Article by: Eric Blumenfeld,
Beerspoke Tours CEO
New Britain, CT might not be the first place you think of when you're picturing beer towns. Now, part of that reason might be due to the fact that the city hasn't had a brewery to call its own in the past 63 years. Well, Brian Bugnacki, Chris DeGasero and Mike Larson, of Alvarium Beer Company figured it was time to change that. Connecticut certainly has a lot of great breweries, and very much continues to grow in the beer space, so New Britain, with its history rooted in hard work and industry, certainly deserved a brewery that paid homage to its values. The name Alvarium, which is Latin for "beehive", is a nod to New Britain's motto: "industry fills the hive and enjoys the honey". The New Britain theme permeates the taproom as well, with locally-manufactured tap-handles, honeycomb light fixtures and locally-sourced snacks. And, in full keeping with New Britain's hard-work values, the guys built everything in the bar with their bare hands. But enough from me...let's hear directly from the Head Brewer, Chris DeGasero.
Beerspoke Tours: How did you get started in the brewing game? How old were you?
Chris DeGasero: I got started when I was still living in Queens, NY so it must have been around 2010, at the age of 26, or so.
BST: When did you decide that this was the life you wanted to live?
CD: I was fed up with life at my corporate television job and wanted a change of pace. At the time, I loved home brewing so my wife encouraged me to start knocking on doors. I visited every brewery in the metro area and applied to countless breweries elsewhere; just looking to get my foot in the door. Eventually, I landed an apprenticeship at Chelsea Brewing Co. and that kickstarted everything.
BST: Do you remember your first homebrewed beer? Be honest, how was it?
CD: It was probably an English Pale Ale out of Northern Brewer [homebrewing supplier and supporter] and I'm sure it was barely drinkable. I don't know a person alive who was, objectively, making great beers from the first time they tried homebrewing.
BST: When do you think you got good at this?
CD: I'd say after I landed my first apprenticeship things began to click and I got to the point where I was able to find out how to correct the problem areas in my process.
BST: Do you have a preference for/focus on a particular style?
CD: I love to brew a wide range, but I'm always seeking to brew the German styles the most.
BST: What is it that draws you to those?
CD: I find that, although they appear simple on paper, German beers are incredibly similar to Italian cooking; it's not about what wacky stuff you can throw at it, it's in the quality of your ingredients and your technique. My old brewmaster once told me, "Lagers are like driving stick. If you can make a clean lager you can make anything." Ever since then, I've been chasing after that as a mark of my ability as a brewer.
BST: What do you love about being a brewer?
CD: I love the opportunity to be creative and get live feedback from the public. Sometimes it's surreal looking out at the taproom from the brewhouse and thinking, "All these people are having an awesome time and drinking our beer." It never gets old.
BST: What’s a bit more tough?
CD: Just about everything else. What a lot of people don't realize is that professional brewing is a factory job. The only difference is that you're making cool widgets. Hard physical labor, long hours, working in extreme temps and damp conditions. Yeah, fun stuff.
BST: Do you have any brewmaster/brewery model idols you try to emulate?
CD: Garrett Oliver, from Brooklyn Brewery fame, first directed me to Chelsea Brewing Co. when I first wanted to enter the industry which, ultimately, led to my first apprenticeship. I reconnected with him briefly and got to thank him all these years later and I don't think I was able to express a fraction of the gratitude I felt. Garrett is one of the few true literary brewers left, as well as a leader in the beer/food pairing movement. Everything he says comes with a dollop of bravado. His first words to me were. "So, welcome to the Dark Arts." I truly look up to him.
BST: Since owning/running your own brewery, what have been the biggest surprises you’ve experienced?
CD: The amount of hours needed to invest when getting things running. I knew it was going to be a lot. Multiply that by a lot.
BST: What is a beer mecca you’ve always wanted to visit?
CD: A trip to Germany, Belgium and Prague are certainly on my list.
BST: What is a beer mecca you’ve been to and loved and want to regularly go back to?
CD: Portland, OR; Austin, TX; and Denver, CO were all phenomenal and incredibly influential. Craft beer is ingrained in the culture.
BST: What is an under-the-radar brewery right now that you think is really doing it right?
CD: We have a neighbor brewery in Bristol, CT by the name of Firefly Hollow. They brew what they want and leave it at that. Dana, their head brewer is putting out remarkable English styles and Barrel Aged releases.
BST: How about an up-and-coming city?
CD: I'm going to be partial and say, "Keep your eye out for New Britain."
BST: What are currently your biggest worries about the craft beer industry?
CD: I'm afraid of the rise of inexperienced brewers entering the market and opening breweries themselves. Being a good homebrewer does not translate well to running a business and running full scale production on professional equipment. Formal education is nice but, in my opinion, if you can't be bothered to apprentice or work at a professional brewery before you draft a business plan, you have no business in the industry.
BST: There are over 6,000 breweries in the US. More than any time in history. That sure creates a need for separation in some way. What do you think separates you from the pack? What makes you stand out? What is it about your beers, your recipes, your branding?
CD: We're staying on trend with our production of NEIPAs but, I believe it's our constant rotation of varieties that keeps people coming back for more. We brew what we want to make, and that changes frequently. People love digging on what's new and tasty.
BST: Thanks a lot, Chris! You guys are killing it up in New Britain and we're looking forward to seeing what comes next for you guys!