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Brewpub with a Thoreauvian twist is coming to Marlborough

Brewpub with a Thoreauvian twist is coming to Marlborough

THE BOSTON GLOBE – Henry David Thoreau was reportedly something of a teetotaler, but thanks in part to the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation, he’s about to get his own beer.

Walden Woods Brewing, a newcomer to the craft beer scene, is the first recipient of an incentive to lure brewpubs and restaurants to open up in the city of Marlborough.

The state-chartered economic development arm of the city announced July 17 that it would be offering up $25,000 to help cover initial rent and equipment costs for any new amenity-based businesses that couldn’t afford them otherwise.

According to Executive Director Meredith Harris, the demand for taprooms and high-end restaurants came from businesses and residents alike. While residents were looking for more downtown options, businesses wanted new places where employees could congregate after work.

“They’re always screaming from the rooftops ‘we want more brewpubs downtown!’” she said, using the term for an establishment selling beer made onsite.

Despite what the craft beer craze might suggest, getting that to happen is far from easy.

For one thing, zoning can be a nightmare, Walden Woods co-founder Alida Orzechowski explained. When she and co-founder Chris Brown were ready to take the leap from home brewing in their Acton garage into commercial production, “the biggest roadblock was finding a physical place to lease.”

Prime downtown areas are not always zoned for a brewing operation, and even if they are, would-be brewers need a large space with the proper flooring and sewage system for brewing beer.

And since a brewpub both produces and serves alcohol, owners apply for two different licenses, according to Ralph Sacramone, executive director of the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

The combined process includes registering with two federal agencies, a public hearing, approval from the city and state, and naturally, a bit of paperwork.

What might speak best to the challenge of opening a brewpub is the relatively small number of them in the state — a little over 20, according to Sacramone.

But it wasn’t always so complicated, Orzechowski believes.

She explained that in earlier times, laws often required towns to have such establishments, noting that Concord was fined in 1600s for not having a public house. And she would know, since she also runs Concord Tour Company, which leads history tours of the town.

“Apart from a love of craft beer,” she said of Walden Woods, “our partners are totally history geeks, particularly about Thoreau.”

Orzechowski pointed to the history of pubs and brewing in Massachusetts as an inspiration for the business: “If you go back in history and look at the tavern…it’s not a sports bar where people are watching televisions; it’s a place where people are coming together.”

The new taproom, expected to open in the late fall, won’t have any televisions either. But what it will have includes board games and public speaking events about history and brewing to bring people together. And it will also have beer.

Walden Woods will focus on traditional American and European styles, adding what they call “a regional or historic twist.” Brown, who has worked in commercial brewing since 2009, may have a few tricks up his sleeve as well.

On its Facebook page, the company teased a new beer they’re calling the Woods-Burner Wit: a “Thai-inspired Belgian Witbier with lemongrass, kaffir lime and a hot chili kick.” The beer is also inspired by a derisive nickname Thoreau gained for himself around Concord after he accidentally started a major forest fire there in 1844.

Despite his sober ways, Orzechowski thinks Thoreau’s philosophy to “live deliberately” — to take a line from Walden — pairs well with the ideals of craft beer. The goal there, as she puts it, is to “drink deliberately.”

The announcement of a Marlborough venue for this twist on Thoreau comes after years of planning in the city. The economic development corporation set the ball rolling back in 2014 when it helped rezone the downtown to make brewpubs possible there.

Still, Mayor Arthur Vigeant explained, it wasn’t enough to bring brewers to town. As the craft beer industry trended upwards, people were asking “Why isn’t Marlborough involved in it?” He said the response was simple: “We haven’t had people knocking on the door.”

Since April, the city’s economic development corporation has been reaching out to the beer community to help develop the new approach to scoring the elusive brewpub. Start-up costs are a big deterrent since brewers need to sign a lease before they can apply for a license to sell, and equipment costs are prohibitively high as well.

Harris estimates that the rent assistance, capped at $15,000, will cover at least the first six months. A further $10,000 is available to help cover equipment costs, which Orzechowski estimates would pay for a third of what it takes to outfit a basic, small nanobrewery.

So far, the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation, which is funded by the local hotel tax, has sat down with 10 potential restaurants and 25 brew concepts to talk about this incentive, and they hope more will take advantage of the opportunity.

Asked if she was a beer fan herself, Harris laughed. “I certainly will become a Walden Woods drinker, that’s for sure.”

This article by Lucas Phillips originally appeared here.

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