Salem’s historical background and year-round fondness for skeletons, spirits, and haunts offer up a freebie concept for any brewery mulling over the town as a possible location: Lean into the spookiness when designing the space and developing a tap list. Lafayette Street’s Couch Dog Brewing, which opened doors last June, pays tribute to The Witch City’s character with Portergeist, one of two dark beers on the menu.
But the brewery actually draws more personality from the Korean-American heritage of one of its cofounders. Adam Shoemaker and his partner, Alli, got their start home brewing, as many brewery owners do, experimenting with flavors and ingredients uncommon in modern craft beer, but staples in Korean kitchens. “I think it’s a lot like cooking in some ways,” Shoemaker says about their approach to brewing. “It’s knowing what flavors you have access to, knowing the best ways to get that flavor into your beer.”
Visits to H Mart are a source of inspiration. There, they find Korean herbs like tart mugwort and minty perilla, and fruits like maesil (Korean green plums) to incorporate into beer styles popular with American craft consumers: IPA, pale ale, sour ale.
“We’re trying to add something new to the scene,” Shoemaker says, “something that we haven’t seen at too many other places. Every year there’s more and more great beer, and great places to drink it. But we’re excited if we can offer something that people haven’t experienced, or something new.”
Mint in IPA is certainly new, or at the very least, rare, which makes the Perilla IPA an instant standout in Couch Dog’s lineup. There are only so many ways even veteran hopheads can describe flavor profiles in hop-heavy beers: tropical, citrusy, juicy. That crowd might gravitate toward Perilla IPA right away. It’s the most popular style on the market going back 20 years, after all, so Shoemaker and Alli fully expect people to order theirs.
“But then we might convince them to get a flight and try some other beers, and then we get a whole range of answers to what each person’s favorite was in the flight,” Shoemaker says. It could be the Five Spice Wheat Beer, or the Session Rice Ale with yuzu, another East Asian mainstay “We try to nudge people out of their comfort zone,” Shoemaker explains. If part of the fun for him and Alli is broadening the palate, it’s natural they’d want to pass that fun on to their customers.
Acclimating Couch Dog to Salem’s culture is part of the goal, too. “I love it when a brewery is unique to a location and a time, and does its own thing,” Shoemaker professes. “I think there’s something nice about the craft scene when it can highlight the area that it’s in.” Couch Dog uses Salem water with grains malted in Massachusetts, as the base for its Korean-influenced beers—one of the keys of Couch Dog’s mission.
The other, Shoemaker jokes, is to “get as many dogs in [the space] as possible.” The brewery’s name and logo is a nod to their own dog, a Jindo mix, who, as one might guess, likes lounging. That’s crucial for keeping the brewery’s atmosphere relaxed, right alongside the rest of the brewery’s standout details. “Some of it’s the beer, some of it’s the people they go with, and some of it is the space,” says Shoemaker.
He and Alli want Couch Dog to reflect comfort while highlighting her roots. But they’re making a community within a community, too—a place where they can get to know Salem’s locals and their brewery can become a part of their lives.
76 Lafayette St., Salem, couchdogbrewing.com