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An Ultra-Exclusive Interview with the Hellion Cold Brew Team

“The fact that you can go and get a bottle of something that tastes as good as any third-wave quality coffee beverage you get in a café is pretty attractive.”

Benjamin Houtkamp, Hellion Cold Brew Manager

Hellion Cold Brew grew out of a simple need for consistent, quality cold brewed coffee. It began as a small operation based out of Metric Coffee and tested through Caffe Streets, and it involved a few things: a couple pounds of some quality coffee beans roasted by Metric, a handful of toddy and bottling equipment, and a single refrigerator. The work involved produced one or two gallons a night, done by a single person. Now, operations have expanded to include significantly more quality beans roasted by Metric, dozens of kegs sent out per week, hundreds bottles labeled by hand and stacked in 4- and 24-packs, and a walk-in fridge. Each night, between 50 and 100 gallons are brewed. Luckily the Hellion team has also grown, and today employs two whole people. They are Benjamin Dale Houtkamp, Cold Brew Manager and Jeffrey Burnat O’Malley, Lead Cold Brew Producer. Together, they proudly refer to themselves as the BrüBoix (alternative spellings: Bruboiz or Brew Boys).

The idea of this piece was to learn a little more about Hellion Cold Brew, and to learn about the amazing humans who work to create this stunning, glorious final product that is so delicious in every form (from regular cold brew, to creamy nitro cold brew, to single origin cold brew, all of which are available for wholesale at hellioncoldbrew.com). We agreed to meet at Metric West Fulton, since we all happen to work at that facility. We settled onto stools, each with a glass of cold brew. The sun had slipped to the other side of the street, so we sat comfortably in the middle of West Fulton’s bustle. I began the interview with a tough assignment, asking Jeffrey to describe the physically intensive and actually meticulous process of making Hellion Cold Brew in 100 words or less. 

“I get coffee from Alex [Head Roaster at Metric Coffee], I weigh that coffee; I grind that coffee, put it in a bucket in a filter, pour water over it; I stir it, cover it, come in 18 hours later; decant it into a keg with water, nitrogenate it, and chill it,” says Jeffrey.

He did it in less than fifty words. My jaw was on the floor, agape at Jeffrey’s intellect and economy. I was also struck by how semicolons were somehow clearly articulated in his speech—an unbelievable performance overall. I gathered myself, shuffled my notes, and kept sallying forth in the interview, struggling to overcome my awe. This is the process used to create our bottled cold brew product and our nitro cold brew product, both organic and naturally sweet coffee beverages available at Local Foods and select Chicago Whole Foods. I felt I had really cracked this story wide open. 

Truth be told, meeting these self-described “jazz-cats” was what I imagine how most people feel upon meeting Kanye or Madonna. Starstruck does not even begin to accurately describe the feelings I had. It was like my stomach and my heart were thrown in a dryer set to permanent press, tumbling over and over in a warm, colorful whirl. My head was engulfed in a cloud of thoughts and emotion, yet was simultaneously dwarfed into a gnat-like maelstrom next to the nearly visible, magnanimous collective O’Malley-Houtkamp mind. What secret brewing knowledge steeped under the surfaces of their seemingly omniscient skulls, what hidden skills rustled inside them, always at the ready to create more Hellion, an item that is available by the bottle and on tap at several esteemed locations across Chicago including Goddess and Baker, Caffe Streets, Foxtrot, Café Marie-Jeanne, Handlebar, Beer Temple, and Tapster. 

“Metric West Fulton is a great place to get it,” says Jeffrey, his trademark beard waving in the passing breeze. “You can even meet the producers. They’ll give you a hug or a high five.” It’s impossible to say if this remark was in earnest or done with the sly Jeffrey O’Malley wit, so I moved on, hugless.

The mood suddenly darkened. There was something they weren’t telling me, and I had to know. Though I thought it nearly impossible that they would answer me straight, I knew I couldn’t let this interview pass by without asking them the tough questions. I wanted to know this: if they loved Hellion Cold Brew as much as I do, and why. I demanded specifics as tactfully as I could. But tightening the screw is never very tactful. Nevertheless, they answered thusly:

“We are small company so you get the face with the product,” answered Ben, his iconic glasses flipping down sunlight into his glass of cold brew, held casually in his right hand. “But it’s mainly just super tasty. It’s got a little bit of acidity, a big body, very chocolaty. It’s a very easy-to-drink coffee.”

It was just as I suspected. But there was more…we weren’t out of the woods yet.

“It also has to do with sourcing the coffee itself,” adds Jeffrey. “the attention to detail in the roast, the development.”

There it was, the truth at last. I exhaled as the heaviness lifted from my heart.  As Metric patrons walked by and delivery trucks bellowed past, we at last looked upon each other as equals. I could tell they were impressed with my tenacity and easygoing demeanor. But it was a façade. Underneath, my emotions at a rolling boil of joy, sitting with these two legends. Together, these individuals are fine-tuning what was started long ago, making what was once a coffee trend into a staple of the coffee industry. 

“It was sort of a hobby at first, and we didn’t really expect it to turn into a big part of our business, but we experimented a lot to find a great set of flavors and a consistent recipe...Since then, it’s exploded. It’s a big part of our business,” says Ben.

Hellion Cold Brew has also proven to be a solid partner with many unique projects and recipes, and has been featured in a coffee-beers from Maplewood Brewery and Distillery, Koval Distillery, Hopewell Brewing, and has also been included in crafted beverages like Antique Taco’s coffee horchata, and a coffee slushy cocktail at Spilt Milk Tavern. Beyond Hellion collaborations, the duo is competing in this year’s Coffee Fest with a single origin cold brew crafted personally by Ben and Jeffrey. Anyone interesting in learning more about our cold brew or potentially building a partnership can visit 2021 W. Fulton or email hello@hellioncoldbrew.com!

When I was first given the assignment of writing about Hellion Cold Brew, I was humbled and giddy beyond belief. For some, Hellion Cold Brew just means really good cold coffee. For others, it’s a cold brew company founded in 2015, grown out of local roastery Metric Coffee. For me, it’s personal. Hellion Cold Brew is a delicious, organic, brain-electrifying product that has changed my view not only on cold brew, but on life itself. Facetious, you say? Shameless plugging, you object? To that I say this: nobody bottles like the BrüBoix.