Somerville brewers tap into the local flavors

At festival, beer and hard cider feature home-grown ingredients

Derek Walsh samples Tarnation Lager from Baxter Brewing Co. Right, hard ciders from Bantam.
Derek Walsh samples Tarnation Lager from Baxter Brewing Co. Right, hard ciders from Bantam.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Aeronaut Brewing Co.'s brewery in Somerville had not even opened yet, but beer lovers crowded in front of the company's small table at the Hyper-Local Craft Brewfest last weekend as if it were a household name.

Tasters cooed over the Butternut Squash Rauchbier, a tantalizing drink with sweet, earthy flavors overtaken at the finish by a campfire lilt. Others preferred the American Pale Ale, a crisp, lighthearted beer befitting its name, "A Session With Dr. Nandu."

But it is not just the beer that attracts attention to this newcomer. Aeronaut has a mantra — it is committed to being local.


"We're interested in sourcing as local as possible," Ronn Friedlander, a founding partner of the brewery, said between pouring drinks for brewfest attendees. "Talk about hyperlocal, we have people roasting coffee in the building sharing space with us, and we can use that roasted coffee in our beer. This squash came from Something GUD, a food distributor operating out of our space. We have a chocolate maker in our space, we can use his chocolate in our beer if we want to . . . there's a lot of collaboration."

Localism is the new trend in the craft brew market, on display in force during the third annual Hyper-Local Craft Brewfest, which brought 17 craft brewers, three hard-cider makers, and one artisan beverage maker to a two-day festival last weekend at The Armory in Somerville.

Hosted by the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts, the event has grown from simply promoting the local economy and supporting local brewers to showcasing what can be accomplished with indigenous materials. For the first time in the event's history, brewers had to offer at least one product with a local component to make it into the weekend's lineup. It was not difficult to find contenders.


"Local craft beer is such a hot thing right now," said Taryn Johnson, the network's marketing and communications director. "We love it; we do a local craft brewfest in the fall, but the hyperlocal is really unique. It's totally special and we don't think a lot of other people [in the country] are doing it."

While localism within beer-making may be emerging, the phenomenon of craft brewing is nothing new to anyone who has ventured into a Massachusetts bar in the last five years.

According to the Brewers Association, the number of small and independent US craft brewers has boomed from 1,459 in 2007 to 2,768 in 2013. From 2012 to 2013 alone, there was a 15 percent increase in the market nationwide, and there are now 57 in Massachusetts.

All that micro-innovation means nearly a doubling in the amount of craft beer produced in the last five years, from 8 million barrels (31 gallons per barrel) in 2008 to 15.6 million barrels in 2013.

That growth is slim compared to the precedent of the last several decades, said Peter Daniel, co-owner of Sturbridge-based Rapscallion brewery. According to Daniel, there were probably fewer than a half-dozen Massachusetts craft brewers when he was installing draft lines in bars in the 1990s.

With so much competition now, craft brewers have to find ways to stand out. For New England breweries, Daniels said, it is the use of local components.

Rapscallion's Black IPA, tasting like a slightly hoppy porter, uses two Massachusetts-grown hop styles. The Rapscallion Honey, light and subtly sweet, draws its taste from the wildflower honey made by Massachusetts bees.


"We are Mass-only, tap-only — one state, one package. We don't do bottles or cans," Daniel said. "We made a deliberate choice."

Two vendors from Maine — Baxter Brewing Co. of Auburn and Peak Organic Brewing of Portland — have also jumped aboard the local trend.

At Baxter, local means using grains from Aroostook County, which helps provide backbone to the creamy, malty flavor of Tarnation California-Style Lager, or to the crispy Stowaway IPA. It complements the tint of lemongrass in the drinkable Summer Swelter.

Such flavors have meant large-scale success. The brewery recently finished a $2 million expansion after only two and a half years in business.

For Peak, using local ingredients is about supporting small businesses.

"We started just like a lot of other businesses do, in the home of one of the owners," brand representative Aaron Mello said of the brewery's 2006 beginnings. "So we like to keep it local."

Local wheat creeps into nearly every offering. Paired with Belgian yeast, the Hop Blanc had a sweet and fruity demeanor. Paired with West Coast hops, the Summer Session Ale had a citrus kick. Pomegranate Wheat Ale uses organic coriander and Southern California pomegranates to add soft, mellow notes.

Cambridge Brewing Co. has taken the local movement to an innovative level, melding Japanese knotweed plants, an invasive species that reportedly was introduced to this country by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The result is the cleverly named, though disappointingly bland, Olmsted's Folly beer.


The Heather Ale, an effervescent awakening in both type and taste, contains wild heather picked from Westport.

"We're fresh beer, local food, but we try to add local ingredients whenever we can," said assistant brewer Alex Corona.

Locavorism has also crept into the minds of the makers of hard ciders. Michelle da Silva said using Massachusetts apples was an idea that grew from memories of making wine with her grandparents.

"There are obviously some vineyards in Massachusetts. But being from New England, we have a ton of apple orchards . . . why not make [cider]?" said da Silva, co-owner of Somerville-based Bantam Cider.

Distinctly New England, these libations are at once refreshing and satiating. The Rojo smacks of apple pie, while The American is more a traditional light cider, tasting so innocent it bordered on juice.

With such fervor for local resources, the climate was perfect for Aeronaut's opening this weekend. Even more promising is the location.

"Fact is, we're in the most densely populated town in New England, and there is not that much beer here," Friedlander said.

With such promising possibilities in both the local and craft brew markets, however, it may not be that way for long.

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett