For Alisa Bowens-Mercado, New Haven’s queen of salsa dance instruction, the week kicked off with the celebration of two births: her own birthday, celebrated on Sunday, and the birth, Monday, of her new flagship craft beer, Rhythm Lager.
As condensation-beaded cans of the unfiltered lager rolled off a conveyor belt and through the narrow channel of an automated labeling machine, singer Gloria Estefan’s “Rhythm is Gonna Get You” blared at Monday’s celebration throughout Overshores Brewing Company, owned by Christian Amport. (The Belgian-style brewery supports and collaborates with brewery upstarts in addition to making its own product lines.)
Surrounded by friends and well wishers, Bowens-Mercado joined Armada Brewery owner John Kraszewski in some spontaneous celebratory dancing. She also danced her way into the history books as Connecticut’s first African-American woman beer company owner. (Bowens-Mercado also hosts the radio show “Alisa’s Talk-Sip” on WNHH-FM.)
The first hundred cases of Rhythm Lager (slogan: “the beer that flows”) will be distributed around the state with local businesses getting first dibs, noted Bowen-Mercado. Kraszewki said he collaborated with Bowens-Mercado “to bring the brand to life.” Their marketing strategy is designed to appeal to the macrobrew market and “to create a beer with more flavor, defined as a craft beer.”
Bowens-Mercado and husband John Mercado had been studiously tasting beers and taking stock of the market for the last three years. She said she wanted a more “old-school style beer, but not too heavy or hoppy so people can drink several beers without feeling bloated.” Much of the craft beer market, from Bowens-Mercado’s perspective, is devoted to IPAs (India pale ale). She wanted to create something different, settling on a lager style beer, which typically has a longer (bottom) fermentation period and results in a clean crispness. Rhythm Lager’s recipe, which Bowens-Mercado said is her own, includes hops imported from South Africa, which adds to the unique taste and is in keeping with the spirit of the brand. It has an ABV (alcohol by volume) content of 5.5 percent.
Part of Bowens-Mercado’s love for beer was instilled by her two grandmothers, who were both fans of the beverage. “We would often talk about life over beer, usually Miller Light ponies. I have to make my grandmothers proud by staying true to what I like. This beer is going to remind me of the time I spent with them,” she said.
Bowens-Mercado credits Zafra owner owner Dominick Splendorio with coming up with the inspiration and name for the new lager. He encouraged her to connect the brand with who she is; the music, the dance, the rhythm. In a eureka moment, the brainstorming group of friends were soon shouting: “Rhythm Brewing — that’s it!”
The product label, outfitted in bold black, white and red colors, bears a logo with a treble-clef symbol that blends into the letter R over a musical staff.
Splendorio, a self-described “restaurant owner and beer geek,” said that Bowens-Mercado used to hold dance classes at Zafra. “She helped me promote my business in the beginning and I think it’s only fitting that I returned the favor in some small way.” Splendorio said Zafra will be the first restaurant in the Elm City to sell Rhythm Lager on tap and expects “the beer that flows” to be available within the next two weeks.
Among invited guests at the Rhythm canning event was beer brewer Chuck DelVecchio, who owns and recently revived the more than century-old New Haven beer called Hull’s Export Lager, which had stopped operations in 1977. DelVecchio was on hand to wish Bowens-Mercado well, and could be seen on the production line in concert with a team of brewers working to build the rising pallet of Rhythm Lager cases.
DelVecchio said he does not see Rhythm Lager as a competitor. Brewers are “very supportive of each other in the Connecticut beer community,” he said. “I’m so excited to see Rhythm hit the shelves.”
DelVecchio also noted the importance of drinking locally produced beers. “Drinking local is important for jobs and for Connecticut’s economy,” he said. “The Connecticut beer community is getting Connecticut on the map in terms of bringing people into the state.”
Steve Fontana, New Haven’s deputy economic development administrator, also brushed off the welcome mat in anticipation of the new Rhythm Brewery business.
“Given her eclectic background and deep ties to the community, we’re very pleased that Alisa is establishing her distinctive craft microbrewery in New Haven,” he said. “Under Mayor Harp’s leadership, our city has become just the place for businesses like Rhythm Brewing to take root, create jobs, and market an innovative product. We’re looking forward to working with her to find Rhythm its commercial home in New Haven.”
Beaming with a father’s pride and sporting a bright white T-shirt with the Rhythm Brewing Company logo during the first-run canning event was William Bowens. He held his can of Rhythm beer high, but unlike other event attendees, did not pop the lid.
“I’m not a beer drinker,” he said with a broad smile. “But I think I will become one.”
An official Rhythm Lager launch party will take place on Saturday, March 10, in New Haven, “where my roots are,” notes Bowens-Mercado, from 3 to 7 p.m. at Vanity, 144 Temple St. The public is invited. For more information about Rhythm Brewing Company call 203-809-2431 or click here.