ARCHITECTURE AND BREWING might seem like disciplines without much in common. But take a walk through the recently opened American Fresh Brewhouse in Somerville, Mass.—owned and operated by Jeff Leiter, AET ’91, BARC ’94—and you might be convinced that the two go hand-in-hand. Exposed ducts, wrought iron light fixtures, wood and metal surfaces, and a mezzanine that houses brewing tanks all capture the grit and grind of beer-making.
“Customers want to see hoses laying on the ground and tanks in operation,” says Leiter. “They don’t want to see everything highly buffed and finished.”
Leiter should know. He and his wife Caitlin Jewell co-founded Somerville Brewing Company in 2011, but the business venture was brewing long before. In the early 2000s, the couple visited breweries all over the country. Leiter recalls one trip when they flew into Seattle and out of San Francisco and “hit about 35 breweries” in between.
“It was just what we did,” Leiter says, noting that he and Jewell took time off from the marketing agency they owned at the time to make time for the frothy excursions. “We loved to see that certain places really clicked and had a community, and other places were just making beer. That ‘relationship business’ had a lasting impact on us, and obviously good beer did too.”
Back home, Leiter was brewing beer in a small apartment outside Somerville’s Porter Square (his mother had given him a microbrew kit for his birthday). The hobby really took off when the couple purchased a home and Leiter converted a barn into a microbrewery. Before long, they were hosting Friday night shindigs to share recipes with friends.
“The biggest change happened when I set up the brew barn and switched from plastic buckets to stainless steel equipment,” Leiter says. “At one point we had 300 people coming over the course of a night, spilling out onto our cul-de-sac. We leveraged that community as part of our brand.”
When it came time to name the beer, Leiter played off the affectionate local nickname for Somerville (“Slummerville”). Slumbrew beer was born.
GOOD LIQUIDS, GOOD FRIENDS
Slumbrew’s grass roots community—now dubbed ‘Slumbassadors’— grew along with the brand. Many, including Leiter, would serve beer samples at local 5k events; and it wasn’t long before they formed their own running club (still a cornerstone of the brand). Leiter’s first brew, Flagraiser IPA, is still his “go-to beer.” He describes it as “a resin-y IPA, more malty than bitter. It’s an old school IPA.”
Brewing originally took place at Mercury Brewing Company in Ipswich, Mass., before the couple opened Somerville Brewing Company and Taproom in 2015. The space was an important piece of their strategy and a reflection of their motto: “Make good liquids, make good friends.”
“Our goal was to create a place for people to come hang out with their friends, so it was important for us to offer a destination,” Leiter says of the original brewery on Ward Street in Somerville. “When I see people I don’t know having a great time, I know we’re doing something right.”
But the experience isn’t just about raising a pint; the model is about the integration of food and beer using specialty ingredients from around the country. The couple sources blood oranges from California for its Happy Sol brew. Porter Square Porter is a blend of chocolate, coffee, and roasted and nutty flavors brewed with cocoa powder and conditioned with cacao nibs from Taza Chocolate (headquartered in Somerville). The brewery includes a range of charcuterie boards and appetizers. American Fresh Brewhouse has a larger menu that ranges from burgers to fine dining. Many dishes are one-of-a-kind, made with the company’s brews (think cheddar ale soup with Flagraiser IPA).
“As a gastrobrewery, our menu changes daily depending on the fresh food we can bring in,” says Leiter, who handles operations and distribution while Jewell is charged with marketing and public relations.
As for those who question how an architect came to open a brewery?
“I’m using my architecture degree more now than I ever did working in the field early in my career,” says Leiter, who drew up plans for the restaurant’s interior architecture. “Wentworth’s program taught me from a very experiential point of view how to think about making spaces and making communities. That’s the thread that drives a lot of what I do now.”