A live band playing near the entrance, the whoosh and hum of a canning operation, and an airplane-shaped piano being tuned—this is what it sounds like when Aeronaut Brewery celebrates a milestone. The startup launched by MIT PhD students Ronn Friedlander, who completed his degree in 2014, and Ben Holmes; Yale PhD student Steve Reilly; and computer scientist Daniel Rassi recently marked its one-year anniversary. Summing up the experience, Holmes says, “It was awesome!”
What made it awesome? The taproom at Aeronaut is often filled with customers and live music, but that’s just one part of the business. “We really are running a few companies here, they’re just under one banner,” says Holmes. In Aeronaut’s massive warehouse space just outside of Union Square you can find the taproom and brewery, a science lab for cultivating yeast for beer, as well as an incubator space for food startups. “We make things much more complicated than it needs to be, but we like it like that. It’s kind of in our DNA,” Holmes says.
This complicated approach is working for Aeronaut. The brewery has become a go-to place for craft beers as well as an integral part of the neighborhood. “Most people want to come here because we built a bar we’d want to come to,” Holmes says. Aeronaut supports the surrounding creative community in many ways, including offering an experimental recording stage for music and hosting Bring Your Own Beamer parties that invite locals to share projected art. Aeronaut even featured local art on their first canned beers, created for the one year anniversary.
Aeronaut has also faced some challenges, including issues of scale—like scaling up a batch of smoked butternut squash rauchbier. Increasing the batch size of the beer resulted in butternut squash paste gumming up the brew tanks as well as a blown brew tank door. While other challenges faced Aeronaut in their first year, Holmes, who is close friends with his co-founders, shared the rauchbier story because he says, “Beer won’t get mad at me.”
For the future, Holmes sees Aeronaut growing while still maintaining a sense of community and curiosity. “We’re never going to grow a business that sends a million bottles of beer to California unless we can figure out how to ship out just as much science and just as much community,” he says, “it wouldn’t be true to who we are.”
After one year of much success and many long nights, Holmes sums up what he’s learned with his first startup: “The second one is probably easier,” he laughs.