Falmouth residents Alexander J. Bergan and Gregory W. Horning spent the last five years completing dissertations in marine science. Their next big step following graduation? Opening a brewery and taproom on Falmouth Main Street.
Once completed, Aquatic Brewing Company would be the first craft brewery in Falmouth and among just a handful on Cape Cod.
“If you like beer, you can come, and it will be local and fresh,” Dr. Horning said. “Right now, if you want fresh beer, you pretty much have to drive an hour.”
Aspiring brewmasters Dr. Bergan, 29, and Dr. Horning, 28, established Aquatic Brewing, LLC of Woods Hole in January. They envision a space where Falmouth community members can order a diverse set of beer styles on-site, or fill up a growler with fresh beer to go.
The business partners and friends met in 2011, when they were randomly paired as roommates for a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution summer program. Dr. Horning learned how to home-brew beer while attending college in Portland, Oregon, and when he moved to Woods Hole, he passed along his passion to his new roommates.
The pair stuck together through the years, and as they pursued their scientific research separately, the also joined together at home to experiment with craft brewing.
In an interview on Wednesday, August 30,Dr. Horning estimated that they produced hundreds of batches of beer in their rundown apartment in Somerville in the years since.
Dr. Bergan and Dr. Horning both graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Joint Program in Oceanography/Applied Ocean Science and Engineering in June, completing research in marine biology and marine geophysics, respectively.
When looking to the future, Dr. Horning said he felt more excited at the prospect of opening his own brewery than entering the world of academia. He found a willing partner in Dr. Bergan, and the hobby morphed into a career path.
“I suppose when I entered I thought I’d become a scientist, or a professor,” Dr. Horning said. “When it came down to the wire, we realized we were more excited to really commit to brewing.”
“If anything could make it better, it would be to do it with someone you’ve been friends with for years,” he added.
The pair started looking for a suitable property about a year ago, deciding from the get-go that the future location of the brewery would be Falmouth, a place they already enjoyed living and working in.
Plus, the area seemed primed for a brewery, Dr. Horning said.
“The Cape is brewing as a beer destination,” he said. “It was kind of shocking to see that in a town of Falmouth’s size, there are no breweries open.”
Other breweries on Cape Cod include Cape Cod Beer in Hyannis, Hog Island Beer Company in Orleans and Devil’s Purse Brewing Company in South Dennis. Naukabout also plans to open a brewery and taproom in Mashpee in November, and Barnstable Brewing plans to open in Hyannis in coming months.
The name “Aquatic Brewing” is meant to embody the history and character of Falmouth, recalling something that many research scientists, vacationers, residents and fishermen in Falmouth have in common: a love of the ocean. The logo, a fused image of a beer glass and a chambered nautilus [a cephalopod], was designed to reflect that interest as well.
Dr. Bergan and Dr. Horning filed an application with the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals in July for a special permit to allow a brewery with retail sales in the warehouse at Unit 6, 661 Main Street. They currently lease the Falmouth property from 661 Main Street, LLC, which is registered to James. W. O’Connor of Rhode Island.
The 3,400-square-foot steel warehouse was previously used as a car detailing garage and most recently as the location of Falmouth Area Sports Training (FAST) facility. It is in the business redevelopment district, and although the zone does not explicitly allow a brewery, the zoning application argues that the “proposed use is in line with the existing character of the area.” Falmouth zoning bylaws make no provision for a brewery in any district in town.
Plans received in the zoning department on July 13 show a bar area, six tables and 12 seats in the 1,500-square-foot tasting room. The brewhouse would have capacity to process five barrels of beer at a time—about 155 gallons.
The applicants propose to brew beer on-site and offer retail sales directly to consumers in the next-door bar and tasting area. Dr. Horning said there may be some barrier between the taproom and brewing area, but ideally visitors will be able to see the brewery in action.
Although no food service is planned, Dr. Horning said he and Dr. Bergan have discussed the concept of “BYOF: bring your own food,” where individuals could have pizza delivered to the location or bring a picnic lunch to enjoy with their beers. They have also discussed the possibility of bringing in a local food truck operator.
The brewers plan to offer between six and 12 types of beers at a time. Dr. Horning said customers can expect a wide variety of styles to suit every palate, including malty, hoppy and German-style beers. The operation differs with some other companies, he said, which specialize in a few styles.
The real benefit of Aquatic Brewing, however, will be the freshness of the product, Dr. Horning said. Customers can expect beer that is only two or three days old, has never been shipped, never sat warm in a warehouse, and is poured directly from keg to glass.
“Basically, the peak of quality you can get is going from brewery to glass,” he said.
In the first year of operation, the brewers hope to produce about 500 barrels of beer, which is equal to 1,000 kegs. The owners do not have any immediate plans to hire brewing staff beyond themselves, particularly in the quieter winter months, but will likely hire a few employees to help in the taproom.
Aquatic Brewing does not have any current plans to sell their product in local package stores or do wholesale processing, but Dr. Horning said they would likely try to sell kegs to interested bars and restaurants in the Upper Cape area.
Dr. Horning and Dr. Bergan see Aquatic Brewing as more of a “small, community-driven brewery,” serving the Upper Cape, rather than a large manufacturing operation.
“We’re not looking to be the next Harpoon or Sam Adams,” Dr. Horning said.
That distinction will be important, as the company undergoes the town’s regulatory process.
According to e-mails exchanged between Zoning Administrator Sari D. Budrow and Town Planner Brian A. Currie, Aquatic Brewing might not need a special permit if the town building commissioner determines that the tasting/taproom qualifies as a retail sale operation, and if the brewing area can be considered as an accessory use to the retail sales.
Alternatively, if the commissioner determines that the brewing area constitutes a manufacturing or processing operation, the brewery would not be allowed in the redevelopment district. Such an operation is only an allowable use in a light industrial A district.
A zoning board of appeals special permit hearing for the proposed brewery is scheduled for Thursday, September 14, at 6:30 PM in town hall.
The company has already secured a federal permit and is in the process of securing a farmer-brewery license from the state, which allows them to sell alcohol on the premises and self-distribute to other locations. The brewers have already ordered all the equipment necessary to begin operations.
Ideally, they would like to open sometime this winter or spring, but Dr. Horning said that is dependent on the regulatory process.
In the meantime, Dr. Bergan is working for Independent Fermentations Brewing in Plymouth, and Dr. Horning works for Ward Aquafarms in North Falmouth.
“This is quite the endeavor, and I think it’ll be interesting, for better or for worse,” Dr. Horning said.