You can't swing a Kyoto ice-drip tower without hitting a local company hawking its own cold brew. It might be an iconic D.C. roaster serving its signature brew on tap or it might be a start-up bottling a smoky concoction aged with oak chips.
But in the cold-brew arms race, Viligante Coffee looks to be the first D.C. business to can its drink for public consumption. On Aug. 22, Vigilante released its debut batch of canned cold brew based on beans harvested on the environmentally sustainable farm, El Ocaso in Colombia. Latin American beans, says founder Chris Vigilante, "have the right amount of acidity and the right amount of chocolate notes" for cold brew.
"We did a Kenyan once," Vigilante says about a previous batch of cold brew, "and it was just [Roma] tomatoes. It was just too much. You don't want to drink that in the morning."
Vigilante got the idea of canning his cold brew from the owners of DC Brau. The roaster had contacted the brewer with the idea of kegging his cold brew for offices. Almost as an afterthought, DC Brau suggested Vigilante "should be the first company in D.C. that cans it," the roaster recalls. "I was like, 'That's an interesting idea,' and so then we just kind of ran with it."
The roaster had to tinker with his cold brew to make it can-worthy. Vigilante typically steeps ground beans for 18 or so hours at room temperature before cutting the concentrate with filtered water. But when poured into cans, the cold brew became "super acidic," Vigilante says. "Our cold brew is known to be sweet and not super acidic."
So he cut down the steep time. Problem solved. The canned Vigilante cold brew still has hint of a citrus acid but drinks smoother and sweeter than the first cans I sampled, which were bright with tropical fruit notes.
Next spring, Vigilante plans to expand its line of canned, single-origin cold brews and start selling them in retail stores. But for now, as the company fine-tunes its designs and recipes, it will sell only the Colombian cold-brew cans at its Hyattsville roastery and at the Flea Market at Eastern Market on weekends.
The cold brew sells for $3.50 a can or $12 for a four pack. The cans will hold in the refrigerator for about two weeks after their canning date.
"I think they're definitely potent enough to share," Vigilante adds. "If you're tired, it's good for one."
As to whether Vigilante is the first area company to can its cold brew, that may depend on how strictly you define "cold brew." Earlier this summer, Confluence Coffee Co. released a canned version of its bourbon-like cold brew, but the owners put it on nitro.
"We were first, in that case," says co-founder Mike Woitach when told of Vigilante's release date. "We came out in the first week of August."
Confluence's nitro cold brew is available at Glen's Garden Market, Mom's Organic Market, select locations of Yes! Organic Market and, starting next week, the Whole Foods in Rockville. Woitach says Confluence is looking to put its mocha bold brew on nitro and package it in cans, too.
The cold-brew industry looks to have launched a full-scale canning war.
Vigilante Coffee, 4327 Gallatin St., Hyattsville, 301-200- 3110, www.vigilantecoffee.com.