Nothing is ever done, everything is always building.” It is a sunny Wednesday afternoon and while the rest of Somerville digs itself out from the Blizzard of 2015, Scout is at Aeronaut Brewing talking to co-founder Ben Holmes. The air is warm and moist and the scent of fermentation wafts through the expansive facility, a former envelope factory turned 21st century business park. Our host is simultaneously very chill and very excitable, taking us to every corner of the facility with the same glee as a kid opening birthday presents.
“It’s a massive place that’s been under construction since day one and probably always will be,” says Holmes. “It’s new construction, new permits … we’re all at once a bar, a brewery, a scientific facility, a food manufacturing facility, a restaurant.”
Not only home to massive brew tanks, fermentors and a bar that serves up the final product, Aeronaut also shares space with micro-roasting coffee-savants Barismo and sustainable food delivery service Something Gud. A new restaurant and a chocolatier are currently in the preparatory stages, poised to bring more epicurean delights to their bustling corner of the city. Then of course, there are the non-stop events that fly through the facility on an almost nightly basis, from trivia to performance art to music of every stripe. Thanks to labyrinthine regulations in Massachusetts, many require their own special permits and permission. It is all part of a learning process, one that clearly delights Holmes.
“[Aeronaut] always needs new construction, new permits. We learned that to play music legitimately you need to work with fire alarm companies and electricians to build shut offs to flip the power in the stage if the fire alarm goes off . We can’t use the clips we like to use for the lights, so we have get real industrial clips. There are so many things that can be funny in a place like this.”
Whereas many business owners are quick to kvetch about the layers of bureaucracy and regulation, Holmes seems to accept that these are parts of the grand experiment of entrepreneurship. The microbiology and genomics student has the air of a mad scientist, beaming as he discusses mutations in yeast DNA and the chemical composition of the sugars that will become beer.
The beer, of course, is what powers the whole operation to begin with. Since the days when Holmes and co-founders Ronn Friedland and Dan Rassi were overzealous homebrewers amassing a collection of industrial grade equipment at their Somerville apartment, their mission has been to make good beer and to share good beer with their community. To judge strictly by their popularity—they had 300 people show up to grab a beer in the middle of the aforementioned blizzard, if that puts things in perspective—the mission has been a resounding success.
“The future is bright, man. We’re trying to produce more beer—there is no shortage of fun, awesome recipe ideas. The beer keeps getting better, too.” says Holmes. “It’s fun to homebrew and it’s fun to come up with your own recipes that you’re excited about, but we’ve been able to do so much and see what people like, to learn from people.”
But what about competition and entering a crowded craft beer market? It’s one thing to be welcomed by the rock climbing gym and the silkscreen shop on your block, but another to squeeze your way into the almost-overcrowded craft beer market, right?
“Breweries are extraordinarily welcoming, and the breweries around here have been great,” says Holmes. “When we first started formulating this idea … Ryan and our co-founder Dan and I traveled across the country and visited many, many breweries and were asking, ‘What is the beer experience?’”
“What is the social experience?” Holmes continues. “What do we build? How do we build a new place which supports all this stuff together? And what kind of beer do we make? And all of the brewers around here have been crazy supportive.”
Aeronaut makes sure to show the same support to budding brewers, paying it forward in the form of homebrewing competitions and tank time for the winners. They also let the community guide their production, soliciting opinions and advice from customers as recipes develop from idea to experiment to full scale brewing.
Peer into the heart of Aeronaut and you will see curiosity. Peek into its brain and you’ll find a scientific methodology. But if you were to stare into the soul of this Somerville upstart? You’d find an excitement about the endless combinations of water, grains, hops and yeast and the joy of sharing with those around you.
“There’s still tons of room to grow,” says Holmes. ”And to grow as a community of makers. It’s really a crazy adventure.”
This story originally appeared in our March/April 2015 print edition.