Seasonality, Intentionality & Innovation: A Q&A With Ryan Castelaz, Discourse

Beginning in 2017, Ryan Castelaz operated his experimental coffee bar Discourse out of a cozy space in Door County, Wisconsin. This year, with help from Milwaukee barista Olivia Molter, Ryan took Discourse on the road with a couple of pop-up coffee bars at local vintage shop Dandy. Ryan bid farewell to his Door County coffee bar in May and announced a new collaboration with Olivia to bring Discourse to Two Trees, a Milwaukee-based community space designed to house pop-ups! Ryan and Olivia are poised to begin their Two Trees residency to the Milwaukee coffee-drinking community this summer and we couldn’t be more excited.

Read on to hear from Ryan about his vision to bring some of the most delicious coffees and creative cocktail-style coffee drinks to the Milwaukee community, plus his commendable outlook on using seasonal and sustainable ingredients and reducing his footprint as a business owner. Also be sure to check out our live Highballs at High Noon session with Ryan and Olivia to learn how to make two innovative sparkling coffee drinks perfect for summer!

Download the free Highballs at High Noon E-Book here!
Photo credit: Allison Evans

Q: What was it that first got you into coffee and cocktails?

Ryan Castelaz: When I was in college, I did a student teaching practicum in Gallup, NM that introduced me to coffee as a necessity of survival. Immediately following, I was blessed to be able to study Opera Performance in Florence, Italy for a semester, and fell madly in love with espresso culture. I tripped down the rabbit hole and spent the next several years upgrading my home espresso setup until I had acquired a commercial grade setup, and started to day dream about opening a shop of my own. Cocktails served as a primary source of inspiration for me as I began to form my own style of drink making. Their seasonal and intentional nature, and the work of inspirational bartenders like Dave Arnold, Frankie Solarik, Micah Melton, and Ryan Chetiyarwanda, served as the backbone for my own drink making style.

Q: What new coffee and/or cocktail discoveries are you exploring right now?

RC: We are in a constant state of exploration at discourse. Currently, we're deeply involved in discovering the possibilities of a long form, temperature controlled brew between 100-200F. Most coffee is either cold brewed, or brewed with water over 200F, and both have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. For a little over a year, we've been brewing coffee for 12 hours+ in an oxygen free environment at a temperature of between 145-165F and have achieved some mind-numbing results.

In addition, we're beginning the research end of the R&D process to learn how we can use koji and lactic fermentation to both enhance our products, and significantly reduce our waste footprint. Koji can metabolize both sugar and starch, and we're examining it's potential for the reuse of spent coffee grounds and citrus peels, two of our primary waste products at the bar.

Q: Why do you think people at home might be intimidated by making cocktails?

RC: I think when we become adults, we often lose our sense of play and become more focused on consistent success. The reality of making cocktails at home, especially experimental ones, is that you will come across some drinks that taste bad. That is okay! I've made more than my fair share of bad drinks over the years, but it's those drinks that inform your practice and make you a better drink maker. Making cocktails is supposed to be fun, so focus on the process, and let the finished drink be the icing on the cake.

Also, there's like a bajillion products to choose from! Ask your favorite local bartenders for some recommendations on stocking your home bar. With a great bottle of whiskey, gin, vodka, and tequila, plus solid bottles of sweet and dry vermouth, and small bottles of Angostura and Peychaud's bitters, you can make a huge swatch of the classic cocktail lexicon.

Q: What are some of your favorite drinks to make at home?

RC: At home, I keep things pretty simple. I drink a lot of Gin Martinis (I prefer St. George or Barr Hill Gin and Dolin Dry Vermouth), and Manhattans (I fancy High West Double Rye Whiskey and Cocchi Dopo Teatro Vermouth). I spend a lot of time at work dreaming up the wild and elaborate, and at the end of the day, I want something delicious that I can put together without much thought.

Q: What do you take to a party?

RC: Usually, natural wine or wild beer. I was a Beer Buyer and Cellar Master for a few years and I absolutely love sharing the diversity and deliciousness of beer with friends, new and old. If I'm feeling especially ambitious, I'll throw together a batch cocktail and bring over a few bottles. Riff's on punch are always a hit, and such an easy and open base to build from.

Q: Where do you think the coffee and cocktail industries are headed?

RC: I believe strongly that both industries need to spend more time thinking about the holistic guest experience, and how to offer novel and unique experiences that cannot be easily recreated at home.

On the coffee side, home espresso machine sales skyrocketed during the pandemic, and just offering a solid, transparent product is not going to be enough to keep the customer engaged as we head deeper into the 2020's. Unique drinks, delicious food, and strong community engagement will all be required to maintain and grow our audiences as coffee shop owners.

On the cocktail side, many have become accustomed to making simple cocktails at home. Last night, I paid $14 for a Hendrick's Martini, when I could buy an entire bottle of Hendrick's (essentially the only ingredient) for $30. Cocktail bars must continue to evolve and consider the holistic guest experience, or they will lose their clientele to the bars that are.

For both, I hope to see sustainability in drink making, and the creation of closed loop ecosystems, as a growing trend.

Q: What has the pandemic taught you?

RC: That we truly have the best community in the world. discourse has always been built around the guest experience, largely defined by the cornucopia of interactions had with our guests at the bar. When Covid took hold, and we began to limit our occupancy to one party at a time, it fundamentally changed our concept, and completely redefined our model. Our community rallied around us, and with their love and support, we were able to achieve our best year to date.

I think we spend a lot of time as business owners worrying about everything! The pandemic taught me that the love and loyalty of my community is something I should never worry about, and instead direct that energy towards continuing to provide them some of the most innovative coffee and tea drinks in the world.

Design by Olivia Molter

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