New on the Scene: Taproot Brewery

On June 13 in Middletown, a dense fog descended on the Newport Vineyards, cradling the grapes in a velvet embrace. Rhode Island writers and foodies (and hop growers!) were invited to Newport Vineyards. For 30 years, this acreage has yielded wine – and a restaurant, Brix. But today was the day this land would offer its first few beers to the community as Taproot Brewery, surrounded by local food — charcuterie, cheeses, honey, roasted nuts, on-premises pickled carrots, warm pretzels, empanadas and seductive pub food (like the cheese dip with house-cured bacon). Four ales sat before the lucky tasters, two IPAs, an APA – which would also come home in Taproot’s new cans – and a classic English style Porter.

As I approached the aluminum bar, with Cassandra Earle (marketing team) greeting me in the spacious taproom, I was handed a foamy topped American Pale Ale, dry hopped with Galaxy and Amarillo hops. The fresh ale did not hit my nose too strongly, but it served me a quick pucker with the initial sip. Clean and crisp, the APA was not trying to be too juicy, but supplied a solid malt backbone and a golden hue while smothering my taste buds in the hops; perky and a little bitter.

Taproot Brewery has an open market feel, designed by Chad Dettweiler. Brix Restaurant flanks the far side on the right while the shiny new fermenting tanks command the front room. The wood design gives a natural feel as the energy of the room pulses. Many picnic tables occupy a space where Newport Vineyards have been doing weekly music events. Danielle Charcuterie (salamis and prosciutto) was stealing my attention. Cheese included a funky blue cheese, a house-herbed goat cheese, a stern cheddar and others. The Aquidneck honey was sublime drizzled over fresh baguette with chevre and a date. A colorful bowl of house pickled carrots were delicious. People mingled and ate and then were treated to Brix’s Chef Andy’s concoctions.

Cheese and beer love each other and rejoice in one’s mouth. Chef Andy supplied a few options. The star was a broiled, bubbling mix in a cast iron pan. Embedded in the gooey cheese was house-cured thick cut bacon. Small warm pretzels came out with two dips: a beer cheese sauce and a whole grain mustard. House made potato chips were also served. The chicken empanadas (more cheese) were another divine complement to the four sample ales in front of us: the APA, two IPAs and a stellar English porter.

The joy of the evening was hearing John Nunes, vintner and owner, talking about the future of Taproot Brewery. Nunes has been home-brewing for more than three decades. His goal is to keep the operation local and small. They have been planning this launch for two years after contemplating it for 10 or more years. Nunes is finally ready to leap forward. He wants to have people arrive and relax and enjoy the space with fresh beer. He and Chef Andy emphasize the farm to table model. As they have been working with local farms, they take eggs and goat milk for cheese and give spent grains for the chickens to eat. Community and reciprocation is key.

Nunes and his team, including brother and partner, Paul, and Jeff Goodno, a brewery consultant, among others, delved into the local spirit to figure which beers to brew. The common New England zeitgeist is double IPAs and fruitbomb IPAs with rock-star hops like VicSecret, Galaxy, Simcoe and Citra. But Goodno spent years in London among other US breweries, and Nunes was a homebrewer from the ’80s. So, traditional beers would be at the crux of this. Nunes again stressed his desire to experiment in the upcoming adventures. Goodno will depart as he hands the control over to Kevin Beacham, a friendly 26-year-old who is new to the area, but enthusiastic about the region. He comes from Kane Brewing in New Jersey and gravitates toward the New England IPAs boasting grapefruit and orange juice flavors. But Goodno impressed upon him the importance of strong backbone beers with proven formulas – and ones that prove to do well in this specific brewery. Beacham’s first commercial beer was brewed as Taproot prepare to open, a blonde ale.

Nunes was comfortable with the eight beers they had ready to be tapped. Taproot will look to continually have five to nine beers on tap. Nunes is thinking a solid Pilsner and an Octoberfest, as he lived in Germany for two years. Taproot will be pushing the hops boundaries with New England IPAs. Nunes again stressed “fresh and experimental” beers. Also he noted the integration of Taproot and Brix using this fresh beer in their food. As beacham and Nunes find their groove, Nunes teased some “monster beers.” But this is June – summer! As I sip the tasters, the porter demands the spotlight. Goodno went with his ardent affection for Tadcaster (Samuel Smith) and it fit Nunes’ inclination to go for light, easily drinkable beers. The low-alcohol, brown sugar laced porter was robust, but simple to enjoy.

One IPA utilized Azacca hops (from Washington state and named for the Haitian God of Agriculture). The other IPA was with Galaxy. That one was a good, juicy grapefruit IPA with bold aromatics; very floral. The APA was beefy and malty at 7.6%, again, dry-hopped. This puppy was the first to be canned for the public. It was tingly and sweet, the Mosaic hops push forward. Nunes admitted, “Yeah there’s a lot out there, but you can’t lose. This is tried and true.” Mission accomplished.

Taproot will be serving two more NEIPAs; hazy and brewed with a Bavarian yeast. The DIPA will be ready for their launch on June 20. Also in the works as Beacham and Nunes surge into production will be a wit beer, an alt beer, the blonde ale – easy drinking at 5% and eager to flow onto many a summer palate. The music planned, the food hearty, the provisions plenty – Taproot Brewery, on the back of the Nunes brothers; winemaker of 30 years, George Chelf; a beautiful estate and congregation room; and an excited Beacham, Taproom should add superb layers to the growing beer industry in our small state.

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