In 2012, Steve and Betsy Sanderson ponied up their own money and opened RiverWalk Brewing Company as a tiny tap room in Newburyport.
“We thought it would get us through the first four or five years, which it did,” says Steve Sanderson. “We didn’t have a ton of money to work with.”
RiverWalk has stayed small, brewing around 2,000 barrels of beer in 2016 and selling most of it on the North Shore. The current tap room lacks amenities that have become popular with other breweries around the region: ample indoor/outdoor space for drinking, storage in the back for barrel aging, and a license to pour full pints.
“When we moved to our current space, the tap room option most people are doing now wasn’t as prevalent,” says Sanderson, who notes that selling more beer directly to consumers is a way for smaller breweries to stay financially viable.
Now RiverWalk is expanding. Later this year, the brewery will move to a spot less than a mile from its current location that is 10 times the size. In addition to taking beer to go, visitors will be able to order flights and full pints in a 3,000-square-foot tap room. An outdoor biergarten will serve as an event space, and the new brewery abuts the town’s rail trail.
All of it is possible, Sanderson says, thanks to the local community’s embracing a lineup of RiverWalk beers that is hard to categorize. The bestseller is an American-style IPA, 6.75 percent alcohol by volume and equal parts citrus and pine. But Sanderson and his team also brew Belgian styles, such as Gnomad, a farmhouse ale brewed with barley, wheat, and oats that’s a touch spicy. Uncle Bob’s, an English-style session ale, has been a RiverWalk staple since the beginning, though Sanderson says you’ll see less of it as the brewery expands.
What’s coming are barrel-aged and sour beers, which to date have been difficult for RiverWalk to brew at its current location. In addition, the upcoming Highwater series will spotlight experimental hops Sanderson secured with contracts two years ago in sessionable beers of around 4 percent ABV. The Homegrown series will feature local ingredients, such as hops from Northfield’s Four Star Farms.
“It’s going to allow us to have a lot more variety,” says Sanderson.
The new tap room will feature 12 lines, including subtle variations — a different yeast treatment for the same beer, for example. Sanderson stresses that he won’t do anything new for the sake of being different.
“If we do spice or fruit, it’s going to be in a way that accentuates the beer, not overwhelms it,” says Sanderson. “It’s not going to taste like a soda.”
RiverWalk Brewing Co. will open its new location at 40 Parker St., Newburyport, this summer.