By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Aslin Beer Company doesn’t have exposed brick walls, it isn’t decorated with string lights and it doesn’t use wooden barrels as high top tables.
Straying from the traditional industrial vibe at a lot of breweries and tasting rooms, Aslin has an eclectic, colorful atmosphere enhanced by patterned walls, neon signs and a giant robot.
Like the tasting room décor, Aslin’s beer cans feature the same vivid, humor-infused branding that the company’s team has described as “’50s space age,” “Scandinavian industrial” and “psychedelic ‘80s throwback.”
So far, the weird vibe is working.
Aslin opened at 847 S. Pickett St. on Alexandria’s West End in July. The Alexandria tasting room is the brewery’s second location; the first opened in Herndon in 2015.
Brothers-in-law Andrew Kelley and Kai Leszkowicz started the beer company after their wives got them homebrewing kits as gifts. Kelley, a former management consultant, and Leszkowicz, a former police officer, bonded over their passion for craft beer and decided to open a brewery. As a tribute to the family they married into, the beer company is named after their wives’ maiden name.
Aslin began as a two-barrel brewing system and 2,000-square-foot tasting room in Herndon. About a year after opening, Kelley and Leszkowicz faced occupancy issues with the local municipality and ended up closing the tasting room, resorting to selling cans to-go.
Despite the setback, their beer continued to gain momentum, cultivating a loyal customer base, until they maxed out capacity at the Herndon location. They signed a lease for the 27,000-square-foot Alexandria tasting room in summer 2018, officially opening about a year later. With the move, the company’s production capacity grew from 5,000 to 65,000 barrels per year.
Without having to start completely from scratch, Aslin came to Alexandria with a stockpile of more than 100 recipes and established branding and design curated by artist Mike Van Hall.
As for the beer, Aslin is as adventurous with its flavors as it is with its décor.
From a limited stout made with curry, cardamom and coconut to a watermelon, habanero and lime sour that almost tastes like a watermelon margarita, Aslin releases two new beers per week on average, according to Kelley.
“We’re constantly making new beers,” Kelley said. “Really it just comes down to what do we want to make, what interests us, what piques our interest, what are the new styles that we wanna try out, what are new twists to trials that we’ve done, that we think will be a cool addition to our tasting room.”
Brand manager Erik Raines said the owners’ willingness to take risks sets Aslin apart.
“I could give you 50 examples of these wild recipes that these guys come up with,” Raines said. “We have one called Glamping, and it’s essentially like s’mores with peanut butter, and you taste it in layers: You taste graham crackers, you taste marshmallow, you taste chocolate, you taste peanut butter. So whether it’s that, whether it’s the hazy IPAs that have this super soft mouth feel and are really juicy with big tropical notes … they’re very adventurous with the recipes.”
Each new recipe is paired with an interpretive and often witty name, such as Corporate Hype, Lighthouses Rule!, Orange Starfish and Drive In Copycat. Once the name is established, it goes to Van Hall for a label.
“Ultimately, the guys just send me names and I try and weed through the possible interpretations of that to come up with something that’s interpretive on the one hand but interesting on the other, and also visually appealing if I can do that too,” Van Hall said. “… They’re funny people and names that they come up with are ridiculous and funny and also loaded with meaning.”
Van Hall’s labels range from minimalist patterns to goofy characters.
“I try to approach the task of designing beer labels as part interpreting the people that are behind the beer and what they’re making or what they’re trying to accomplish,” Van Hall said. “For Aslin, that’s a big part of how these labels look. If the name is a joke, then how do I capture that idea of the original joke and make it broad enough to appeal to our customer base and at the same time bring them into the joke.”
In addition to design labels, Van Hall is the artist behind the majority of the décor in the Aslin tasting room, with the exception of a series of pieces by Loch Ness, a United Kingdom-based psychedelic artist.
Some of Van Hall’s beer labels are incorporated into the décor, including his design for Mind the Hop, the first label he created for Aslin, which is blown up into a two-story mural.
“We spent so much time and so many of our resources on the artwork and branding of our beer, why not leverage that inside the space as the artwork?” Kelley said.
Since opening, Aslin has been embraced by the community, especially its West End neighbors, according to Raines.
“Most of us aren’t really familiar with the West End,” Raines said. “It’s been so refreshing to be in the tap room and have so many people come up to you and go, ‘Oh my God, I live five minutes from here. I can walk here.’”
“I think a lot of people are moving out this way,” Kelley echoed. “The West End is kind of a new area where people want to live or can afford to live because those [other] areas have become saturated. So that was another reason why we chose this place, so I think people are excited to come out this way.”
While the brewery’s popularity has grown steadily since July – and Aslin’s reputation expands beyond the Alexandria tasting room – Aslin beers aren’t going to be hitting grocery store shelves anytime soon, according to the team.
“We’re never going to be on a supermarket shelf, and that’s not what we set out to do, but we certainly want to be in places that are aligned with the industry and the care that we require for our beer and the passion that we have here. We want to be in these bottle shops that are destinations. It doesn’t benefit us to be in this mass distribution in a Giant supermarket or a 7-Eleven. That’s not where our customers are,” Raines said.
Throughout the year, the brewery will continue to be active in its local community by hosting various events and festivals, according to Raines. Since opening, Aslin held an anniversary party in September that drew 120 breweries and more than 4,000 attendees, according to Raines. Next up is Snow Daze, a winter flea market that will feature about 20 vendors on Dec. 14.
“We’ve just been so blown away by the reception from our customers but also the community, our neighbors and all the people around us and we’re just excited for all the potential we have in the future to work with everybody around us,” Raines said.