Beer’d Brewing Company to Celebrate Third Anniversary on November 14
“A lot’s changed since the first time you came to hang here,” Aaren Simoncini says proudly, greeting me at the entrance of the Velvet Mill on a recent autumn afternoon. A massive, street-swallowing site in Stonington, the Mill was home to the American Velvet Company for over 100 years. The converted one-story factory is now tenanted by a bustling community of artist studios and small businesses, including Simoncini’s Beer’d Brewing Company, since it opened in 2012.
During my first visit to the small-scale brewery in July of 2014, Simoncini repeatedly apologized for a dry cough that persisted throughout our interview and imbibing session. “If I took a day off, we’d have to shut down for the next week,” he said lightheartedly, alluding to both his small staff and the increasing demand for his portfolio of beers, the most notable of which are IPAs with an emphasis on flavor and aroma, not bitterness.
Hobbit Juice, one of those juicy, refreshing, hop-forward liquids, is being made when I visit for the second time, over a year later and a few weeks prior to Beer’d’s third-anniversary event on November 14. From atop a ladder, Simoncini inspects a boiling, steaming tun containing malt and hot water, and he stirs the combination somewhat vigorously with a long, thin paddle. This process is called mashing, which activates the malt enzymes to convert the grain starches to fermentable sugars. The now-caramel-colored liquid will develop (in two-ish weeks, and with the help of the brewery’s “house” yeast strain) into a batch of Hobbit, an imperial IPA solely showcasing Nelson Sauvin hops, a popular variety grown in New Zealand. “That’s where they filmed The Lord of the Rings movies, and my wife’s name is Precious, so we really had no choice but to name it that,” he laughs.
As we continue chatting in the stainless-steel-packed production area, it’s apparent that Simoncini’s cough from last year has disappeared. But the local demand for his small batches “continues to get crazier and crazier,” he tells me, which prompted an expansion of the brewery in August. After overtaking an adjacent vacant space that month, Beer’d’s footprint nearly doubled to 3,900 square feet, while a new seven-barrel brewhouse (its original system made three barrels per batch) is helping to reach a monthly output that was initially projected annually. The majority of beer is still sold on-site in the tasting room, open Friday to Sunday, but this growth has allowed Simoncini to distribute to more bars and restaurants throughout Connecticut.
“It’s crazy, because we started so small and with no investors. It was just me here, but now we have 11 employees, and we’re starting to get our beer around on our own terms,” says Simoncini, who started homebrewing in 2007 and was soon sharing his stovetop-cooked beers with other members of the Whaling City Alers, a local homebrew club that meets monthly at Cottrell Brewing Company in Pawcatuck. At these get-togethers, where he was jokingly nicknamed “The Beer’d Brewery” for his bristly face-fur, he befriended Cotrell’s brewmaster, Charles Surney. This led to a two-year internship at the huge 40-barrel operation which often entailed making beer with Surney at odd hours. “He liked to start brewing between 11pm and 3am, so I would work a full day—I was an accountant then—and then brew there all night,” Simoncini recalls. “It was exhausting, but I really learned a lot on the commercial side of things that I’ve been able to apply here.”
As a homebrewer, Simoncini preferred to concoct darker styles like stouts and porters. While they can be found among the 60-plus recipes he’s brewed since launching Beer’d—along with its flagship, Whisker’d Wit, an unconventional Belgian-style witbier absent of coriander—a rabid regional following has developed for highly praised IPAs like Hobbit Juice and Dogs & Boats. These strikingly aromatic, tropical-flavored ales forsake intense bitterness, once a trademark characteristic, and establish Beer’d among a growing number of breweries across the U.S. helping to redefine craft beer’s most popular style. “This is what the IPA has become now, and I love the challenge of making a great one that tastes delicious. If you really think about it, the hop varietals are like the spices in your cabinet. Add a little of this and a pinch of that, and you can create something amazing!”
Simoncini expects at least six beers to pour at the anniversary event on Saturday. We asked him to pick his three favorites from the lineup and, unsurprisingly, they’re all IPAs:
Frank & Berry Double IPA
“Frank & Berry is definitely one of our new favorites, and surprise, it’s stuffed with hops! We recently lucked into a glut of Mosaic, one of the [hop] varieties that lends a ton of character to another of our hop-forward beers I’ll talk about below, Dogs & Boats. But for this recipe, we wanted to see how the Mosaic would be on its own by making an imperial single-hop IPA or double single-hop IPA or single-hop DIPA. Keeping the grain bill as simple as possible when brewing a single-hop DIPA, in my opinion, is the only way to truly showcase the identifiable and assertive hop character you’re searching for. Many of our DIPAs only have three or four malts involved in the process, including but not limited to two-row, white wheat, and Carapils and Vienna. I do find it to be a bit more difficult when you start tossing in several malt varietals, because the entire dynamic of what you may be looking to highlight can be thrown off.
“Frank & Berry steals its name from the classic Halloween-themed breakfast cereal of a similar name. Since the beer is loaded with fruity red berry notes, it only seemed fitting. Clocking in at 9.1% ABV, it’s a big beer, but you’ll get none of the alcohol on the nose or palate. The focus is on the dry mouthfeel and sweetness from the hops as you’re overwhelmed with red berry character.
“Frank & Berry immediately became one of my three favorite beers before I even tasted it. The aroma is simply described as dank and fruity, and it succeeds as a refreshing brew, even with the high alcohol content. During its one and only release to date at the beginning of October, it sold out in less than two full days of operation. I think once word gets out about the second batch rolling out of our tanks now and being at the anniversary party, people will start going nuts!”
Hobbit Juice Double IPA
“Hobbit Juice is my favorite beer that we make here at Beer’d, and like Frank & Berry, it’s built as a single-hop DIPA. But this recipe serves to showcase a different variety than Mosaic: Nelson Sauvin, the notoriously difficult to procure hop out of New Zealand. Early in our existence, we got our hands on a bunch of Nelson, so why not try to blow it all in one shot? We did just that with this recipe, and it instantly became not only one of the most unique beers I’ve ever tried or brewed but also a huge crowd favorite.
“Hobbit Juice clocks in at 9.2% ABV. It’s super pale in color, very drying on the tongue, and very light in body, leaving you wanting more after each sip. The Nelson Sauvin hop—with its notes of Sauvignon Blanc wine and stone fruits—is just so unique that I’ve never found a beer to rival this one in character. And as a result of this uniqueness, it consistently sells out before we can even release a new batch. Admittedly, this is always a bit scary for us, because we can’t always secure Nelson hops, but we could have bigger problems. I’m just glad everyone likes to drink it as much as I do.”
Dogs & Boats Double IPA
“Dogs & Boats is yet another one of my favorite beers made here at Beer’d. Can you tell that I like to brew and drink big, bold, hoppy beers? This recipe once again came from the fact that we had procured two of our favorite hops, Citra and Mosaic, and wanted to see how we could create something memorably hoppy. And as a result, we named this beer after two of our favorite things aside from beer: dogs and boats. We rolled this one out pretty early into our existence as we kept trying to develop the next hop bomb to keep our customers satisfied.
“Since Dogs & Boats features Citra and Mosaic hops, it’s loaded with citrus, red berry, and tropical fruit notes. A clean malt profile allows the hops to really shine through, but that doesn’t mean it’s incredibly sharp; it also has a super soft body. There are plenty of beers out in the market today that feature this type of fruity-juicy hop profile, but when it comes to the water and soft body, I feel like we created something really unique. The water we use here is very soft for our purpose, making our task of dialing in a profile a bit easier. We like to use a decent amount of both calcium chloride and gypsum to harden our water to the sweet spot and just a little magnesium sulfate to accentuate hop character.
“But enough with the science. The real beauty is that we’re always brewing Dogs & Boats, so it’s regularly available and, subsequently, an instant hook for new hophead customers walking in. And since we brew in small enough batches, we can keep it constantly fresh.”
Thirsty yet? Have a taste and join Aaren and the Beer’d crew at their third-anniversary event this Saturday, November 14!