When Steve Sanderson started RiverWalk Brewing Co. in 2012 with his wife, it was more of a calling than a business opportunity. Like many homebrewers inspired by their palates and passions, Steve quit his full time job, dove head first into brewing and planning, and never looked back.
By now Sanderson has been an avid homebrewer for over a decade, and his styles and offerings are still inspired by his time in the Czech Republic and traveling abroad. “I was really fascinated with where beer came from,” he says. “How it was made and how it related to the history and culture of an area. This fascination led to a lot of travel to some of the great beer-producing areas of the world.”
“My first beer experiences involved drinking Pilsner in the Czech Republic at the age of 15, so I acquired a taste for more “full-flavored” beer pretty early on,” he added. And thankfully, he’s now sharing that experience with all of us.
Prior to this column, I had never tried any of his offerings, so I was intrigued and excited to have five different growlers in my possession. From the Tripper’s Tripel Belgian Style Ale (8.5 percent ABV) to the Uncle Bob’s Bitter English-Style Ale (4.5 percent ABV), they didn’t disappoint. I started off with the RiverWalk IPA (6.75 percent ABV) and found it to be hoppy but subtle and very easy to drink. It didn’t overpower me, which I liked. Not prone to wax poetic about the style of hops or East Coast/West Coast flavor battle, I’m mostly concerned with whether or not I’d drink it again, and this is definitely a keeper. My next pour was the Rustic Pils (5.6 percent ABV) and considering that I’m a huge session beer fan, I was hoping for a lower ABV here. But, the crisp, clean flavor was rewarding and not at all too big for my expectations. If you like a classic Pils, this is for you.
When asked to describe the history behind RiverWalk Brewing Co., Steve expanded on the storyline: “I really believe that experiencing local beer in the area and environment that it is produced helps to build a greater understanding and appreciation for what goes into that beer.”
More than any of his other brews, the Tripper’s Tripel and the Gnomad Farmhouse Ale (7.5 percent ABV) seemed to drive home this idea. The Tripel was easily one of the best I’ve had in some time, and it seemed heavily influenced by, oddly, New England. I can’t quite explain it, but I found myself wanting crisp, deep-fried clam strips and onion rings as I sipped, thoughts and taste turning to the ocean.
Located in Newburyport, Mass, the brewery is not exactly resting on a spit of sand, but maybe Steve’s allusion still made sense The Farmhouse Ale had a completely different impact on me, but nonetheless, it tasted local and familiar. I like farmhouse ales in general but tend to find them too big and meaty for anything beyond one glass. This ale, on the other hand, I could drink all night.
I wrapped up my tasting with Uncle Bob’s Bitter. Definitely not my preferred taste but completely enjoyable and malty in a subtle, likable way. I do wish someone would brew a bitter that would wow me, and this wasn’t it, but it was so much better than most of what I’ve tried. That’s a huge plus and makes it a must-try for the bitter-inclined as well as the bitter, well, in general.
With plans to expand and install a new bottling line that will bring 500ml bottles to the masses (a much better choice than just the 32oz growlers) Steve has his sights on expanding distribution beyond the Boston and North Shore market. We can only hope this comes to fruition, but in the end, he’s not driven by cashing in on the craft beer gold rush. Instead he’s influenced by his own life experiences and love of suds.
After all, beer is a lot more than just what’s inside the bottle or glass.