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A hot new cold brew

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BrootLegg Extracts welder Willy Kramer at work
BrootLegg Extracts welder Willy Kramer at work

What do a chemical engineer, a welder, and a coder have in common?

A dream of making "push-button" cold brew.

A cup of ambition

It started one day in 2017 when Colin Giacalone ('17 BS, chemical engineering) was sitting in a coffee shop bemoaning the loss of his new job. It seemed an ordinary enough afternoon. Colin had no idea that his life was about to go from "oh heck" to heckfire. 

In a good way, though.

The coffeeshop barista, Willy Kramer, consoled him by offering him "a drink and a job." Although the job didn't last long ("I told you never to leave a lid facing the seam of the cup," the manager had told Colin), something else did—A  friendship between Colin and Willy, welded together by an idea.

Colin and Willy had been sitting in the coffee shop churning out ideas about how else they might make a living. With a recent welding degree from Columbus State College in hand, Willy hadn't yet figured out how/where he could apply his skills, and neither had Colin, really. Willy had just gone through the arduous, sloppy job of making the day's cold brew, a process that typically involved 10 buckets of "toddy" (a slurry consisting of 50 pounds of coffee grounds and water) and 12-24 hours. They were sitting across from an espresso machine, when suddenly they "saw" it.

"What about using an espresso machine with no heat, but instead a very high amount of pressure?"

It was like a lightning bolt. With close to 100x the pressure of the atmosphere, water could be forced into every surface of the coffee grounds, eliminating the need for heat during the extraction process.

It ought to be a snap!

Six years and hundreds of 16-hour days later, Colin and Willy made their first dollar. Beset with passion and drive, they had ridden their ignorance into a whirlwind journey involving numerous challenges—but now it's paying off. 

BrootLegg Extracts is born

The journey began with early experiments behind a homemade blast shield. They cut the pipes of Kramer's home water lines, installed 240-volt outlets, and welded together their own pressure vessel (the idea of using hodge-podge parts was nixed due to a family intervention).

After over a hundred pressurization tests and drinking enough cold brew to stop the heart twice, the process was perfected. One taste, and they knew they were onto something. They took repeat samples to Jeff Davis, owner of Brioso Coffee Roastery, who agreed. "The BrootLegg system produces the most consistent extraction of coffee I have ever tasted," he said.

Willy Kramer, Colin Giacalone and Chad Carter of BrootLegg Extracts
Willy Kramer, Colin Giacalone and Chad Carter of BrootLegg Extracts have worked hard to realize their idea of revolutionizing the coffee world's cold brew.

Not only does the product consistently taste great,  but it is vastly easier to make, and more efficient. "We worked overtime to take all the work out of making cold brew," Giacalone said. "Press a button and BrootLegg Extracts delivers complete, seamless automated production, with total consistency," he said.

Impressively, the system reduces bean usage by anywhere from 20-40% compared to traditional brewing and takes just minutes (vs. a day) to produce gallons of drinkable cold brew, a time reduction of close to 99%. BrootLegg also eliminates the need for costly filters and conserves resources.  With BrootLegg, water flows through the coffee grounds, whereas in the traditional toddy system, coffee grounds are steeped in buckets of water, using more water and requiring space to store the buckets.

In 2019, Kramer's lifelong friend Chadwick Carter joined the team. His computer programming expertise helped them automate and scale the process into an almost fully hands-off system. Over the next two years, the three secured funding to prototype and iterate new designs and obtained their first U.S. patent. 

From November 2021-23, in exchange for pilot data, the BrootLegg system ran thousands of cycles and produced more than 5,000 gallons of cold-brewed coffee for Brioso Coffee Roastery.

In late 2023, BrootLegg Extracts moved into its own building in downtown Columbus. Next steps involve finding additional partners and developing a marketing plan in which BrootLegg will make and deliver cold brew to coffee shops, bars, restaurants, offices, and more. They envision a "spiderweb" configuration of 5-20 machines per hub in different regions across the country, rather than one huge production facility. The team aims to make BrootLegg Extracts an easily scalable, "push button" and hopefully franchisable operation.

BrootLegg is now developing flavored cold brew and seltzer water products using real, whole ingredients such as dried ground apples (no syrups or oils).

BrootLegg Extracts facility

Lessons learned

Along the way, the BrootLegg members not only perfected their methods—they gained a lot of wisdom and a deeper appreciation for their teammates, friends, and family. Despite the long hours, uncertain outcomes, constant problem-solving, financial challenges, and heated disagreements, the three remain great friends. "It's a beautiful thing to come together with opposing viewpoints and not tear each other's heads off," Giacalone said. "We're able to critique and debate things by removing our egos," Carter explained. "No one is smarter alone," Kramer added. 

For them, it's been worth it. "We work like dogs, but tails wag here," Carter joked. "It's what I want to be doing," Kramer agreed.

With years of little or no income and oftentimes working until 2 am in the morning, what kept them going?

"We had a taste of what it could be," Giacalone said. "We were stoked. We just kept burning through it," he added.  

"We can't sit still and have issues relaxing," Kramer elaborated. "We rely on one another and hold each other accountable. If I leave by 7 or 8 pm, I get flack for leaving 'early'," he added with a laugh.

Running a start-up isn't just hard on the founders—it can also take a toll on family members. "We've been incredibly fortunate to have understanding families," Willy said. "It's important to take care of other aspects of your life, even when things get busy," Giacalone suggested.

Visit the BrootLegg website for more information.

 

Category: Alumni