In a small industrial neighborhood just outside of Union Square in Somerville, Aeronaut Brewing is continually setting the standard for craft beer culture in Boston.
Owners Ron Friedlander, Dan Rassi, and Ben Holmes opened their ambitious project in 2014, and haven’t looked back since. Their 12,000 square-foot complex houses the brewing facility and taproom with plenty of room to spare for a Somerville Chocolate kiosk, live music, and an array of vintage video games. (The sit-down Ms. Pac-Man brings back so many memories.) Add in their available parking, pure gold in this part of town, and they have all the bases covered.
Stepping up to the bar, tough decisions must be made. Where to start? The colorful and playful menu board features thirteen different options and the offerings are diverse and expansive. Samplers are available for those who just can’t commit to one choice.
Today’s lineup includes standards like Hop, Hop & Away (their India session ale) and Cut of Clouds (a Pale Ale), mixed in with creative options like their Carrot Maibock, a German-style Lager brewed with pure carrot juice. Aeronaut also offers a rotating On-Cask tap selection called “Real Ale”. This week it’s Double Hop Hop, lightly carbonated with just a zing of ginger.
Beers on tap are available in smaller, 5-ounce pours or larger draughts ranging from 11 to 14 ounces. Many are also available for taking home in crowlers or growlers, canned upon request for freshness. Not all selections are available to go, however. Sadly my current obsession, a New England-style IPA brewed with coconut and pineapple puree called Piña Colada IPA, can only be enjoyed on-site. Rumor has it there’s more than enough interest to consider changing that.
The name ‘Aeronaut’ is a nod to the adventurous spirit of Larry Walters. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, he’s the fella that tied 45 weather balloons to a lawn chair and floated into commercial airspace in Los Angeles in 1982. The company’s homage to ‘Lawnchair Larry’ is expressed in ways ranging from the obvious - two lawn chairs tied to clusters of balloons ‘float’ above the bar - to more subtle nods. Their logo, seemingly just a can tab, is a clever negative-space graphic depicting the horizon with a balloon soaring above.
Technical Director Mike Smith has been with Aeronaut for a while now, and is neither slouch nor stranger to craft beer. He’s the author of the world’s first (and New York Times bestselling) graphic novel about beer, “The Comic Book Story of Beer”. Smith loves the direction in which Aeronaut is moving. “We’ve been experimenting,” he says. “We’re constantly improving and evolving.”
While we’re talking Smith cracks open their newest release, 4 Years with Dr. Nandu. It’s the latest version of their mainstay “Dr. Nandu” series. Named for a childhood friend of the owners who indeed became a doctor, this Imperial IPA is a yearly release. More than merely a cyclical recipe, it represents the evolution and progress of their brewing prowess and experience. What started as “A Session with Dr. Nandu” before the company was even formed is now a gloriously smooth and juicy Galaxy-hopped double IPA. It’s
Manning the taps, ‘beertender’ Melanie Armstrong has been with Aeronaut for four years, since helping to open the taproom. Good-natured and wonderfully tolerant of my incessant beer sampling requests, she confides her occasional beer snobbery to me. “I can be a bit of a beer purist”, she confesses.
It’s hard for her to come up with a favorite. “There are so many,” she sighs, “We rotate our choices so often.” How about her favorite right now? Without hesitation she proclaims, “The Piña Colada IPA.” On this we agree. Despite my best attempts, I can’t secure a crowler of the tropically delicious brew to enjoy back at home in Quincy. “We can’t. There just isn’t enough made to offer it to go.”
Current annual production for Aeronaut hovers around 4,000 barrels, translating to roughly 750 cases of beer each week. Not a lot by commercial standards. While they currently distribute in New England only, exponential growth isn’t an area of concern or focus, a philosophy that is just fine with Smith. “There are over 6,000 craft brewers in the country today,” he says. “I personally think hyper-locality is where it’s at.”
He takes a sip of beer and smiles broadly. With Aeronaut’s big plans, creative spirit and attention to quality, the sky’s the limit. “We’re a neighborhood brewery,” he confidently asserts, “We’re proud of our beers.”
14 Tyler St., Somerville, 617-987-4236, aeronautbrewing.com
Aeronaut Brewing will be participating at this year's WGBH Craft Beer Festival Fundraiser this summer. Tickets are now available here.