Brutopia bringing unique blend of beer, BBQ to Cranston


Homemade beer and barbecue will arrive in Cranston this spring with the opening of Brutopia Brewery and Kitchen, the city’s first brewpub.

“Beer and barbecue is probably the best combination in America,” said Umberto Sorbo, owner of the Sorbo Restaurant Group.

“Really, it’s about elevating the Rhode Island beer culture,” said Sean Larkin, the establishment’s brewmaster. “Cranston, I thought, deserved its own opportunity to have a brewery.”

Brutopia is currently being constructed at the former home of Sharx Bar and Grill at 505 Atwood Ave., with a planned opening in late April. Along with Larkin, executive chef Wayne Gibson will develop and oversee its offerings.

The establishment will be part of the Sorbo Restaurant Group, which includes the English Cellar Alehouse, Succotash, Coco Pazzo in Providence and La Gazzetta in Miami, Fla. It will feature high-definition televisions and an outdoor garden.

Finding the right kind of food to complement the brewing operation was the primary focus as the project got underway.

“We wanted something that worked amazing with beer,” said Sorbo, noting that steak was considered before barbecue was chosen.

Brutopia’s menu will be prepared using various hardwoods and an artisan hickory pit smoker, providing a rich Southern barbecue flavor. Larkin said he has already written recipes for the in-house brews, and a bar featuring “an eclectic selection of small-batch bourbons” will provide another unique feature.

Larkin said Brutopia is dedicated to exploring the “relationship between beer and wood, and the relationship between bourbon and wood.”

Larkin’s experience in the local brewing scene is extensive. For the last 14 years, he has served as the chief brewing officer for Trinity Brewhouse in Providence. He has also worked with Narragansett on the creation of new brands and quality control and holds creative rights to Narragansett Fest, Narragansett Porter and Narragansett Bock while working with the company on new seasonal styles.

“That sort of kicked off my consulting career,” he said.

The winner of 12 awards at the Great International Beer Festival and a world cup medal in 1996 for his Russian Imperial Stout, Larkin also started Revival Brewing alongside founder and CEO Owen Johnson and creative director Jeff Grantz.

“That sort of broadened my horizons and what I was doing,” he said.

Larkin has since formed the Rhode Island Brewer’s Guild, a means through which brewers can connect and support one another. Brutopia, he said, will have 12 faucets, with six – and at times seven or eight – dedicated to the in-house offerings and the other serving to showcase other locally made brews.

“It shows solidarity,” he said, describing his approach as “celebrating the occupation.”

Larkin said he will train a new brewmaster at Brutopia over the first year, as Revival develops plans for its own brewhouse in Providence. Revival, he said, remains his “first and foremost” pursuit, while his roles with Trinity and Brutopia allow him to foster the growth of others in the business.

“This was a great opportunity for me to set up a brewhouse,” he said of Brutopia. “More or less, it’s sort of spreading out our brewing crew.”

A Providence native, Larkin also speaks of his approach in broader terms. In an industry sometimes mired in competitiveness, and in a state still struggling economically, he said promoting his industry in unique ways benefits the larger community.

“We need to be supportive of products that are manufactured in Rhode Island or close to Rhode Island,” he said. “There’s a bigger picture at hand, which is creating jobs for brewers out there and promoting beer culture…I’m happy with the project.”

Sorbo said the hope is to eventually distribute Brutopia’s homemade beers. He praised both Larkin and Gibson – calling the latter a “Rhode Island staple” – and said he is thrilled with the final product.

“It’s very unique, and it represents a real brewpub,” he said.

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