Trinity Brewhouse has been a staple in downtown Providence for well over a decade now, and for most of that time, Sean Larkin has been using their facilities to produce amazing beer for Trinity, Narragansett, and now his own personal pet project, Revival Brewing.
Seeing as how Rhode Island is experiencing a sudden upswing in craft beer production, I thought it best to talk to the Rock Star himself. A mile walk and a $25 dollar parking ticket later (Where the HELL are they when someone tries to T-bone my Nissan with an F250?) I sat down with the legend himself.
Surprisingly humble and fashionable in his 1930s Newsie’s cap, Sean is a local brewing icon. Deep within the bowels of the Trinity-Revival operation, he crafts award-winning brew after award-winning brew… and some that don’t win awards as well. What? They can’t all be winners? Doesn’t mean they’re not awesome.
Starting as an assistant brewer, Sean stepped up when his mentor stepped down, filling the shoes of the original brewmaster and then some. “The system was already set up and mastered,” said Larkin, “When I started here… the brewer at the time, who trained me, had the system all figured out, and even worked it up into spreadsheets. So, we could plug our recipe into the spreadsheet and see what we could expect to get.”
Though Revival has yet to begin work on a brick-and-mortar brewery, the in-house system at the famed Trinity Brewhouse in downtown Providence churns out Larkin’s pet project. It’s not only an operation that Sean’s familiar with, but it gives him the freedom to play with recipes, ingredients and ideas. Some brewers test out recipes as homebrews before a release, or like Lagunitas, sell their odd batches anyway and hope they are successful, but the setup at Trinity affords a little more freedom. “When we want to test out a recipe, we’ll just go ahead and brew it, then sell it here in the pub. We’ll get feedback from our customers and then, based on that, we’ll often tweak it or make whatever changes we feel we want to make.”
More than just using his loyal regulars as guinea pigs, Larkin has a lot of room to work in the ironically small brewhouse. The actual beer gets cooked upstairs behind the bar, in what must be a very warm room in the summer time. The worth then gets channeled downstairs. Behind the basement bar, fermenters line the walls of a room smaller than my kitchen in a little fermentation dungeon, lined with cylindrical vessels full of the magic elixer. Old wooden casks sit with beer aging within, labeled with handwritten paper taped on the cask. A couple of them have spigots on the bottom, and this is where the result of the Trinity/Revival alchemy is born. On the walkabout, we passed a tray of unbaked brownies, apparently made with some of their coffee stout, looking fudgy and delicious while the beer man himself talked about the process.
“I really only have to worry about a budget. Even then, I don’t really have to report to anyone. As long as I keep the percentages up, I can basically do whatever I want.” It seems like the life any brewer could want. Not only is he a well recognized, accomplished brewer, Sean has the kind of relaxed atmosphere with which to experiment and create even better concoctions. Still, I haven’t met the man yet who has brewed beer and not wanted to open his own brewery. Sean Larkin is no exception. “I was already kind of established with what I’ve been doing here and at Narragansett,” he said. “I really wanted something that was my own,” Larkin teamed up with a company called Betaspring, a mentorship organization whose specialty is helping startup companies, providing consultation, logistics and advice; essentially, helping take care of the paperwork so the beer man can work his magic.
Though Trinity has been selling its IPA in six-packs for years now, the sudden upswing in Rhode Island microbreweries and nanobreweries creates a competitive market. Simply competing for bar taps, shelf space in liquor stores and cooler space in better liquor stores is an uphill battle, but the amiable Larkin doesn’t see the likes of Foolproof and Ravenous as opposition. “I love that they’re doing what they’re doing,” he said. “I love anyone opening a nano(brewery). One thing about Rhode Island is that the people here… they like the brand that they like. They stick with that brand. I have people come up to me at beer fests and be like ‘You guys are awesome, better than Union. Union Station sucks!’ Well, first of all, Union station doesn’t suck. I know the brewer there; we’re friends. I don’t believe anyone’s beer sucks.”
If you haven’t yet tried Revival, or Trinity Brewhouse for that matter, you’re missing out on a staple of the Rhode Island craft beer scene. Revival’s Black IPA is currently available in four-packs in the more hip liquor stores in this state, and a few places even carry the magnificent brew on draft. You can check out their website for certain locations, and hound your local packy to bring it in.