Confluence Coffee’s move to Manchester sees the nitro brewer steep throughout the region

by | Jun 23, 2016 | POLITICS

Coffee in a can is more delicious than you might think, just ask the guys behind a local startup that’s quickly become one of the biggest nitro cold breweries in the region.

Coffee in a can is more delicious than you might think, just ask the guys behind a local startup that’s quickly become one of the biggest nitro cold breweries in the region.

Started in March of 2015 by Terry Darcy and Mike Woitach, Confluence Coffee Co. began in Washington, D.C. but moved to Richmond earlier this year, taking over the space in Manchester left behind by Blanchard’s Coffee in its move to Scott’s Addition. While Confluence started by producing small liter-batches, it is now pumping out about 45 barrels (at 31 gallons each) of the nitro-infused brew into cans and kegs every two weeks.

Ready-to-drink cold brew is a small, but rapidly-growing industry and Confluence is trying to become a staple in supermarkets across the region. But one of the biggest hurdles has been educating a consumer population that’s often confused about the product.

Yes, it’s in a can, but no, it isn’t alcoholic or carbonated.

“Some people will swear that we’ve added dairy to the product even though we don’t,” Darcy said. “Or there’s confusion about carbonation. It’s part of the fun because we’ll have people who are like, ‘I don’t want a coffee soda.’ But it’s not at all a coffee soda so it’s a fun journey. … As long as we can get them to try it then it changes their opinions.”

Confluence’s connection to Blanchard’s extends far beyond real estate. Woitach had done some sales work for them in D.C. and now Confluence uses Blanchard’s roast exclusively for their cold brew, a specific Honduran bean chosen for its versatility. The cold brew process then involves steeping the grounds in chilled water for 24 hours. According to Darcy, who has a background in neuroscience and biochemistry, Confluence’s cold-brew process results in a less acidic, more caffeinated drink.

Borrowing from the wine-making tradition, the coffee is infused with oak for flavor. And to get a smooth, light and creamy mouthfeel, nitrogen is infused, a technique found most commonly in the making of stout beers. And as for freshness, Confluence borrows another stout beer technique by brewing and canning in a modified atmosphere, leaving very little room for oxygen.

Right now, Confluence makes three different “varietals:” their Classic Nitro Cold Brew, a Mocha Brew (with cocoa nibs) and their seasonal Citron with Orange.

If the whole thing sounds more like Richmond’s newest craft beer brewery than a coffeemaker, that’s not a coincidence. Most of the industrial equipment Confluence uses is either directly from the beer or wine world, or slightly modified for coffee. And according to Woitach and Darcy, Richmond’s beer scene has afforded them not just a wealth of knowledge to tap from other brewers, but also a consumer population that comes at the product with an open mind.

“I think you’ll find that people who drink a lot of craft beer are kind of foodies, and they like coffee and different experiences,” Woitach said. “I think we’re people who enjoy those intersections so that’s how the name ‘Confluence’ came about. Craft beer, spirits, taking inspiration from them and applying it to coffee.”

Darcy said he’s constantly bugging the folks at Buskey Cidery or Steam Bell Beerworks with questions.

“I don’t know how those guys still talk to us because I call them all the time,” he said, laughing.

Darcy and Woitach both grew up in the same part of New Jersey and reconnected after attending college in different parts of Virginia.

Woitach’s business background lent itself to the sales and growth side while Darcy’s science education was useful in concocting new varieties and brewing processes.

“They always say don’t go into business with a friend,” Darcy said. “And I completely agree with that, but with that being said, we’re just so far past that point. We can argue and it’s no issue.”

They’ve recently brought on another employee too, Ben Howard, a former classmate of Woitach’s, to be head brewer. Outside of that, they’ve been relying on interns and some helping hands from around the community.

From left: Mike Woitach, Terry Darcy and Ben Howard

“It’s been hugely helpful just having people in Richmond that are just amped to see something that they can say they helped with,” Howard said.

Confluence has big plans to grow, envisioning a network of regional breweries using local roasters to retain the small-batch quality as well as a hybrid tap room with coffee and pastries during the day and beer in the evening.

For now though, the focus is getting a foothold in grocery stores and collaborating with other local breweries and restaurants.

To that end, this Saturday, they’ll have an event with King of Pops where they’ll turn their seasonal citron brew into ice pops.

The cans can now be found in six states and D.C. Locally, you can find them at Ellwood Thompson’s, Carytown Cupcakes and other restaurants and grocers.

But Darcy and friends have a bit of advice before you enjoy your first sip and watch that delicate pour turn into cream clouds of brown and beige: “Shake the cans before serving.”

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

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