If there's been one thing missing from the Edmonton coffee scene, it's a place to drink good coffee and good beer—simultaneously—I mean in quick succession, without crossing the river or walking down the street. Luckily, BRU Coffee + Beer House, located on Jasper Avenue in the Oliver neighborhood, opened its doors during the third week of September. So far the response has been enthusiastic; on opening day, flowers and cards from neighboring businesses were lined up on every countertop. “We have not faced anything negative yet; everything that we've encountered in this neighborhood has been great,” the owner, Di Arias, tells me. And no wonder. Not only is BRU serving two universally beloved beverages under the same roof, they're also open late every night. It's a refreshing sign from a new cafe in downtown Edmonton, where many established bistros and coffee shops are only open on weekdays during business hours.
Strolling into BRU, the first thing you see is a pastry case stocked with tarts, macarons, and madeleines. The coffee bar, equipped with a slick new three-group La Marzocco Strada EP and a contraption for making fresh-squeezed orange juice, takes up the left wall. Beer is served from four taps and a large selection of bottles ranged along the back wall. Two giant charts mapping relationships between different styles of coffee and beer, respectively, provide a backdrop in front of which baristas and bartenders rush back and forth. High ceilings, modern chandeliers, and lots of wood and glass create a welcoming but sophisticated atmosphere, while dark grey walls and bold graphic illustrations depart from a pale and minimalist Scandinavian style.
Arias notes that BRU's design, from “colors to presentation, glassware, music, lighting, etc.,” is meant to embody an “approachable concept that allows both ourselves and customers to learn and gather around coffee and beer.” This concept is certainly evident in the seating options, which allow customers to chat with staff while perching at the bar, huddle over drinks at one of the small tables along the wall, or strike up a conversation at the long communal table in the center of the room.
BRU's coffee and beer selection is “based on transparency, quality, and consistency. The whole process starts with our community, which means supporting local business as much as we can. That becomes our base in building strong bonds that benefit the local coffee and beer scene, and helps us in terms of logistics, training, etc… then we start looking into interesting and tasty projects,” continued Arias.
The cafe is currently serving espresso, pour-overs, and FETCO-brewed coffee from Phil & Sebastian (Calgary, Alberta), Bows & Arrows (Victoria, British Columbia), and Transcend, a local roaster. The beer menu includes Canadian options from Alley Kat (Edmonton's only craft brewery), Dieu Du Ciel and Le Trou Du Diable (both Quebec), Paddock Wood (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), and imported beers from Hitachino (Japan), Elysian (USA), and Flensburger Brauerei (Germany). Already familiar with Alley Kat, I try the Hitachino Red Rice Ale; I'm promptly gobsmacked by notes of strawberry and genmaicha, but I'm definitely not complaining.
I also order a double espresso and a Kenya pour-over. Both coffees arrive on custom wooden trays—the espresso with a glass of sparkling water, the pour-over in a small beehive pot with a matching cup. Though you can wait at the bar if you're a typically apologetic Canadian, or taking your coffee to go. BRU also serves food and offers table service once you've ordered at the till. In addition to the pastries in the case, you can order soup, salads, charcuterie, and sandwiches including a “Pancetta and Egger” on a fresh croissant.
The main idea, enjoying coffee and beer, doesn't seem far from anyone's mind. BRU's tables are full of people chatting and sharing plates of food—but also ordering multiple drinks, indulging in several coffees or sampling a selection of beers. If the cafe's aim is, as Arias suggests, to “make people wonder and understand a bit more about coffee and beer while they have a great time,” BRU seems to be off to a very good start.