While some people live in the basement for one reason or another, others like to work in the basement.
Dave Howland, 34, founder, entrepreneur and yes, chief bottle washer of 3cross Brewing Company, likes to work in the basement. First he did it at home, then he graduated to the ground floor at 26 Cambridge St., the building that once housed Playoff Arcade Entertainment.
His weekly creations of the hoppy kind are brewed from imagination, research and drinkability. All are his own concoctions, and he’ll change them at his own whim … because he can. Just close your eyes and go with the flow.
Since he doesn’t depend on a focus group, he needs to keep everyone sated and guessing as to what comes next. Blend dark chocolate, chiles, cinnamon and vanilla in a liquid? Why not? That’s the type of “stuff” that’s in the taps – delicious beers, tea and non-alcoholic ginger beer.
Howland, an avid cyclist since his high school days at Worcester Academy, began working in his basement on his home brew for about six years before he turned his passion into a business venture. During his apprenticeship, he made beer in small batches with a kettle and joined the Wizards Home Brew Club and attended its monthly meetings.
“I really got into the technical aspects and recipe design,” he said. “Then I started to seriously consider opening up my own place.”
3cross opened in October 2014 after a few months of the requisite sweat equity in remodeling the former arcade space of 5,500 square feet. The business is divided into three areas – the taproom, a large open area for mingling, and an area with several stools and tables for parties of four or more.
On the walls, there are bike racks for cyclists, which means free indoor parking; and free parking for four-legged vehicles outside in the lot.
The official capacity comfortably holds 125 people, which is ideal because Howland wants everyone to come down for a personal taste test.
He’s been getting good exposure in media and his fan base is growing.
“I rotate four or five lines of beer … but there’s no consistent schedule,” Howland said. “I could come out with a batch and it might come out for only a week and then you won’t see it for a year. Or I might keep one selection for two or three months. It all depends on what I feel like making at the moment.”
Of the line on tap when the Sun ventured down Cambridge Street, three or four will likely not be here by the time you visit. [So click here for an updated list.] On March 1, Howland featured:
- The embro, modeled after a Mexican hot chocolate. “I add some cocoa, a little bit of chili, vanilla and a hint of cinnamon. It’s brewed and served cold, but it’s warming when it hits your stomach.”
- Sheldon, a brown ale that is normally a staple … a nice malty brown ale with a bit of American citrus hops on the back end to give it a little more twist.
- Brevet, an IPA, features orange, mango and pine resin.
- The Hilltopper is named after the Worcester Academy nickname and is a Belgian blond ale with fruity and spicy esters from a traditional Trappist yeast strain with a touch of orange peel.
- Single Speed: Millenium (sic) – This one is always on the menu, but it also changes a bit because Howland uses a different signature hop. “On this particular batch we used the millennium hop. It’s a good solid pale ale, but it doesn’t have a lot of the interesting characteristics of some of the others I’ve created.”
- Belgian Golden Strong ale is still a work in progress and features fruity and spicy characteristics of the Trappist yeast strain, with understated caramelized sugar that leads to a dry finish.
- Ginger Beer is a non-alcoholic soda that is made here. Made from fresh ginger, filtered water, organic evaporated cane juice and with a touch of citric acid that gives it a zing.
- KrafTea Kombucha is an elixir made by the fermentation of tea and sugar; it’s a probiotic drink that is tart and sweet. The most recent batch also has organic carrot juice and maple syrup.
Howland explained that while he uses a local distributor, local ingredients are difficult to come by. “The majority of the grains come from the Midwest and Minnesota, and some of the more specialty grains come from Germany and Belgium. The majority of the hops come from New Zealand, Australia and some from Germany as well.”
He added, “I’ve done some smaller-scale experimentation with different ingredients with malted hops that were grown in Charlton in a backyard.” But he admitted that growing specialized grains in Massachusetts is very difficult because there is a lack of open land for cottage agriculture business.
The beer glasses (125 mL or 4 oz.) and growlers (750 mL) are made and sold here.
As the business continues to grow, Howland says he’d like to see the taproom remain the centerpiece and main attraction for patrons.
He envisions that hours may be extended and possibly a “small plate” restaurant could follow. “But nothing really complicated. We’re never going have a full-blown restaurant, that’s not in the plan,” he said.
Patrons may bring in food from other nearby establishments to 3cross, but there is no kitchen in the building.
Howland explained that the “3cross” is the traditional spoke lacing pattern in bicycle wheels wherein each pattern is repeated until it reaches the rim. “It’s a subtle but not over-the-top bike reference. I’m a fairly serious cyclist and ride quite a bit. I used to work for the bike shop around the corner. So I wanted to blend that into the business and add some interest.
“Besides, there’s a lot of crossover between people who ride bikes and who like good beer. It’s a very natural connection – after all, a beer after a tough ride gives you a great recovery,” he said.
3cross Brewing Company
26 Cambridge St.
(on the ground floor of the old Arcade building)
Open 5-9 p.m., Thursday through Sunday
Trivia night is Thursdays; occasional live entertainment Fridays and Saturdays (check website for schedule)