Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Make Good Liquids, Make Good Friends, Make Good Food

I’ve been a fan of Somerville Brewing Company since I moved to Boston back in 2012, when I first saw their nickname “Slumbrew” on bottles in stores. I drank Porter Square Porter before ever actually visiting Porter Square. I met many so-called “slumbassadors” and other members of the Slumbrew community over time, and remember wondering when they would have a brewery of their own for us all to gather and drink together. That’s why I was so excited when they opened their Boynton Brewery in 2015, and it’s why I’m even more excited for the next chapter in the Slumbrew story. I sat down with co-founders Caitlin Jewell and Jeff Leiter to talk about their plans over a beer. 

Somerville Brewing Company is set to open its new American Fresh Brewhouse at Assembly Row within the next month or two. Construction is ongoing, but Caitlin and Jeff told me that they are are devoting most of their time to ensuring that it gets up and running soon. That’s something they can commiserate with the crew behind Backlash Beer Company on, as they continue to build out a brewery in Roxbury after years of having their beers on shelves. Caitlin tells me that she sometimes calls Helder Pimentel of Backlash and they talk about the ups and downs of building a brewery. 

The American Fresh Brewhouse will be a great addition to Assembly Row and the Somerville Brewing Company brand. The location is ideal, being 35 feet away from the local T stop at Assembly, one of the nicest subway stations in Boston. On top of that, there will be plenty of parking with 200 free spaces available for those visiting the Brewhouse. There will be 126 seats along with some outdoor seating as well, much bigger than the American Fresh beer garden at Assembly Row. The Brewhouse will also have a 3.5 barrel brewing system for making those good liquids that Slumbrew has become known for. Overall, the American Fresh Brewhouse is another step forward for a company that has continued to grow and improve every year, creating a solid foundation for their future.

Slumbrew’s motto has always been “make good liquids, make good friends.” Their initial focus was on producing quality beer, and they did just that. I haven’t found a friend that doesn’t like Slumbrew’s Happy Sol, a hefeweizen brewed with local honey and fermented with juice from over 1,000 blood oranges. They then created physical spaces for fans of their beer to gather and enjoy it together. They started offering brewery tours at the Boynton Brewery, hosting all sorts of events, and perhaps most importantly serving food from their own kitchens. This was a natural progression for the Somerville Brewing Company, and one that has led them to where they are today.

The Boynton Brewery taproom offers a wide range of meal options, from charcuterie boards to pizzas (my personal favorite), while the beer garden has a somewhat smaller but similarly tasty menu. Both locations have flourished with the work that Jeff and Caitlin have put into them and no longer require as much of their guidance as they once did, allowing them to focus more on their latest project. The beer garden that opened in 2014 will remain open until the end of this month, when there will be a send-off celebration. I’ve had some good times there and will miss the space, but I am looking forward to enjoying the new Brewhouse even more.

There is something to be said for a brewing company choosing to close one of its locations in order to direct resources to a more ambitious project. There have been multiple instances of breweries moving too fast with opening new locations or expanding at such an unsustainably rapid pace that they are eventually forced to close or sell. This seems like a much more responsible move for Somerville Brewing Company, as a year-round beer garden in New England, even with heated tents, must be hard to maintain. The new Brewhouse should take some of the best things about the beer garden and make them even better.

The American Fresh Brewhouse at Assembly Row is an evolution for Somerville Brewing Company. Jeff has experience in the restaurant industry, and for some time now both he and Caitlin have wanted to offer an even greater experience to their fans in terms of both food and beer. The Brewhouse is designed as a “gastrobrewery,” not a brewpub. Whereas brewpubs are often primarily restaurants with beer brewed on premises, gastrobreweries are primarily producers of beer with an elevated food menu. Different from the typical fare of food trucks and pop-ups one often sees at their local taproom, Slumbrew’s new gastrobrewery will have its own chefs, a full kitchen, and an extensive menu featuring dishes ranging from steak to seafood. In a time and place (specifically Boston) in which local breweries are all basically making good liquids, how does one stand out among the rest? The key, Caitlin and Jeff believe, will be offering the full gastrobrewery experience to consumers. No longer having to bring or order food from outside or waiting for a food truck to show up. Not having to settle for bar snacks and instead being able to order a full, flavorful meal with the beer one goes there to drink. That is what a gastrobrewery is all about, and that is what the American Fresh Brewhouse at Assembly Row will offer. I, for one, cannot wait to experience it. 

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