By Ronn Friedlander
On Monday, the sweet smell of malt wafted through the air at 199 Ashland St. Even though I get to smell beer being brewed anytime I walk into our Somerville brewery, this time, this day, the scent brought back a rush of memories. I immediately was transported to our first days brewing pilot recipes in the yard, mashing in with a wooden paddle, back in 2013. Both then and now, the fragrance emanating from malted barley and warm water evoked anticipation and excitement.
Aeronaut has a new brewery! Our first test brew at our Everett location this week was a milestone for us, jumping our production size from 8.5 barrels (260 gallons) to 30 barrels (930 gallons). For years now, we’ve been tirelessly searching for a new space so that we could make more beer. Aeronaut has been maxed out in terms of production for several years, and we’ve been hearing from folks, louder and louder, that they wish they could obtain our beer more easily and more often. We hear you, and we’ve been trying! We’ve had a few expansion plans that fell through for one reason or another over the years, but finally, this February, we closed a deal on a new location.
Some of you might find the address 199 Ashland St. familiar. It’s the former location of Down the Road Beer Co. Last summer, we heard the sad news that the owner of Down the Road, Donovan Bailey, passed away. In the early days of Aeronaut, he’d helped us out with some warehousing space, and we always were friendly, trading ingredients on occasion, as you do. It was a shock to many of us in the brewing community, and as a result, Down the Road shut their doors permanently. Late in the fall, we were put in touch with some folks who were involved in DTR and were trying to figure out what to do with the space and equipment. It took some time, and creative efforts on everyone’s part, but we eventually made a deal to take over the space and equipment.
In February, we were thrilled to be signing the papers on this new space. We knew we needed to renovate, test equipment and make the space our own, but we didn’t think anything else would stand in our way. But then, COVID-19 hit. First it was in our peripheral vision, but very rapidly, COVID began to profoundly affect our lives. In mid-March, we shut down our Taproom and went into scramble mode. The panic of taking on this large commitment to expand at the worst possible time hit us. How would we support our existing employees, pay our bills in Somerville and also pay our new bills in Everett, especially without the benefit of having the increased production to go along with it yet?
We put our noses to the grindstone and started planning. We applied for emergency funding, set up pickup and delivery service. We stopped packaging kegs and rapidly turned over all our beer volume to cans, with new varieties and labels to boot. With the benefit of a kick-ass team of employees who care, and some amazing customers who continued to come to the brewery for pickup and order home delivery, we were all able to turn the ship and begin to navigate this crazy situation.
Taproom sales and retail have still been way down for us. Anyone in the restaurant or bar business will tell you that things do not look good right now. We’re lucky to have our courtyard, but it is not the same business we used to have, nor will it work once the snow starts falling. Over time, and as we’ve adapted to this new normal, the fear of having more responsibilities than we could afford has given way to a new sense of reality, and an extremely necessary sense of optimism. We are very fortunate to be in a business that also has a wholesale component. Beer sales are actually up right now nationwide, but they’re all in cans and bottles. Suddenly, having this new space, which will give us a greater ability to produce cans at a lower cost, looks like a blessing for us. Sure, we need to get it running, and we need to ensure we don’t run out of money in the process, but we are excited that through a fog of uncertainty, we can see a future of opportunity. We are now launching Everett on a shoestring, and in this way it again reminds us of the early startup days of Aeronaut.
In the coming months, we plan to continue testing our beers in Everett to make sure they are up to our quality standards, and that we can brew our existing recipes to spec. Then we will roll out a larger production of cans. We will be able to focus the Somerville space on more experimental recipe design. Yes, we plan to open a taproom in Everett, but we do not know when the pandemic will allow us to. We are working on plans to open an outdoor patio before it gets too cold. For us, the larger scale of production, and the big push to make more cans inspired the name of the Everett location, which we’re calling the “AERONAUT CANNERY”.
For now, we’re celebrating this important milestone, and anticipating a time when we can open our doors to the public more permanently. We’re looking forward to sharing some beers with you all at the Cannery. Onward and upward!
Ronn Friedlander is the CSO and a co-founder at Aeronaut. The views and opinions expressed on this web site are solely those of the original author, and they do not necessarily represent those of Aeronaut Brewing Co.