Chief among the things commonly said to be recession-proof is alcohol, but this pandemic and subsequent economic crisis has had an impact on virtually every small business in the country, including local brewery Beer’d Brewing Company, with locations in Stonington Borough and Groton (temporarily closed for the winter). The owners, however, remain hopeful and hard at work to keep their dreams on tap.
Aaren Simoncini and Precious Putnam met in their freshman year of college and, as they share on the brewery’s website, their love for one another blossomed quickly but their passion for brewing beer took a little more time to develop. Inspired by an elective course called Beers of the World, they began tinkering with home brewing while they each worked full time in professions that required a lot of care – Aaren at a retirement center, Precious with the Disabilities Network of Eastern Connecticut, where she helped individuals with disabilities obtain and maintain employment. After a few years and plenty of small batches shared with friends, the two decided to take the leap from hobby brewers to professionals, founding Beer’d Brewing in Aaren’s home state of Connecticut.
“My husband is the brains behind this, and he had a vision that seemed unrealistic at the time,” Precious explained. “A 15-barrel system when we were just establishing ourselves and our careers and dealing with student loans – we knew it would be difficult to get it off the ground, but we gathered the courage to start small and factor in the risks, and that helped. We’ve always been realistic, but dream motivated.”
Aaren was able to fully commit to Beer’d within six months of opening, while Precious continued her work with DNEC until recently, juggling the two careers until she was able to hire and train a suitable replacement for herself and ensure she would leave people in good care.
Attention to detail and a deep level of care on an individual level has been part of their recipe for success from day one. “We’ve been able to be very grassroots from the start,” Precious said. “Every single ounce was made and poured by us. We were the first behind the bar, the first to be talking about the product, and our customer base appreciated that – and we appreciate them!”
That strong foundation, laid brick by brick and pour by pour, is essential for any new business, but particularly in the potentially volatile restaurant industry.
Becoming business partners with your romantic partner is also a risk, but the two have found strength in this new adventure together. “Strategic” was a word often-repeated by Precious during our conversation, used to describe everything from recipe creation to label design and expansion plans, which makes sense of course – but she also used it to describe how they divide up the work between them.
“We have so much respect for one another, and we know how to divide and conquer and create one strong unit out of two,” she explained. “We’re lucky because we’re able to see our own and each other’s strengths and balance each other out. I’ll say ‘you do this well, so I’ll let you take the lead on that and I’m going to respect your process and know you’ll make that a sound section of our business,’ and he’ll say the same.”
Two people creating one business that now employs a staff of 23 – their strategies appear to be working quite well.
“We can jump in and get our hands dirty at any time, but our staff is a blessing, and they are the pulse of our business,” Precious said. “We try to stay humble and just appreciate the years we’ve had and not take them for granted as we continue to grow, slowly and organically.”
Choosing and crafting the latest recipes is a team effort – the group meets to discuss what they most want to brew, what’s new and different in the world of beer, and what they can add to it.
“Seasonality is important, of course,” Precious explained. “What hops are available, and what do we see as a trend without being too trendy? We always make sure that we’re brewing what we genuinely enjoy ourselves, too. There are so many factors.”
The group creates lots of recipes, but only a few can make it to the brewing stage – and with that also comes the challenge of naming it and designing a creative but appropriate label, for which there are strict regulations, similar to those in place for big tobacco.
“Label design is very important,” Precious shared. “We want to make sure it’s appealing, but not appealing to kids, and we also can’t entice people to drink, or potentially mislead anyone.”
Beer’d relies on Dan Hamilton, a Connecticut artist, to design their labels within the required guidelines but still outside the box enough to be unique.
Naming a beer is also tricky sometimes, simply because of how many breweries exist now, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Sometimes the team will come up with a name they love but it never comes to fruition because it’s already been used, which is how Beer’d wound up with an American IPA cleverly named “Already Taken.”
Designing can labels has become an even larger project than usual during this pandemic, since there has been a pivot to more cans and fewer draft lines.
“Bars and restaurants are fearful of being shut down again at any time, so draft is basically dead until that industry is back up and running like normal,” Precious explained. “Before Covid, it was a different story – we could do a draft-only line, and a lot of our beer was just that.”
Cans, on the other hand, are more stable, they last longer, and they can be incorporated into curbside/to-go opportunities. Rather than stop everything that they had done traditionally, the Beer’d crew decided to be creative and adapt to the new model, offering canned versions of lines that had previously been draft-only while still allowing pre-orders of certain drafts.
Adaptation and resilience are the names of the game for any restaurant, but especially in 2020. The couple went into 2020 with certain goals for the year and felt that 2019 had set them up for success. Obviously, most of those goals had to be set aside, to be picked back up again in 2021 or beyond.
Precious remains optimistic, however, as she was at the start of this endeavor: “2020 showed us just how resilient we can be. When we started this business 8 years ago, we were scared but fought through it, and this year has taught me that I still have that strength and that passion. I think with time, it’s easy to become numb to things like that, but this has just reinstated what it means to be a business owner, to be a part of your community, and to stay on your toes. You can’t just sit back and let things happen, you have to go out and do it. So we’ve just been asking ‘how can we be stronger and more supportive of our network?’ We need to take care of each other.”
You can take part in a delicious way by picking up some fresh (or appropriately aged!) beer from the brewery at the Velvet Mill in Stonington.