Year over year, we continue to be inspired and impressed by the work of Gilly Brew Bar, the seminal Georgia coffee company now with three locations in and around Atlanta. Founders Daniel Brown and Nephthaly Leonidas have created an approach to cafe culture that transcends easy definition, something that instead requires long-form contemplation in the form of time, reverence, and an open mind.
Daniel Brown is a Sprudge Twenty class member, and when we asked what drives him, Brown told us, “mixing and pairing coffee with other flavors is intriguing to me. Taking risks and challenging myself creatively through innovation, experimentation & revivals of alternative brewing methods & technology are a few causes and elements that drive me.”
Gilly Brew Bar pushes quality and innovation across an ever-changing range of premium coffee “elixirs” with ingredients like dried herbs, bitters, and aromatics. In a profile on Gilly Brew Bar for Sprudge Special Projects in 2021, Jordan Michelman sat down with Daniel Brown and asked why Gilly Brew Bar uses the word elixir over “signature drink” or “coffee mocktail.”
“I decided to call these drinks “elixirs” because that word, to its true definition, means a kind of house remedy, medicine, or concoction that’s made to help you recover from an ailment,” Brown explained, “your grandmother may have made you chicken soup; for me, in my family, we saw coffee and tea as a kind of medicine, and I wanted to choose a word that would help express and embed that in people’s heads. Coffee is not just something you consume or enjoy for the flavors. We also want to express that it is a medicinal product, that can be healing to your soul. And the storytelling is all a part of that.”
Today we take a closer look at Gilly Brew Bar’s approach to building these inspiring seasonal menus. We got back in touch with Daniel Brown to talk about the process and to find out more about the new drinks for 2023.
Sprudge: Hey Daniel, thanks for checking back in with us. How long does it take to conceptualize, develop, and create your seasonal menus at Gilly? Are there creative processes like journaling and sketching during this time?
It doesn’t take me that long to conceptualize, develop, and/or create my menus. It’s a gift; just give me a theme or I’ll be inspired with one and the juices just start flowing. I think that my background in music, singing/songwriting makes the process easier for me. The difficult part for me earlier on was teaching my team how to carry the menu, but over time (after years of experience, trial and error), I’ve established a system that allows my team to learn and then execute. I’m a big kid, so the creative processes I apply always include imagination. I use to sketch and journal myself but as the business grew I got to invite some of my friends over to play along in the process, for my seasonal elixir drops. Friends like, like Mary-Claire Stewart who is a master photographer, Luke and Rachel Garmon and/or David Nobles, Gary Fortner, Kim Powell, who are all amazing video creators. Then there’s Leslie Mack a brilliant artist, skilled with the pen and my sis/business partner Nephthaly who is great with words and helps me with telling these stories. Lastly my wife Shellane who has supported me and my wild ideas. Their contributions embellish what I do.
You’ve developed a poignant and beautiful archive of menus on your website. It’s nice to be able to learn about them, and learn from them. You recently revisited and re-imagined 2018’s Fling in 2022. The description of the menu reads almost like an artist’s statement: “Do you feel that? Like you’re being pulled? We do and the tug is taking us places that are a bit uncomfortable. Four years ago, Founder, Daniel Brown introduced a collection that only a few would remember. Little did he know that it would be the start of an archive of seasonal elixirs. Those earlier days were rough. Daniel was learning how to run a small business, now we’re learning how to scale; To be completely honest, we’re being stretched like nobody’s business.” I wanted to ask if the process of building and executing these menus is healing, and how you’re feeling here in 2023.
The process of building and executing all of my menus is healing, but yes that “Fling” collection was very healing and special in that. It was my very first elixir collection that I officially launched, after finally opening my first location in Stone Mountain, GA (Sprudge has been following my story for some time now, so you guys know how rough the journey was for me). Opening my second Gilly location wasn’t nearly as difficult as the first, however there were some similarities, and so revisiting that first collection (something I’ve never done before) just felt like the right thing to do. My thought process was, if they carried me through in the Spring of 2018, they should be able to do the same in the Spring of 2023. And just like that I realized that I have this archive of elixirs that many of my newer customers didn’t get the chance to experience, why not bring them back? So now I challenged myself by re-imagining that old menu (which was five elixirs) and I put a new spin on it, renamed it to “Someday” and reduced it to three elixirs. I’ve been retracing all of my collections ever since then, to make them even better. The stories have proven to stand the test of time, they’re all still relevant to this day.
Were there collaborators for these three drinks?
Yes, almost five years ago when I first dropped this collection, one of the elixirs was in collaboration with Metric Coffee (based out of Chi-town), who had a killer Kenyan coffee with savory notes that I was looking for. The base of that same elixirs in this season, I’ve now switched to a tea and decided to collaborate with our friends at Just Add Honey who make this amazing tea blend called “Farmers Market.” If there are any other artists/brands/storytellers out there who want to collaborate, my team and I would love to connect and potentially brew something up with you.
What’s the theme for this season?
The theme that we’re currently in this Winter is called Hello Beth. It’s not a Christmas story, it’s my artistic depiction of the nativity scene.
Fat-washing is used for the drink The Giver. Can you explain that process?
We use an infusion technique, where we steep our Gilly “buttah” blend coffee in butter. We also have a vegan option that we’ve made with a plant-based butter.
Will you describe the components of the drink Oh Mother?
It’s a tangy/fruity hibiscus-based tea that already has the addition of savory ingredients. We enhance with more fresh ingredients and citrus to brighten it up and add a tinge of spiciness. It’s umami, eccentric, and ingenious, which is just what I hoped. The story we’re telling is so meaty and juicy, all of the savory deliciousness only deepens the flavor and brings this character of our story to life. It’s subliminal but if you read between the lines you’ll catch the message and if not we encourage our guests to ask one of our baristas what the inspiration was.
How is the process of milk-washing applied to Kidd?
We use a separation technique with a filter, after mixing milk and acidity. For this elixir we chose to milk-wash goat milk and for our vegan friends, we’ve milk-washed oat milk (because why not).
How long will this menu be available?
This season technically ends on March 20th but we may have leftovers so don’t be afraid to ask, we may have just enough for you to experience.
All of the photos were captured by Mary-Claire Stewart, @maryclairephoto on Instagram.
Visit Gilly Brew Bar at their locations across Georgia, and follow them on Instagram.
On The Menu is proudly presented by Oatly. Check out more signature drinks in our On The Menu archive.