StoneRidge residents start spreadin' the brews
The idea of a brewery assembly line might conjure images of Laverne and Shirley toiling away in the dimly lit Schotz Beer warehouse. Reality, though, is very different for the team bottling a home-brewed batch of April Showers Cream Ale. Gathered on a "Better Homes & Gardens"-style landscaped terrace at StoneRidge Independent Living Community in Mystic, several residents enjoy the process as thirst-quenching leisure rather than blue-collar toil.
"I knew zero about the brewing process — I just knew how to drink it!" says retired chemical engineer Russ Adams. "I never got this far before, but it's fun."
Standing at a wrought iron patio table, Adams is crimping caps on 12-ounce bottles filled with cream ale.
On this day, Dorothy Leib and George Lipphardt start the action by cleaning the bottles before Margaret Chidley fills them with the ale via a plastic tube trailing from a large tub perched atop a tall stool on another table. After they're capped, Bob Livermore boxes them. It'll be a long few weeks until the beer completes its carbonation process. July 4th weekend is scheduled for the official tasting of the April Showers Cream Ale.
All these folks — plus a group of neighbors in the StoneRidge community who gather on the patio to observe the proceedings and offer encouragement — share not just a taste for beer but are participating in this regular, facility-sanctioned extracurricular activity. Plus, everyone can sip samples of the three previous batches of StoneRidge beers — and what could be wrong with that?
The original idea came from Michael Langlois, the StoneRidge director of community life — who also happens to be a dedicated home brewer. Langlois says he's always trying to think of new, fresh ideas to engage residents and, reflecting on the satisfaction he gets from his own home-crafted beer, thought of broaching the idea with StoneRidge citizens.
"It's got a lot going for it," he says. "There's education through the chemistry, it's a fun social activity, and of course, there's beer. The residents here are really active and they have a wide range of interests. So this was pretty natural."
Langlois took the idea to management, and he says they were completely supportive and open-minded. He put a notice up on the community bulletin board, and response was immediate and enthusiastic. Langlois hosted a summer beer tasting and Q&A session.
Lipphardt was one of many who showed up. "Michael said, 'C'mon in. Want a beer? Great! Want to help brew beer? Great!' That's how he got our attention."
Last winter, then, the group made their first brew in honor of a very special occasion.
"It was called StoneRidge Anniversary Ale in honor of our 10th year, and it was what commercial brewers would call a very limited release," Langlois laughs. This was followed in February by StoneRidge Winter Ale and then in March by the group's St. Patrick Stout. The recipes are now being crafted in 5-gallon batches, which translates to about two cases of beer.
The actual brewing process is relatively unsophisticated — they use tweaked recipes from homebrew kits that include prefabricated malt — but a sample taste of the St. Patrick's Stout and the Winter Ale indicate that the flavors are indeed competitive. In fact, there are plans for the StoneRidge brewers to participate in the Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce's Blues & Brews Festival in September.
As for what types of bees the StoneRidge brewers choose to make, it's a group decision. "It's like the Obama beer summit," Langlois says. "Beer is a democratic drink."
The cooperative process applies to naming the beers as well as group approval of the admittedly stylish and professional looking labels.
"Who knew there was this much involved," says Arne Johnson, seated on the patio, enjoying a beer as he watches. The bottling squad is reaching the end of the beer, and it looks like they'll be a few bottles short of two full cases. Johnson says, "I don't think I realized how much of a science it all is. But this is great. I'm just sad there's only 44 beers instead of 48."