Back in April of this year, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood of Colonna & Small’s in Bath was busily working his way towards the top spot at the UK Barista Championships. Between research and practice, an idea was gaining momentum: a new project involving craft beer and coffee. This was to be realised as Colonna & Hunter, a joint venture between Colonna-Dashwood and new partner James Hunter. Before the doors opened, the Colonna & Small’s blog had laid out the modus operandi: the new store would offer “a slightly more familiar coffee service to reflect its shared space… it will still utilise much of what we’ve learnt to emphasise the flavour of these drinks that can be both simple and complex. Colonna & Hunter will celebrate the culinary nature of both.”
Music to many a beer and coffee enthusiast’s ears for sure, especially with the growing crossover between fans of microbreweries and smaller, high quality roasteries. The two products have been bumping into each other regularly in the UK for the past few years, enjoying mutual appreciation in some establishments and occasional collaborations such as the recent dry-hopped nitro cold brew from Sandows London. However, Colonna & Hunter's intention to present flavourful, interesting beer from some of the best breweries to be found, alongside an equally changing range of coffees managed by a top flight UK coffee company, represents an exciting evolution of this trend.
On Colonna & Hunter's first Saturday open, I took off to Bath and picked my way through the crush of sightseers and local shoppers, hanging a right into a smart, pretty-as-a-picture shopping area called Milsom Place. Housed at the end of the upper level, Colonna & Hunter extends comfortably across two tall rooms full of natural light, partly divided by an exposed brick wall. Both sides were cheerfully occupied by customers enjoying early afternoon coffee or a glass of wine during our visit. Most people were also tucking into the range of local pastries, “puffins”— “a pancake disguised as a muffin”, avocado on toast, a rustic salad, or spicy hotpot.
The divide of beverages is made clear within the space. At the back, a long metal bar, tarnished for purpose into an intricate pattern of gunmetal distress, sits across the two rooms. To the left, a Victoria Arduino Black Eagle espresso machine hunkers down offering two types of espresso (this particular week, from Kenya and Ethiopia), joined by two batch-brew options behind. To the right of the casual partition there are five black beer taps offering a selection of craft, often local, beers such as Wiper & True and Wild Beer Co., alongside a range of chilled bottles from both near and farther-flung breweries.
People drink coffee on both sides. Early on the feel is that of a bright, welcoming coffee bar. Later, the lights are dimmed and the dual purpose leans towards beer consumption, along with a brief range of quality wine and spirits. Customers veer to the right, asking questions about beer origin and reading displays of flavour notes as they did earlier in the day with their coffees.
Upon arrival, I made for the left. After a short explanation of characteristics, first came a filter from the Round Hill Roastery—their Mbilima washed bourbon from Rwanda that tasted of raspberry cola—followed by Has Bean’s natural Ethiopian offering of Konga Sedie for espresso. This was an incredibly luscious and lightly spiced cup with a clean summer-berry sweetness. Next up: Round Hill’s Colombian Libertadora mix of washed caturra/Colombia on brew which offered a softer contrast to the previous filter: creamy macadamia, with sweet cherry notes. Colonna & Small's has a reputation for excellence, and I was not disappointed at Colonna & Hunter, where I was given delicious coffee—skilfully brewed and thoroughly enjoyed.
I arrived back after dark to catch the evening service in buzzing swing. I stuck around for a quick post-shift chat with Hunter and Colonna-Dashwood, and as I waited, the draught beers called me. I went local with Wiper and True‘s Simcoe and Rye Amber Ale.
Both Colonna-Dashwood and Hunter explained that their joint enterprise is thanks to a relationship that began when James Hunter started frequenting Colonna & Small’s. Hunter had moved to Bath to train as a sponsored athlete, competing as a 400m runner. Colonna-Dashwood recalls Hunter “started coming in, asking questions, getting interested. I asked him if he wanted to come in to do some part-time shifts, which he did. The problem was that training was intense and he was knackered all the time.” Hunter then began a modelling career, but remained a regular at the cafe. He says it began with the first, smaller store and a fast-developing interest: “I used to go in for a coffee with my partner Vicks. I had a little crappy one-group Gaggia [home espresso machine], then Maxwell and I got talking and it developed into an interest in how to manipulate coffee. I’d never worked with coffee before.”
Hunter continued: “The reason I got into specialty coffee was because it offered me something that wasn’t just a drink; it was all about the flavour. When I tasted craft beer it offered me the same.” He explored an interest in microbreweries during a trip to the US, touring places like San Francisco and LA. “I really got into craft beer visiting the places there, everyone is doing something interesting.”
During the time of the UKBC, Colonna-Dashwood was sought out by property developers who owned Milsom Place, where the new venture would later arrive. He had no prior plans for a second location, and says “they came to me and asked if I wanted to open a coffee shop. I said no immediately, as I didn’t want to. The whole point of Colonna & Small’s is that it’s a destination.” However, he said that he'd “been thinking about craft beer for a while and became interested, so I thought why not do something different, why don’t we diversify? I came here and pitched it, they had identified craft beer as something they wanted. We had a little chitchat, and they said yes.” He then arrived back at the cafe with the news, and Hunter made a quick decision: “I’m in.”
After the last few months of planning, design and a serious week of opening to immediately busy days, Colonna-Dashwood says he intends to base himself mainly at Colonna & Small’s, with James Hunter and partner Victoria Tiplady taking care of Colonna & Hunter’s daily business. From a scant day’s visit, it looks to be that Colonna & Hunter is addressing a need previously untapped locally; a place to visit or languish in a friendly, relaxed environment that offers a finer version of your favourite morning or evening brew.