Akron is getting to know Ron Shea – one pint at a time.
One of the city’s most anticipated brewers, Shea has recently started serving his long-awaited beers at the Mustard Seed store in Highland Square. His own location, R. Shea Brewing, is technically unopened. Instead, the space currently is functioning as a laboratory of sorts where Shea, an ex-chemist, has spent the last several months perfecting his concoctions while waiting for the necessary city paperwork to be processed.
“I’m frustrated that it’s taking longer than expected, but I’m taking this time to put out some really solid beers,” he says. “The new Mustard Seed in Highland Square has been a great partner, as it allows me to up my game even before my own doors are open.”
Although the sign on his taproom door reads, “Opening this winter,” Shea opened up shop in the Mustard Seed a couple months ago. His Rubber City Red, an American amber with caramel malts and roasted barley, and his Akpov’s Bock, a smooth bock with nearly 100 percent Munic malts, both sold out quickly and have received high ratings on the beer review site Untapped.
Leveraging a background in science
Shea, who specialized in full-flavored and malty brews, said he learned to fine-tune his flavors through years of experience in biology and chemistry.
“You will find nearly 20 years of biology and chemistry knowledge and application infused in my beers, not to mention the artistry of flavors that goes with it,” he writes on his website, which chronicles his journey from biology student to chemist to brewer.
After earning bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry from the University of Akron, Shea went on to work for a few specialty chemical companies, including BF Goodrich, completing the coursework for a master’s in polymer chemistry along the way.
“Brewing beer, you’re basically running a chemical plant,” he says, adding that his prior experience working with a high-pressure polymerization reactor has informed his brewing process.
Unlike most brewers, Shea uses a pressurized fermenter, which allows him to eliminate the additional step of carbonating in a separate tank, all while fermenting at a higher temperature (for faster beer), but under pressure (eliminating off-flavors).
“I’ve always been a big proponent of efficiency,” he says. “Work smarter, not necessarily harder.”
He insists on scientific precision, ensuring the purest possible product, down to the water itself.
“I want to use Akron water in it’s purest form, similar to “terroir” in wine tasting,” he explains, noting that Akron has some of the best water around for brewing. “I’m not adulterating it to change its composition. I want my product to ‘be Akron.'”
Staying true to Akron’s roots
Shea envisions a distinctly Akron-themed taproom, complete with photos from former Akron breweries such as Burkhardt Brewing Co. and Renner Brewing. The wooden furniture, including a 20-seat bar and stainless steal equipment, pay tribute, respectively, to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Akron’s industrial heritage.
The taproom, which is expected to hold 90 people, will have 12 beers on tap, several of them with Akron-theme names, such as the Perkins-Williams Lager and Rubber City Red, as well as the Polymer, a caramel espresso stout, caramel being a polymer of sugar molecules, Shea points out.
Shea, who said he plans to serve a spectrum of beers, from IPAs to stouts, wheats and seasonals, as well as some limited food offerings, sees himself fitting comfortably into the growing Akron beer scene.
“I’ve been here all my life, so I know Akron, especially the [Merriman] valley,” he shares. “I want to bring attention to the Akron beer scene, to recognize our city.”
Regarding his proximity to Trailhead Brewery, located just down the road, he says, “I think it’ll be good for the valley. The people coming through the trails have now got two breweries to stop at, two completely different styles of beer.”
Located at 1662 Merriman Rd., the nanobrewry is expected to open sometime this winter.