Gastropub pioneer, Will Reed, takes a different approach to artisanal brewing.
by Erica Bauwens
Artisanal cuisine is on the rise, thanks largely to area restaurateurs embracing locally-sourced ingredients and hand-crafted techniques. For proof, look no further than William Reed, co-owner of Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown and Standard Tap in Northern Liberties. While craft beer has always been on the menu at both of Reed’s locations, guests are going for a new kind of brew; coffee, roasted in-house at both restaurants and sold by the cup or ground and bagged to-go.
Reed first started roasting his own coffee after finding that his coffee distributors weren’t meeting the quality standards that he set for his restaurants. “We want to get closer to the source with anything that we’re serving. We like to have fewer middlemen, and build relationships with farmers and brewers,” says Reed. “What basically gave me the kick in the butt was that the coffee makers we were dealing with began overextending and couldn’t roast coffee for us. They were shorting us, and I was thinking of roasting my own coffee anyhow, so I made the decision and went out and bought a machine that day.”
The team purchased their first roaster, a 1-kilo Sonofresco variety, for Johnny Brenda’s. “I thought I would get the same kind of machine you see at a lot of places, the antique style with a big drum, but when I researched it, the engineer in me was drawn to the Sonofresco variety,” says Reed. “They use hot air to agitate the beans as well as heat them, and it uses a microprocessor to measure the temperature. The thermal probe monitors the temperature the whole time and hits the exact roasting temperature you want every time.”
A second roaster followed at Standard Tap, followed by two varieties of specialty beans from Costa Rica, sourced directly from a broker that works with Costa Rican bean farms.
“We did a blind taste testing in both cases,” says Reed. “I was hoping that we would pick a Nicaraguan one or a Mexican bean, just to differentiate the two locations, but there was no comparison, and they’re actually both really different. The Brenda’s beans are a little darker and a little more full, while Standard Tap’s are a little bit lighter.”
Coffee comes in burlap sacks straight from the source, then runs through Reed’s roasters to get bagged for retail or brewed for use in the restaurants. Guests can get coffee ground to their desired coarseness, depending on how they plan on brewing it at home, while they grab a drink at the bar.
“It’s great because we are way more in control of the process, and we’ve been able to tweak the roasting over the years to meet the preference of the staff and customers,” says Reed. “Learning about coffee brewing is a lot like home brewing or other things I’ve done. You learn a lot about it through getting your hands dirty and working on it over time.”
The result is a brew that is sending people from all over the area in to grab a cup, or even a bag. “We go through more coffee than we ever did before, and we have a growing base of people that are buying bags of coffee from us.”
And that includes local brewers, like Tired Hands Brewing Company and Sly Fox, who have both collaborated with Reed to produce beers using his Johnny Brenda’s beans. “Tired Hands did a black saison with us, and that’s really cool to see,” says Reed. “I did a collaboration with Sly Fox a few years ago called Standard Porter. Then we did a brew again, split it, and let half of it sit on the coffee beans from Johnny Brenda’s.
I see a big crossover between craft beer lovers and great coffee. The coffee world is like the beer world: you can go so far and experience so many different layers.”