Let’s not pretend that New York is anything but a coffee town. Is there any other beverage more in keeping with the fast pace of this city than coffee? Maybe Four Loko? Anyway, as we ease into iced coffee season, AKA the absolute best part of the year, it’s time to give thanks to one of the best additions that the Brooklyn caffeine-loving scene has ever known—Grady’s Cold Brew.
Founded and run by Grady Laird, the company makes New Orleans-style (that means chicory) coffee concentrate that is cold-brewed and bottled in Brooklyn. Grady’s Cold Brew can be served steaming hot or over ice, but since now is the time when everyone abandons hot coffee in favor of the cooler beverage, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Grady’s makes one of the smoothest cups of iced coffee out there. Mixed with milk, Grady’s has a velvety finish and naturally sweet taste, thanks to the chicory, which requires no addition of sugar. But what was the inspiration to start a cold brew company? Laird tells me, “The inspiration behind Grady's was the whole B.Y.O.I.C. (bring your own iced coffee) phenomenon. People love providing free hot coffee (offices, banks, car dealerships, etc.), but when it comes to iced, you're completely on your own...I thought, 'Why is that? Why are we perfectly capable of brewing our own hot coffee, but rely completely on coffee shops for the cold stuff?' That's when I started cold brewing my own.” And we’re so glad he did. Drinking some Grady’s Cold Brew is the quickest way I know to feel transported to New Orleans—one sweet, chicory-laced sip at a time.
The inspiration behind Grady's was the whole B.Y.O.I.C. (bring your own iced coffee) phenomenon that exists. People love providing free hot coffee (offices, banks, car dealerships, etc), but when it comes to iced, you're completely on your own. I remember going to a morning school event for my son a couple of years ago and they provided a nice breakfast spread with a few big jugs of hot coffee, but it was completely untouched. No surprise, since it was 80 degrees out. Then I looked around the room and saw a sea of iced coffee cups with every coffee shop in the neighborhood represented. I thought: Why is that? Why are we perfectly capable of brewing our own hot coffee, but rely completely on coffee shops for the cold stuff? And really, the majority of iced coffee at this time was traditionally brewed hot coffee poured over ice for an extra buck. That's when I started cold brewing my own. The taste was so much better then the stuff I was buying, and it stayed fresh for way longer in the fridge. I tried to get everyone to make their own (I was emailing recipes and giving out large French presses as gifts to all of my friends), but very few took me up on it. It made me realize how impatient Americans can be. Sure, it's easy to cold brew coffee, but it can take a really long time (24 hours in our case). That's when I knew it had to be bottled. So I teamed up with two good friends (Dave Sands and Kyle Buckley) and started Grady's Cold Brew.
In a place like Brooklyn, that's so saturated with good coffee, how does Grady's stand out?
I think our flavor, convenience, and versatility set us apart. Put a bottle of Grady's in your home or office fridge and you always have cold-brewed gourmet coffee at your disposal (it stays fresh for a month) without having to go wait in a line. And you are in complete control of your cup. Coffee is such a subjective thing, so it's nice to be able to control exactly how strong and sweet you take yours. And with a concentrate, you can't mess it up. If it's too strong, add more milk or water...too weak, add more concentrate. You can also do a lot more than just make iced coffee with our concentrate. Spice up your egg nog, braze short-ribs, sub for Kahlua in a White Russian, or pour an ounce into your Guinness.
Why New Orleans-style? And what is it about chicory that makes the coffee so damn good?
Like many people, I was exposed to NO-style and chicory through Cafe Du Monde. After trying their hot stuff, I knew I had to use it in my cold brew blend. I love the subtle sweetness that roasted chicory provides and how it balances out the darker roasts we use. And when you add milk, you get this velvety rich coffee that is hard to beat. People are amazed that our coffee concentrate is completely sugar-free. We can thank chicory for that.
Do you have plans to expand? Where do you see the company going in the future?
We are a very regional brand right now, but we would eventually like to be nationwide and even global. I would love for our coffee to be available in all 50 states, but that will take a little time. Our product is tricky to distribute because of its short shelf-life and need for refrigeration, but we are constantly working on expanding our reach. The key is to make sure that the quality of the coffee never drops in the effort to scale up.
What are some of your favorite things to eat and drink in Brooklyn?
The Jon-Jon Deragon from Crif Dogs. The Polish platter from Lomzynianka. Eggs Rothko from Egg. The rib eye with anchovy butter from El Almacen The Scuttlebutt sandwich from Saltie. The meatloaf and sides from Peter's Since 1969. The brisket from Mable's. The everything bagel with jalapeno cheddar from Bagelsmith. The ham, egg, and cheese sandwich from La Villita (R.I.P.). And the Taco Bell on McGuinness. For drinks, I go to the Abbey and Zablozki's. For sports/drinks, I go to 4th Down.
What's a perfect Brooklyn restaurant meal for you?
The perfect Brooklyn restaurant meal for me would be for Kasia's on Bedford to be open on Saturday morning. It's my favorite breakfast spot in Williamsburg, but it kills me that they are closed on the weekend. I would love to go there early (nothing opens early here) with my family and get a three-egg, feta cheese, and spinach omelette with homefries, some whole wheat toast, and a cup of coffee. That would be relaxing for me.