By PIA PETERSON/ecoRI News contributor
PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Right over the city line, amidst similar mill buildings, lies the Bucket within The Bucket. Some folks may catch sight of the giant pail painted on the side of a warehouse door, some may smell something yeasty in the air.
Beyond this small corner of industrial Pawtucket, Bucket Brewery’s sphere is growing as its beer brews.
Rhode Island’s craft-beer scene is now well established, and during the past several years a few local names have gained notoriety. A general growing interest in craft beers helped jump-start the experimental brewers who decided to take it to the next level. The state responded with a surge of interest in their micro- and nanobrews. Now that the initial buzz has worn off, breweries are branching out and trying to distinguish themselves in a crowd of their peers and rival pints.
Behind the scenes, most of these local brewers seem to get along, participating in events, tastings, tours and even races together. Bucket Brewery put together a running team to race Foolproof Brewery down to Rhode Island Brew Fest in downtown Providence on July 20. The losing brewery’s team will have to keep the other brewery’s beer on tap during their tours for a month.
Erik Aslaksen of Bucket Brewery admitted to taking this wager perhaps a little too seriously. “We may have had an advantage going in,” he said, laughing. “We have a pretty good runner on staff (Nathaniel Broomfield).” Broomfield has been hosting bi-weekly training runs with Team Bucket that start and end at the brewery.
Bucket Brewery is expanding into other realms than beer, including working with restaurants and the Rhode Island local food scene. As we start talking about pairing beer with food, Aslaksen tells me that this was their idea from the beginning.
“We make really good food beers,” he said. “They are more nuanced as opposed to being completely flavor-forward all the time.”
He acknowledged that there are “hop-heads” out there, folks whom he describes as looking for craft beer with the hoppiest flavor. He noted, however, that “if you drink a really hopped IPA with food, it numbs your taste buds,” and decreases the flavors in anything you were to eat afterwards.
By producing hoppier beers with a balance of flavor, Bucket Brewery has won some Providence restaurants over that are now cooking with their beers as well as serving them.
KitchenBar, Chez Pascal and Blaze — all on Hope Street in Providence — use Bucket Brewery beer to braise short ribs, in sausages, and mix it with chipotle sauce for sliders.
Aslaksen said working with local chefs was one of the “markets that we were really focusing on.” “We make a different sort of product, and the best way for us to showcase that is with food,” he said.
Bucket Brewery is predicting that these sort of drinkable “session” beers — so called because with a low ABV and developed but not overwhelming flavor, you can comfortably drink multiple rounds in a session — will replace the previously über popular hoppy IPA as a beer-drinker’s favorite.
The Pawtucket brewery has a small, 10-barrel fermenter and a 10-barrel brewhouse that allows the company to continue experimenting in small, home-brew style batches.
“Buckets of Gratitude” — also known as BOG — is a further way for Bucket Brewery to give recognition, thanks and a share of the profits to Rhode Island food culture.
“We’re trying to base ourselves with the community and with local-based goods,” Aslaksen said. “Getting a beer bottled yesterday is fresher than getting one from, say, California.”
Creating with local ingredients also puts money back into the local economy. Bucket Brewery has been involved with local farms since its inception in 2011, and currently works with Pat’s Pastured, providing spent grain to be used in pig feed, and obtains some of its hops from Ocean State Hops in Exeter.
Bucket’s newest beer contains ingredients from local farms and gives a portion of its proceeds to Harvest Kitchen, which is part of Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s initiative to increase the variety of value-added local farm products available.
BOG is a cranberry-orange farmhouse ale with cranberries from Fairland Farms in Sharon, Mass.
More experimentation with beer outside of the class comes from collaboration with Tim Sadler, the “kitchen drudge” at Bucket and the man responsible for its kitchen blog, where he works with beer in recipes such as granola bars, reductions, pork steak tostadas and marinades. He hopes to work on a line of sweet, beer-based caramels available for sale sometime in the near future.