival medals, the Texas craft brew market can now supply a wide variety of high-quality styles to help keep beer taps local. More than fifty percent of the tap walls at Down House and Brew & Brew are local beers, with exceptions for “styles like Ballast Point’s Sculpin [IPA] that Texas can’t quite match yet,” said Grady Wright. Brewed, in Fort Worth, takes the idea even further, keeping all fourteen of their taps in-state. While Dichotomy, in Waco, doesn’t plan to emphasize beer, they will offer local spirit options from Waco’s Balcones Distillery on their cocktail menu.
In-state coffee roasting is also on the rise. Down House uses Austin’s Cuvee Coffee as their primary roaster, while Dichotomy’s coffee sources include Texas-owned Flat Track and Tweed. Brett Jameson, the owner of Dichotomy, said, “We want to expose people to roasters that they may have never heard of, let alone tried.” All the bar owners I spoke to emphasized that since Texas coffee culture is still evolving and maturing, a high-end coffee program continues to need roasters from across the country and beans from around the world. “The [coffee] market here isn’t as discerning yet, so Texas roasters sometimes have to buy a lower quality of bean than they might wish to price at a point where they can sell product,” said Matt Wright.
The common element between these new spots isn’t simply coffee and beer—there’s also a sense of purpose and evangelism among the owners, who want to both lead a conversation about craft drinks and educate their bar patrons. This idea manifests in different ways: Down House does menu annotations in red ink that look like the helpful scribbles of a college professor, while the designers of Brew & Brew’s setup intentionally lowered beer taps and moved most coffee machinery under the bar to increase face-to-face interaction.
In markets across the state, the union of craft coffee and alcohol seems both positive and inevitable. And, perhaps most important to keeping this movement alive, customers across the state are receptive to the idea: “We were a bit nervous about the reception we’d get from Waco with a stripped down coffee menu and the largest drink size being ten ounces,” said Jameson. “But it’s been great—honestly, better than we ever imagined.”