A quick loop through the Westport area (including Tiverton and Little Compton) is all it takes to stock your kitchen with fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and dairy products produced by the region’s many great farms. But all that shopping sure can make a locavore thirsty. Westport has that covered too, with Just Beer – a family-owned brewery tucked away among the fields and farmhouses east of Route 88 and the Westport River.
The Russell family began as winemakers, and they have owned and operated the Westport Rivers Vineyard and Winery for over 25 years. Although a very different production process, beer was a natural extension of the wine business. Owner Bill Russell playfully notes, “It takes a lot of beer to make good wine.” The Russells entered the market with Buzzards Bay Brewing Co. in 1997, and as they honed the kind of beer they wanted to make, it led to launching the Just Beer brand four years ago.
Russell proudly defines Just Beer as “American-grown.” All ingredients are produced in the United States and are sourced from Massachusetts and Rhode Island whenever possible, though with limited options for certain items - like malts and hops - there is a strong Midwestern contribution as well. The offerings vary throughout the year, with about six brews during summer and two to four during the winter months. All brews are bottled as 22-ounce “bombers,” a heftier serving than the standard 12-ounces, and are packaged 12 to a case. (Note: the Buzzards Bay brand has been dormant for quite some time, and production of it is currently under the Just Beer label; however, Russell hints that Buzzards Bay and its 12-ounce flavors may one day rise again.)
The inspiration behind Just Beer, according to Russell, is “community,” and the blue-collar values embodied by folks like farmers and fishermen, that are an indelible imprint from Fall River to New Bedford. As Russell describes, “we love beer, but it’s not about the beer – it’s about you. The beer is nice to drink but it’s not meant to wax poetically about. It’s meant to accompany you as you sit with friends and family around a table and talk about what’s going on in your life.” While jokingly referring to Just Beer as the “anti-brand,” Russell adds, “It’s not going to appeal to erudite metropolitan folks looking for trendy, sophisticated, international flavors. It’s best served cold and goes down smooth… It’s meat and potatoes. That fits the local culture.”
Just Beer’s most popular flavor is Golden Flounder, a summer brew that Russell describes as an “unfiltered cascade classic American hop, with a little wheat malt to give it some sweetness… A clean, fresh citrus taste for easy drinking.” This season’s most special brew, however, will be Semper FiPA, a “hoppy, classic good drinking beer,” available now and throughout the summer. All profits from Semper FiPA will be donated to support the friends and family of the United States Marine Corps 2/2 Warlords, a battalion based in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Funds are currently being raised to install a memorial at Camp Lejeune for the fallen heroes of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and Russell promises that once that’s done, a new goal will be set. With his son active in the Marine Corps, Russell notes that “[donating the profits] isn’t just a PR stunt, this is our life.”
Just Beer can be found at a handful of restaurants and liquor stores in Westport, Dartmouth and New Bedford, including the Westport Rivers Vineyard; unfortunately, their beer is not sold in Rhode Island just yet. Beer can also be purchased at the brewery (just down the street from Westport Rivers Vineyard), which is open Saturdays 11am-5pm, in addition to Thursday and Friday evenings during the summer. Russell notes that the hours can be a bit “fickle” and it’s best to get updates on their website or Twitter (@ItsJustBeer).
Just Beer is also part of the summer Friday Night Music series at Westport Rivers Vineyard. Starting on June 22 and running to September 7, a series of local artists and songwriters will grace the vineyard lawn, playing a mix of blues and Americana. Admission is only $7 per car, picnics are encouraged, and beer and wine are available for sale.