Childhood Friends Reconnect Over Home Brewing

By Justine Hofherr

BU News Service


Chris Wilson stands in front of a television screen mounted on a wall at Central Bottle Wine + Provisions at 196 Massachusetts Ave. that displays a PowerPoint about how to brew your own beer.  Wearing a button down gray shirt, jeans and a black sports watch, the dark-haired New Hampshire native also dons a boyish grin as he talks animatedly about the science behind home brewing to a gathered group of eight.

“Brewing is arguably humanity’s greatest achievement,” Wilson says with a dimpled smile, gesturing to a slide depicting the elements of beer—water, malted barley, yeast and hops. “It’s science and art working together, benefitting together.”

Ed Guild, a Boston home brewer and friend of Wilson’s with wildly curly sandy brown hair, black-rimmed glasses and a black t-shirt depicting a parody of Darwin’s “Evolution of Man”—the ape turns into a man, which turns into a robot—stands near the center of the store, showing guests what beer looks like at every stage of the brewing process.

“I just do this for fun,” Guild says, gesturing to the wide spread of beer-making essentials splayed on a metal table.

Bags of hops on display at the "Science of Brewing" event.
Bags of hops on display at the “Science of Brewing” event.

Plastic two-ounce bags stuffed with bundles of green hops lie next to a one-pound bag packed with tiny tan ovals of malt rye. Beside the bags, sits a five-gallon plastic fermenting bucket filled with happily churning brown liquid. Large blobs of cream-colored yeast swirl around the murk, some settling at the bottom of the bucket. Wilson and Guild brewed it last night.

A fermentation bucket filled with a Saison ale Guild and Wilson brewed sits on a metal table.
A fermentation bucket filled with a Saison ale Guild and Wilson brewed sits on a metal table.

“Looks pretty gross, doesn’t it?” Guild asks a woman.

“Yes!” she says, as Wilson laughs behind them.

Beer has played a significant role in Wilson’s life—not only did it introduce him to his wife, Hillary, but also it reconnected him to his childhood friend, Guild, who coordinated the event “Exploring the Art of Beer Making” with Central Bottle Wine + Provisions for the annual Cambridge Science Festival.

While Guild poured guests samples of his favorite Belgian-style Saison recipe into small plastic Dixie cups, Wilson walked the audience through the process of home brewing with the patience of a kind chemistry teacher who truly loves his discipline, pausing as he described each step to make sure his pupils “get it.”

He carefully explained how a brewer first mashes water and grains, and then boils the sugary water from the mash with hops. After cooling the hot mixture (called wort), he or she ferments the liquid by adding yeast and extra water to an airtight bucket, then adds corn sugar for sweetness, and finally, bottles and caps it, Wilson says.

“It’s important to educate the public about what’s going into your beer,” Wilson says, “why it might taste a certain way.”

Wilson and Guild, both 35, have been friends since third grade, and have always “complimented each other,” Wilson says.

“He’s an artist,” Wilson says, describing Guild. “He’s always come at things with a creative angle, and I’ve always come at things from a scientific, engineering angle. Together, that’s where you get innovation.”

Guild agrees with Wilson, and recalls playing Legos as kids—he says he would slap the blocks together haphazardly, hoping for an interesting result, while Wilson would always build structures by following the directions.

They grew up in New Hampshire, but lost touch when they left for college—Guild went to Rochester Institute of Technology in New York for graphic design and Wilson went to Georgia Institute of Technology for bioengineering.

While at graduate school, Wilson got a part-time job at the Atlanta Brewing Company—now called the Red Brick Brewing Company, thanks to a friend named Hillary who he’d later marry. Working there, Wilson says, inspired him to learn how to home-brew.

“There’s lots of innovation about different ways to brew now,” Wilson says. “The lines are blurring and it’s really exciting.”

Guild eventually ended up in Boston, working first in graphic design, then the audio industry where he currently tests music software synthesizers. Wilson, after graduating from Georgia Tech, says he spent years working in bioengineering labs, but recently relocated to Boston from Michigan to work at Bioventus, a bone healing company.

A year and a half ago, Guild noticed on Facebook that Wilson would be moving nearby, so the pair reconnected and met for dinner in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. Over drinks, Wilson says he told Guild about his growing passion for home brewing and suggested Guild try it, so the graphic designer did after his wife Christina bought him a starter kit for Christmas. Guild says he was instantly hooked.

“I love to cook,” Guild says, “And brewing is very much like cooking. I learned the rules and framework—then I broke the rules.” He smiles.

For Wilson, the allure of home brewing comes mostly from his background in biology and chemistry, he says. He’s fascinated by what makes beer unique—what separates a pilsner from an amber, an amber from a stout.

He points to a slide on the TV that shows a cross hybrid chart he made illustrating how four factors—aroma, taste, appearance and mouth feel—can be affected at different stages of the brewing process through slight adjustments of chemistry. For example, the proteins in the grains dominate the appearance, or color and foam, of a beer, he says.

Bags of rye used in the brewing process sit on display at the event.
Bags of rye used in the brewing process sit on display at the event.

“Taste, on the other hand, is affected by all four elements,” Wilson says. “Hops are bittering agents but have florally, citrusy notes.”

With Wilson’s pinpoint precision—he documents all their concoctions in a lab notebook, and Guild’s ingenuity—he recently recreated a Finnish beer called Sahti he liked by adding boiled juniper berries throughout the whole brewing process—the pair have come up with some pretty innovative beers, Guild says. His favorite so far has been a tomato basil beer he got the idea for when his wife canned an excess of summer tomatoes.

Guild crushed the tomatoes to remove excess water and tossed the pink mixture into a fermenting beer. For his wife’s last birthday, friends and family drank five gallons of it, enjoying the “basil aftertaste,” he says.

“It doesn’t taste like V8 juice,” Guild says, laughing. “It’s subtle, almost wine-y.”

Today, Wilson and Guild regularly meet up in each other’s garages to try out different beer recipes, Hillary Wilson said after the event.

The petite brunette, wearing a bright turquoise jacket, munched on bruschetta while talking about her husband and his friend’s home brewing pastime. She said two of their “biggest hits” have been a pumpkin beer and a cherry wheat recipe that calls for real Michigan cherry juice.

“Friends and family hope we make a business from this, but when you make your hobby your work, it becomes less fun,” Hillary Wilson says, nodding.

Home brewing has taken off in general—the American Homebrewers Association now has around 37,000 members, up from 8,700 in 2005, according to Stateline, and some brewers are trying to make a living off it. Three guys working in the Financial District who got together to brew every evening after work started Night Shift Brewery in 2011 in Everett, Mass., Guild says. They quit their banking jobs and focused on developing a brewery that offers innovative craft beers.

Wilson and Guild both say they are currently satisfied with brewing as a hobby.

“My family says, ‘Give up your day job! Brew some beer!’” Wilson says. “It’s tempting but it would be so challenging. You have to plan for four to five years of zero profit, minimal revenue.”

Guild agrees, saying that it’s very difficult to get a license to sell your brew in Massachusetts. He pauses.

“I wish there was a special bar that allowed me to sell them a keg,” Guild says, scratching his chin, looking down. He looks up. “That would be cool to have your stuff on tap. That’s a cool idea.”

Ed Guild, middle, and friend Chris Wilson, right, at the "Science of Brewing" event at Central Bottle Wine + Provisions in Cambridge.
Ed Guild, middle, and friend Chris Wilson, right, at the “Science of Brewing” event at Central Bottle Wine + Provisions in Cambridge.

Chefs and Fish Distributors Use More ‘Trash Fish’ for Sustainability

Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

The scent of freshly caught fish floods the entrance of Red’s Best, a wholesale seafood distributor on Boston’s fish pier, as owner Jared Auerbach pushes open a metal door leading to the packaging room.

“Slap!” “Slap!” “Slap!”

A man in a waterproof orange slicker suit grabs gleaming freshly processed cod from a white container lined with ice and heaves the fish on and off an industrial scale, weighing them for market.

Workers at Red's Best process fish.
Workers at Red’s Best process fish.

Auerbach, 33, with bright blue eyes and thick brown hair pushed into a Boston Red Sox hat, surveys the room before splashing across the wet concrete floor to an open door that offers a view of the shimmering inky-blue harbor. The water ripples gently in the wind and jostles a few docked fishing boats. Two expectant herring gulls perch on the wooden pier with tilted heads, each balancing on one yellow-webbed foot.

“It’s too warm for this today,” he explains, shutting the door with a clang. “Have to keep it cold in here.”

The men barely glance up as Auerbach inspects the heart of his operation. It’s 11 a.m. and his men are deeply focused on the midday process of packing the seafood to be picked up by trucks later in the afternoon and driven to Logan airport. From there, the produce of New England fishermen who work with Red’s Best will be flown to wholesale markets all over the world.

“Thump.” Thump.” “Thump.”

Methodically, another orange slicker-clad worker bends down, reaches into a white container brimming with ice, picks up a clam and tosses it down a metal chute. The bivalves land in cardboard boxes marked with varying destination points in black sharpie—some are as nearby as restaurants in New England; some say “Hong Kong.”

Red Auerbach holds a live clam.
Red Auerbach holds a live clam.

Hundreds more cardboard boxes sit neatly stacked around the room. Some are filled with historically popular seafood like live scallops, salmon and cod, while others are filled with what some refer to as “trash fish,” but what Auerbach likes to call “underappreciated” suspects—Acadian redfish, hake, monkfish, scup and pollock.

“The culinary world has used the term trash fish and I don’t object to it,” Auerbach said. “I think it’s great if it brings attention to less popular fish.”

The term “trash fish” originated in the mid 19th century and stood for fishermen’s catch that was only partly processed—meaning, organs had been removed but the fish were not yet filleted, according to “A History of Fish and Fishing in the Upper Mississippi River,” by HB Carlander. These fish were heavier than fully processed fish and literally weighed down boats on their way to market, slowing them down and threatening to spoil the whole catch. They had to be discarded, hence the term “trash fish.” This expression evolved into a derogatory phrase for any fish that was considered commercially unpopular and undesirable to eat.

The term “trash fish” has caught on in the Boston culinary world, however. Sustainability efforts have led some chefs to use the “catchy” nickname to draw attention to underutilized fish that they say tastes just like more popular species like cod or tilapia, Auerbach said.

At a Cambridge-based March 16 event called “Trash Fish Boston 2014,” chefs of the nonprofit “Chefs Collaborative,” a group concerned with sustainable food systems, met for dinner celebrating underappreciated seafood caught by local fishermen.

“There’s plenty of fish like Acadian red fish, which in a blind taste test holds up to any other fish,” Auerbach said. “For some reason, there’s just not that consumer demand. If you write it down on a piece of paper next to a better-known fish like cod, people will pick cod.”

America’s obsession with cod dates back to the 17th century. Cod was so abundant in the Atlantic then that it was said that you could “walk across the ocean on their backs,” by fishermen, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s site.

Cod became one of the most lucrative trading products during colonial times in New England and the silvery heavy-bodied fish was ordained as the most succulent white, flakey fish in Georges Bank—the “chosen fish” of Boston, or what Auerbach likes to call “Old school New England crap.”

The species is said to have had its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, according to NOAA, but in the mid-1990s, overfishing caused U.S. stocks of cod to come close to commercial collapse. Fishing for the species became highly regulated—in Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, it was reduced to one-third of its 1994 level by The New England Fishery Management Council.

Despite regulation efforts, NOAA’s 2012 fisheries assessments state that cod is still being overfished despite stocks making some headway. The overfishing of cod not only throws marine ecosystems off-balance, but also hurts New England fishermen who have long made their livelihoods providing cod to restaurants and markets.

This is where Auerbach and “trash fish” come in.

After “cutting his teeth” in the Alaskan commercial fishing industry and taking odd fishing jobs here and there in New England, Auerbach said he founded the seafood distribution company in 2008 as a way to promote environmentally sound fishing.

“A lot of little boats as opposed to one large boat produce the highest quality of wild fish,” the Newton, Mass., native said. “I wanted ways to sustain these small fishing fleets.”

To do so, Auerbach became the go-between for roughly 700 fishermen—“from one guy raking for clams in the mud to huge yacht-type boats trolling for tuna off the continental shelf,” and high-end wholesalers that restaurants buy from. Auerbach created a traceability system that tracks buyers’ seafood from ocean to dinner plate, electronically dog-earing catches from the moment his workers unload fishermen’s vessels, through transportation, processing and distribution.

The Fish Pier where Red's Best is located on Boston Harbor.
The Fish Pier where Red’s Best is located on Boston Harbor.

Every box of seafood distributed by Red’s has a QR code, or barcode, embedded on it. This code can be scanned for access to data about the fisherman who caught your catch, the fish species, the vessel and gear type used to catch it, and the port of origin. The hope, Auerbach said, is that buyers and consumers care about where their seafood comes from.

“We just want to incentivize chefs to support local fishermen instead of importing fish,” Auerbach said.

And a large part of supporting local fishermen involves wholesalers buying what fishermen are able to provide and not putting impossible demands on both fishermen and specific fish stocks like cod. Chefs and consumers alike, therefore, have to be open to trying less popular seafood, Auerbach said.

“You know, we’ve gotten to this place in the seafood world where we are letting the consumer dictate what’s on the menu, but really, we got to let Mother Nature dictate what’s on the menu,” Auerbach said.

Chef Michael Leviton sits on a high-top metal chair at a table in his restaurant, Area Four, in Technology Square in Cambridge while listing off some of the delicious New England “trash fish” he’s cooked with: “Skate. Monkfish. Sea robin. Scup. Spiny Dogfish. Blood clams. Surf clams. Acadian redfish.”

“I understand fishermen’s hesitancy about that name,” Leviton said. “No fish are trash. But it’s catchy and it does advance the agenda.”

Leviton, a short, wiry 48-year-old with intense brown eyes, has been on the board of the Chef’s Collaborative for the past six years and took part in the “Trash Fish Boston 2014” dinner. Area Four, a restaurant that features gourmet pizza and salads, has been open for the past three years.

Leviton said he thinks it is environmentally and economically important to create a market for these types of fish.

“If we don’t support our fishermen, we’re gone,” Leviton said. “Part of sustainability means making sure everyone along the proverbial food chain is able to make a living doing it.”

All too often, Leviton said, getting cheap calories onto the table drives the American food system. Attendant costs, like the depletion of marine biodiversity and the lack of social justice for fishermen, fall by the wayside.

Much of this comes back to the customer, Leviton said.

“Part of problem is we still are obligated to keep our doors open and we can’t make people buy it,” Leviton said of “trash fish.”

Although customers might shy away from lesser-known fish like pollock and hake on the menu, Leviton uses it anyway. He said he often smokes Acadian redfish for recipes he used to use trout for.

The white, flakey fish tastes just as good, he said, but is often more abundant than trout in fishermen’s catch.

“There are ways to slide it in without them realizing,” Leviton said.

So much of Boston’s rich history is embedded in the fishing industry, Leviton said, and keeping that tradition alive is just another reason he feels it is his duty to be a sustainable chef.

“Fishing is a part of so much of our sense of history as Massachusetts or New England natives,” Leviton said.

Thousands Gather to Honor MIT Police Officer Collier

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By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

Thousands gathered at MIT’s North Court this morning to attend a ceremony of remembrance for MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, who was shot and killed in his squad car at 10:20 p.m. last April 18 by one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

At the ceremony, MIT architecture professor J. Meejin Yoon revealed the design of The Collier Memorial—an “open hand” structure, to remind visitors to always choose an “open hand over a closed fist,” as Collier would.

Yoon said the granite structure would be comprised of five walls interconnected through a series of reflection gardens to evoke the absence of a central figure, creating a void, but also allowing for a unifying central space of reflection.

Engraved on the memorial, it will state, “In the line of duty, Sean Collier April 18, 2013,” Yoon said.

A second inscription will come from Collier’s brother’s eulogy, saying, “Live long, like he would. Big smiles, big heart, big service, big love.”

Many present did not know Collier personally, but came out of respect for the MIT community, or because they had heard so many stories describing Collier as an exceptionally good, kind person.

Marsha Edmunds, a long time former employee in MIT’s administration, said she came because she is forever bonded to the school community.

“He was such an innocent person to be shot down the way he was,” Edmunds said, pulling her red coat tighter against the cold wind. “I didn’t know Sean personally, but he inspired a community to come together.”

Almost every seat was filled beneath the spacious white tent erected behind the Koch Cancer Research Institute adjacent to the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street where Collier was killed. Quiet music hummed and the audience spoke quietly before the ceremony started. Many donned “MIT Strong” maroon and white pins that were being handed out by event planners at the mouth of the tent.

John Wuestneck, a chaplain at MIT for the past 21 years, said he knew Collier personally.

“He was a really nice guy,” Wuestneck said. He worked directly across from MIT’s police department, so he passed Collier often. “He was really good with students, good with everybody.” Wuestneck shrugged, looking down.

“What can you say?” he said.

Under a gray, overcast sky, the ceremony began at 9:30 a.m. as MIT and Cambridge police forces filed into the front of the tent. The audience stood and clapped for nearly five minutes.

The MIT Police and the Cambridge Police Joint Honor Guard then performed the presentation of the flags and Lieutenant Pauline Carter-Wells of the City of Cambridge Police Department performed the National Anthem, causing the audience to erupt in applause.

MIT’s Executive Vice President and Treasurer, Israel Ruiz, welcomed the guests, most of who were from the MIT community, saying, “It is an honor and a comfort to have you with us today.”

Ruiz described Collier as a constantly smiling presence on campus—someone who talked to everyone and made an effort to get to know students and faculty. He said he met Collier unexpectedly, in a time when he was in great need of a helping hand.

One frigid Friday in February 2013, when winter storm Nemo had shut down MIT’s campus and caused a traffic ban on cars and taxis, Ruiz said he found himself stranded at Boston’s South Station after a business trip to New York.

Ruiz’s colleagues, worried about his safety in the winter storm, sent an MIT cruiser to come pick him up. Shortly after, Collier pulled up and rolled down his window, smiling, Ruiz said.

“He asked me if I was a grad student,” Ruiz said, as the audience laughed heartily. “I said, “Once I was, but I don’t have a uniform.”” He smiled.

During the car ride, Ruiz said Collier mentioned his love for the MIT community. The snowy street was deserted, but Ruiz remembered Collier stopped at an intersection on their way back to campus to help a lost student.

The light was green, Ruiz said, but Collier stopped to help him anyway.

“The light then switched from red to green—a couple of times,” Ruiz said with a laugh.

Ruiz said Collier’s actions that night, just small acts of kindness, perfectly exemplified the MIT community—a community that will “always roll down the window for those who need help.”

United States Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren following Ruiz, said that terror such as last year’s events surrounding the Boston Bombings and its aftermath, can often break people’s spirits.

Boston and Cambridge, however, did not waver, she said.

“We responded with a cry of defiance, not of fear,” Warren said, and reminded the audience to hold Collier in their hearts forever.


John DiFava, MIT Police Chief, had worked closely with Collier during the officer’s 15 months at MIT’s department. Collier had been about to leave the force to join Somerville’s department.

DiFava was one of the last speakers at the ceremony, and described Collier’s immense impact on the way DiFava viewed life.

When he was a child, DiFava said he grew up with heroes like the Lone Ranger, but over time, grew cynical along with life’s many disappointments.

He lost sight of the idea that heroes still exist among men, DiFava said, but Collier taught him many life lessons that slowly changed DiFava’s hardened worldview. One thing Collier taught him was the meaning of bravery, he said.

“He was so young, but wise beyond his years,” DiFava said, looking out to the audience. “He had such insight into people, which illustrates the enormity of our loss.” His voice cracked.

While 2013 has been marked by unimaginable sadness, DiFava said he hopes 2014 will be a year with less frequent tears, a year to “turn to the sun with hope.”

As the MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble, donned in all black sang “Amazing Grace,” DiFava bowed his head and wiped tears from his face.

“I now know heroes still walk on our earth,” DiFava said.