Somerville Brewing Company Is About More Than Beer
Somerville Brewing Company started brewing beer in Somerville for the first time two weeks ago. But the brand has been turning heads for four years.
“Who the hell opens a beer garden in November?” asked cofounder Caitlin Jewell, overlooking a packed patio at Assembly Row on a stifling Saturday in July—a stark contrast from the record-breaking Boston winter the company opened its refurbished shipping containers to. “That’s us.”
The saga started “way, way back” when Jewell’s husband, Jeff Leiter, received a homebrew kit from his mother when he was studying for his master’s at MIT. “A lot of homebrew kits get one trip around the block, and that’s the end of it,” Jewell said. “But he just loved it. He was so good at it.”
So good, Leiter was gifting his beer to family and friends, who concocted the name “Slumbrew.” And despite owning a nearly 15-year-old digital marketing agency Silverscape, the husband-and-wife duo decided to embark on a new venture—made popular by a “Yankee Swap.” Jewell lauds their Yankee Swap for putting Slumbrew on a national stage. The rum barrel aged strong ale, ringing in at 12 percent ABV, began building buzz for the company in 2013. Five states started selling Slumbrew, putting the company’s beer, primarily contract-brewed at Mercury Brewery in Ipswich, on shelves and on tap.
That camaraderie associated with the gift-giving ritual tied to the beer’s name wasn’t one Slumbrew wanted reserved solely for the holidays, however. Rather, it’s a feeling Jewell and Leiter have focused on conjuring every day of the year.
“We have a motto we try and live by: ‘Make good liquids, make good friends,’” Jewell said. “I’m watching new breweries pop up, and if they are not 100 percent on both sides of that equation, it’s difficult.”
The company’s built a base of nearly 200 “Slumbassadors,” all volunteers whom Jewell describes as critical to the company’s early success.
One is Cambridge 5K organizer Ed O’Connor, who has partnered with Slumbrew for the last four years. “Of all the brewers we have organized races with, they do such a great job of connecting the people,” O’Connor said.
That Saturday at Assembly Row, as Cambridge 5K handed out bibs for its Sunday race, O’Connor pointed out the “wide net” Slumbrew has cast. “There are people with gray hair here in their 60s, gay, straight, 20s, 70s. … You notice this is kid-friendly, parents with kids and strollers, dogs. They have made it very easy to like.”
It also doesn’t hurt that “the beer is awesome.”
But for Jewell and Leiter, this endeavor is about more than beer. It’s about fostering community, while elevating their own community of Somerville by creating jobs for the city’s residents.
The Slumbrew staff currently travels the 2.2 miles between Assembly Row and Boynton Brewery, which the couple opened this April at 15 Ward Street. The 1,500-square-foot space features a mezzanine with a commercial kitchen, serving up cheese and charcuterie boards, grilled pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and more. Boynton gave Slumbrew the capacity to brew 2,500 barrels, but it won’t be the company’s only location brewing beer.
“We just received our federal brewer’s license for this Assembly Row location,” Jewell said, noting a Massachusetts and city license are in the works. “That means that we can brew here, we can serve growlers here, and it might change our hours to be a little bit more.”
Serving growlers are important, according to Jewell, because Federal Realty Investment Trust has decided not to open a liquor store at Assembly Row. “But we have 440 residents of age who would like to have a pint to go back to their apartment at 10:50 p.m. with. It will allow us to service our community better.”
And that community will also be gaining access to new beers. Slumbrew will invite homebrewers to Assembly Row to brew their beer on the premises for free. The company will help with the marketing, label artwork, and, if all goes well, might bring that beer to Boynton or brew even bigger batches of it in Ipswich.
What’s in it for Slumbrew? “Making good liquids, and making good friends.”
In the years to come, the duo would like to stop contract-brewing and create a facility with a canning and bottling line. Jewell claims they have looked at space in Woburn, Burlington, and the North Shore as backup if they can’t expand at Boynton.
“We’re selling every drop we’re making right now,” Jewell said. Even better, they’re in the process of brewing new beers. “The band’s got a new record coming out.”
If you are a self-proclaimed beer snob, however, don’t get too excited.
“Slumbrew is a way of saying, ‘There is no beer snobbery here,’” Jewell said. “Don’t come here for beer snobbery.”
Come for the “good liquids” and stay for the “good friends” instead.