At five years old, Portico Brewing Co. is, remarkably, part of the old guard of Massachusetts craft brewing. It’s a position that gives founders Alex Zielke and Alex Rabe perspective on what’s changed.
“There really weren’t that many breweries, or even contractees, doing it then,” says Rabe, who left architecture for brewing in 2012. “We used to have monthly get-togethers with the handful of brewers who were in it at the time.
“The difference now is it’s just so busy. We don’t have time to meet up at the bars anymore, and probably nobody really wants to.”
Portico has ridden the wave, brewing at Waltham’s Watch City until it closed in 2014. Rabe calls the period between Watch City’s closure and Portico’s next partnership with Ipswich Ale Brewery a “tumultuous time.”
“We were draft only,” says Rabe. “That’s part of the reason that people don’t know us as well. You go to a bar and there’s 12 new taps the next week from the week before.”
But Portico’s Cambridge-based founders have kept the company afloat, tinkering with a lineup that’s just off-center enough to be interesting. They lean on Rabe’s design aesthetic — minimalist — and Zielke’s extensive brewing experience.
“I kind of say that he’s Walt and I’m Jesse, in a way, minus the addictions,” Rabe says, making a “Breaking Bad” reference.
Portico doesn’t have a flagship. The company’s longest running beer is Fuzzy Logic, a German Kolsch in every way except the yeast, whose Belgian origins lend a lot of banana and citrus aroma without the heavy body.
“It’s definitely been our bestseller,” says Rabe. “Fuzzy Logic definitely kept the lights on for a while.”
Chroma, an amber ale, is brewed with 10 percent rye and dry hopped with Nugget, a floral, earthy hop adding welcome bitterness to a bready brew.
There is an evolving pale ale series called Escher, named after the Dutch graphic artist and brewed most recently with Azacca hops (think mango and pears). Portico’s latest is Two Point Pils — “We like to get nerdy with our names” — a crisp lager with a hint of lime zest. In addition to being on tap, the brews are now in bottles and cans. Portico does seasonals but is wary of doing too many one-offs, at least for now.
“We really focused on the main lineup,” says Rabe. “Everyone is asking, ‘What’s new? What’s new?’ And our response is we’re trying to make these really good — and they are really good — and we’re trying to get them in everybody’s hands.”
Gary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.