Big things are happening in Somerville. Union Square is now home to both Bantam Cider and Aeronaut Brewing Company. The Legoland Discovery Center recently opened in Assembly Row. Somerville Brewing Company, the makers of Slumbrew beers, made big news when they announced that they will be bringing a new brewery, retail experience, and taproom to Boynton Yards. Yet, there is something else coming to Somerville. Something fans of Slumbrew will be very excited about. Something that has been kept a secret until now: Assembly Row will soon be the home of the very first American Fresh Taproom.
That's right; the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row by Somerville Brewing Company will be opening to the public on August 1st, before the American Fresh Taproom and Brewery Boynton Yards by Somerville Brewing Company opens in the first week of November. A family-friendly, outdoor beer garden pavilion offering high-quality food and beers from Slumbrew, the American Fresh Taproom promises to be one of the biggest things to come to Somerville yet.
The founders of Somerville Brewing Company, Caitlin Jewell and Jeff Leiter.
(All photos courtesy of Somerville Brewing Company)
To find out more about Somerville Brewing Company's history as well as their plans for the Slumbrew and American Fresh brands, I traveled out to Somerville to meet with the co-owners, Jeff Leiter and Caitlin Jewell. We sat down at Redbones Barbecue in Davis Square to talk about things over a few pints of Flagraiser IPA.
As I took my first pint from Jeff, who was sitting near the bar, the familiar aroma of Flagraiser immediately hit my nose. The smell of pine and citrus made it hard to resist. Luckily, we soon raised our glasses and toasted with a hearty "cheers" (or, as Caitlin would say, "slàinte"). After taking my first sip and enjoying the sweet yet fruity flavor of the beer, I decided to ask Jeff about where the inspiration for their beers first came from. "It came from making beers that I liked to drink or that Caitlin liked to drink," Jeff said. "I had to fight hard for Happy Sol," Caitlin told me. "That was a treat he made for me and not one of his favorites." I think many people, including myself, are glad that she fought for it.
"I like to cook," Jeff went on to say. He told me about how when he first started brewing Happy Sol and bought dozens of blood oranges that he peeled and zested himself. "It's just as good now as it was then," Jeff said with pride. "It took a while to get there," Caitlin confessed. Then she told me the first rule of Slumbrew (and no, it's not that you do not talk about Slumbrew). "Rule number one: make good liquids."
Next I asked them what they thought they key was to getting where they are today. "It was a lot of careful decisions that we've made for developing the brand, marketing it, and making friends," Jeff said. "Life gives you a lot of things that you don't expect, and it's about how you to react to those things. When life gives you bittering units, you make IPA." Most importantly, Jeff believes that to be successful as a brewer you have to make good beer. "You have to make beer that you love and that other people love," Jeff said. Then Caitlin brought up a good point: "You can't work so hard to make novel beers that you forget to make good beers."
Part of the Slumbrew crew standing in the location for the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row.
After that, Jeff began to talk about developing a culture around their beer and getting people to want to support their brand. "A lot of it's been developing relationships one-on-one. That's what we've done for 33 months, and in another 33 months we'll be that much further ahead." Slumbrew, a nickname from friends in "Slumerville" that is now a badge of honor, started with just Jeff and Caitlin. It now has a few other people on board, including Caitlin's brother. On the subject of support, Caitlin had a lot to say. "You have to activate your fans. You have to find a way to engage them. You have to allow them to participate in both your successes and your failures. You have to let them be part of the journey."
Caitlin believes that brewers should look at their fans as their friends. Sitting by the bar with my second pint of Flagraiser, I certainly felt like one. Having been part of their journey myself, I had to ask about the next chapter and what motivated them to open up their own brewery. "We spent 15 years traveling and admiring breweries. You spend so much time admiring everybody else's brewery that you eventually want one of your own," Caitlin said. Jeff then explained the motivation behind the American Fresh Taproom. "That's the endgame. That's where everyone is headed. That's the place where you get to create the experience and control the product that the consumer gets." Jeff talked about how there is a certain amount of unpredictability around beer that is sent out to the market. Depending on how their beer is shipped and stored, they might not have any idea of what the consumer is getting. "By opening up a taproom, we'll know exactly what they're getting."
Still curious about the American Fresh brand, I decided to ask about where it came from. "So it's Slumbrew, but 8 or 9 years ago we had this idea for a restaurant," Caitlin said. "My dream was to open a restaurant where the food was from all over America." A couple of business plans and classes made them realize that it may have not been the best idea. "What came out of that were some good ideas about local food made with quality ingredients." Of course, the brand came as well. Both Caitlin and Jeff are excited about opening the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row as well as the American Fresh Taproom and Brewery Boynton Yards.
The American Fresh brand is a way for Jeff and Caitlin to further connect with their consumers and amplify what they're already doing while consolidating their objectives. The American Fresh Taproom will be a place where they can serve some of the more experimental beers that they will be brewing (including Happier Sol, which is Happy Sol aged in rum barrels). It will also be one of the few family-friendly beer gardens. In fact, Caitlin told me there will be a sign that says "Make no mistake, this is a family-friendly place" with a picture of her, Jeff, and their children. There will even be certain hours specifically meant for families to have time to enjoy themselves.
A rendering of what the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row will look like.
Caitlin showed me some of their top-secret designs for the layout of the American Fresh Taproom. The pavilion will be made of a cool collection of shipping containers that have been converted into retail and food prep spaces surrounding an open beer garden area. The plans looked great, and I am definitely looking forward to visiting and taking part in the many outdoor events they have planned.
"In our view, the taproom is the ultimate experience of the brand," Jeff said. "We wanted to be able to have a brand that embraced the idea of a fresh, local product. Food from around America. Beer that is served in the best condition possible. A brand that will be able to expand beyond the locality of Somerville." Somerville Brewing Company started in Somerville, and the first two American Fresh Taprooms will be in Somerville, but the plan is to recreate the experience and bring the American Fresh brand to even more areas with a focus on freshness and American ingredients.
Caitlin made a point of letting me know that the American Fresh Taproom will not be a brewpub. They're not going to have french fries. Their fare will include artisanal soups, cheeses, and characuterie, among other things. They are not only dedicated to putting the best ingredients they can find into their food, but also to knowing where each of those ingredients came from. "We are a brewery that's trying to have great food," Jeff said. "The number one rule is making great beer. We want to be able to pair great beer with really great food."
The label for Island Day, set to be released in late July.
I don't know if it was all of the exciting news I was hearing, or if it was Jeff handing me my third and final pint of Flagraiser, but I was feeling pretty happy about the great things that Slumbrew has in the works. As I raised my glass of Flagraiser, one of their four core beers, I had to ask about their upcoming beer, Island Day IPA. More specifically, I wanted to know how this one would be different from the 7 other unique IPAs that are part of their current 13 beer portfolio.
Jeff gave me a pretty good description of what Island Day would be like. "It's really summery. It's light in color with a lot of hops. There will be a nice bitterness. We're going to dry hop the hell out of it." The beer sounds good, and the label looks great. Friends of Jeff and Caitlin are featured sailing on the Charles River with what Bostonians will immediately recognize as the Hatch Shell and the John Hancock Tower among the rest of the city in the background.
After summer, Slumbrew's fall seasonal, Attic & Eaves, will return. Considering Attic & Eaves is my favorite beer from Slumbrew, I was excited when Caitlin shared some good news with me. "It's coming out early this year, and it's going to stay out longer. September, October, November, December. The whole quarter." Yankee Swap will also be coming back. This year's Yankee Swap is going to be an Imperial Stout using the same rum barrels and same maple syrup from the year before.
They also have plans to start a barrel program in their new brewery. Jeff is a huge sour fan, so he is really excited for Slumbrew to start making sour beers in the future. Though Slumbrew will not be at Drink Craft Beer Summerfest 2014, they will be back at Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest 2014 pouring Attic & Eaves, the new Yankee Swap, and (if Caitlin can convince Jeff) possibly some Yankee Swap from 2013 as well.
After hearing about plans for a barrel program and how there is still some Yankee Swap from last year stored away, we started talking about aging beers. "I remember chuckling when we bought a cave-aged beer from Ommegang," Caitlin said. "But you know what? It was brilliant. It was some relative's cave that was dark and cold. So they drove all their cases down, they put them down there, and they left them there for a couple of years. Then they brought them back up. It was a beautiful beer." So, if anyone's got a cave, Jeff and Caitlin would love to use it.
As we finished our beers, Jeff and Caitlin left me with some parting thoughts. "When it comes to craft beer, inclusion matters a lot. That's what has made us so strong, people participating. We've been so lucky, but we still need help." There are already plenty of "slumbassadors" out there. They are people who are dedicated to Slumbrew and want to support it in any way they can. Though, there could always be more of them. I have a feeling that after Slumbrew opens its new brewery and taproom, there most definitely will be.
The logo for the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row.
A soft opening for the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row is planned for July 30 and July 31, but access will be by ticketed invitation only during the first two days. American Fresh Taproom will be open to the public on Friday, August 1, 2014. Operating hours are expected to be 11am-10pm Monday - Saturday and noon-8pm Sunday.
For more information, visit www.slumbrew.com.