SOMERVILLE — Early on a Thursday night all the seats around the bar in Aeronaut Brewing Co.’s taproom are taken, as people come in to sample the latest varieties from one of this city’s new brewers. As the crowd builds, it spreads out through the 12,000-square-foot-space that includes the Foods Hub, an incubator populated with like-minded businesses.
The brewery represents the union of science, food, and beer, say Aeronaut founders Ronn Friedlander, Ben Holmes, and Dan Rassi. A conversation with the partners can quickly veer into technical detail beyond the scope of the average layperson. But just as quickly, it comes back to earth, as the trio talks about the wild yeast they caught and cultivated for one of their earliest varieties, Armadillo, and the close relationships they have with the farms that supply hops and grains.
The idea for the Foods Hub came to the partners when they found the building, part of what was once the home of Ames Safety Envelope Co., just outside Union Square. Friedlander explains, “It allows us to bring in really cool food manufacturers that [let] us collaborate and that will be a draw.” Aeronaut’s Coffee, Cacao, Blackberry Porter is an early product of that collaboration, with contributions from companies barismo, Somerville Chocolate, and Something GUD, all in the food incubator program. (The building complex, known as Ames Business Park, houses many other small businesses, from a nonprofit design and fabrication center to a climbing gym.)
Something GUD, which delivers locally sourced, mostly organic, foods to homes inside Interstate 95, was the first Hub member. Cofounder Colin Davis says the company decided to move in because “we wanted to interact directly with customers.”
Late last spring, barismo relocated its coffee roasting operation here from Arlington (where its original space is still a coffee bar). “It was clear that [the Aeronaut founders] are doing the same thing in beer that we’re doing in coffee,” says owner Jaime van Schyndel. “This was a perfect opportunity to come in and tap into the community.”
For Somerville Chocolate’s Eric Parkes, moving to the Hub meant moving out of his home kitchen. The architect and chocolate maker began experimenting with bean-to-bar chocolate about two years ago, inspired by a visit to a chocolate plantation in Costa Rica. Initially, he sold bars through a chocolate CSA. Now they are also available from Something GUD and a small but growing number of retail locations.
Two additional food businesses, Bloombrick Urban Agriculture, an indoor farm that grows and sells micro greens and wheatgrass, and Tasting Counter, chef Peter Ungar’s new, 20-seat restaurant, will open shortly to complete the space. Elias Kolsun, of Bloombrick, says he was drawn by “the energy and culture” of the Aeronaut hub. “Farming comes down to community and interconnectivity,” he says. “[There are] so many brilliant and creative people working here,” he says. Ungar, who has been a private chef, will offer multi-course tasting menus for lunch and dinner in a 1,000-square-foot space with a central, open kitchen. “I want guests to feel connected to the food they’re eating,” he says.
At the brewery, about 600 gallons a week of brew meet the demand for its ever-changing rotation of beers. While some local chefs have embraced foraging to round out their menus (think Daniel Bruce and mushrooms), Friedlander, Holmes, and Rassi capture wild yeast and grow it into their own strains. “Innovation is our core business,” says Holmes. For now, “Beer is the towering revenue stream over food and science.”
Friedlander, who recently completed his doctoral work at MIT, oversees the yeast lab, where he is currently working on new strains cultivated from fermenting apples and grapes. Growing their own yeast gives the brewers better control over the beer, they believe, though Friedlander concedes it can also create more room for error. Their collecting doesn’t stop at yeast. The recently released Field Day, an American Pale Ale, is made with sumac that Friedlander brought back from supplier Four Star Farms in Northfield.
Aeronaut opens its taproom to the public Wednesday through Saturday evenings, offering at least eight beer varieties at a time. Seasonal flavors depend on where the brewers’ experimentation takes them. Currently, food trucks set up outside, but those chefs will soon take turns in the brewery’s beer hall, “which we’re prototyping now,” according to Holmes. It is still a fairly raw space between Somerville Chocolate and Bloombrick. There is usually live music, and guests move freely around the cavernous space.
“There have been a few nights when I’ve gone in to work and end up spending the entire time talking to people wandering by,” writes chocolate maker Parkes in an e-mail. “Of course, offering samples can be a big ice breaker.”
AERONAUT BREWING CO. 14 Tyler St., Somerville, 617-718-0602, www.aeronautbrewing.com. Wed-Fri 5-11 p.m., Sat 2-11 p.m.
On Oct. 29, Aeronaut Brewing Co. has some fun in store. The brewery will host the Great Pumpkin Carve-Out, making 70 pumpkins — and one giant one — available for carving. The evening coincides with the release of Aeronaut’s Pumpkin Festive Ale. The beer incorporates fresh pumpkin, which the brewers puree themselves, along with fresh ginger. On Oct. 31, there will be a Halloween extravaganza with local bands and trick-or-treating in the Foods Hub.