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25 Jan 2016 By

How three MIT graduate students (and one Yalie) are merging science, agriculture and of course, beer, to change the brewing of craft beer forever.


How Aeronaut Brewing Plans to Change Craft Beer Forever

Three MIT students (and one Ivy Leaguer) want to change the way we look at craft beer. Try to imagine the adventurous spirit of extreme brewmaster Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head combined with the scientific acumen of wd-50‘s Wylie Dufresne and the staunch farm-to-table philosophy of Alice Waters. Now add in a year-round farmer’s market and the sustainable dogma of a biosphere. Only then can you start to wrap your mind around Aeronaut Brewery, an ambitious project due to open this May in Somerville.


Housed in the former site of the Ames Safety Envelope Company, the sprawling 12,000 square-foot warehouse is a wholly unique venture. The startup is run by co-founders Benjamin Holmes, a computational biology Ph.D. student at MIT, Ronn Friedlander a biotechnology Ph.D. student at MIT, computer scientist Daniel Rassi, and Steve Reilly, a biology Ph.D. student at Yale. The brewery itself, however, only occupies a third of the space. The other part of the Aeronaut project, called the “Food Hub,” is dedicated to like-minded companies committed to direct relationships with small growers.

“Fundamentally we’re about creating a place where we can produce and bring to bear a bunch of different relationships,” says Holmes.

One corner of the industrial space hums with Barismo’s teal Probat coffee roaster and owner Jaime VanSchyndel conducting a coffee cupping with some of his newest direct trade beans. Down the hall is Colin Davis, owner of Something Gud, a one-stop farmer’s market who deals (and also delivers) in local artisanal products (Taza Chocolate, Iggy’s Bread, Carlisle Honey) and organic produce from family farms like Ripley’s in Granville and Robinson Farm in Marblehead. Other tenants include Somerville Chocolate, an urban microgreens grower, and three (and potentially even more) other agricultural start-ups.

aeronaut brewers

From left: Aeronaut brewers and co-owners Dan Rassi, Ben Holmes, and Ronn Friedlander. Photo by Kristi Senat

“We’re subletting with a bunch of like-minded people,” says Holmes. “The common thread is people who work directly with farmers to produce cool, quality food and drinks. Everyone in the food space facilitates in some way, directly or indirectly, in the interaction with the farmer or producer and the customer. That might mean they go down to Guatemala and hand-source from a farmer and turn that into a chocolate bar or a bag of roasted coffee beans. We’ve built a place that combines science and agriculture. That infrastructure is going make it possible for us to do stuff that nobody else can.”

By January 2015, Aeronaut hopes to be a fully functional farmer’s market and retail outlet that will be open seven days a week. But more importantly, each business intends to utilize each other’s products and connections. When Aeronaut hosted a TEDx Talk back in March, Holmes and his business partners purchased 80 pounds of butternut squash from Something Gud, peeled and smoked it at Lord Hobo, and turned it into the base for a German Rauchbier, which they served to attendees.

Barismo, who has moved their entire wholesale operation into Aeronaut, will be providing single-origin beans for several different coffee beers and Holmes says he intends on smoking chocolate and cocoa beans from Somerville Chocolate too add to their imperial stouts and porters.


To make this idealistic concept a reality, the four co-founders combined their life savings (over $200,000) and raised another $300,000. “The amount we put in is what got us off the ground,” says Friedlander. “That’s what showed people we were serious; that we had a space and were able to afford some equipment. Everyone always says you need a million dollars to start a brewery. They’re wrong! You need half of that. But if you don’t have a million dollars, you do need a freaking good plan.”

Besides the Ames Envelope space, fermenters, a canning line, and an 8-barrel brew system, the money raised bought them the veteran expertise of brewer Mike Labbe who has worked at large-scale breweries like Red Hook, Thomas Hooker, The Tap, and Rapscallion. He’s helped develop Aeronaut’s core line of beers, including a session IPA (4.2% ABV) called Armadillo, named after the prominent dosage of fruity Amarillo hops. Labbe has also brought a grounding force to the hyper sense of whimsy at Aeronaut, helping to rein in some of the younger brewers’ more idiosyncratic ideas, like a beer made entirely from beets.

Read the rest at Boston Magazine

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