Drinking

Drink Well, Drink Local: A brief interview with an aspiring brewmaster

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As any beer fanatic will tell you, craft beer has gone mainstream over the past decade. Craft breweries account for approximately 20% of all retail beer sales in the US, and at a time when overall beer sales are plateauing or declining, craft beer continues to grow. However, there is tremendous competition for your beer money – it is estimated that there are over 5,000 breweries currently operating in America. Ten years ago, there were approximately 1,500.

Perhaps no one is more aware of this than Drew Rodgers. For most beer enthusiasts, owning a brewery would be a dream come true. Pretty soon, Drew will be living that dream – he intends to open Barley Head Brewery in his hometown of Mystic, CT, this April. Although he doesn’t envision having a flagship beer, Drew admits he is “on a personal quest to help the world appreciate dark, hoppy beers” and he plans to offer a rotating ‘single hop’ series or mix of hop combinations over the same malt base. In addition, he has some more experimental brews queued up, such as a Stout recipe utilizing Belgian yeast.

Drew matriculated at Vassar College and had a taste of big city life in NYC, but he soon returned to Connecticut and began working at the Cottrell Brewing Company in 2008. (You may remember the distinctive packaging and smooth taste of Cottrell’s “Old Yankee Ale”, but sadly, the brewery no longer has retail distribution into Massachusetts.) Working at a small brewery during the craft beer explosion of the past decade gave him firsthand insight into just how competitive the industry can be. Drew summarized it succinctly: “We used to have to convince a bar to take our small brand over a large brand. By the time I left, we would have to convince them to take our small brand over another small brand.”

After spending a few years as the Head Brewer at Cottrell, experimenting with recipes and honing his skills, Drew decided to strike out on his own. But, like most in the industry, Drew had a lot more experience brewing beer than he did with running a business, and he encountered some unanticipated challenges with commercial zoning and copyright laws. He originally had another name in mind for the brewery; however, very late in the process, he discovered that the name had been copyrighted by another brewing company, despite it not currently being in use. Drew had no choice but to change the name of his business, which meant re-submitting a variety of forms and permit applications to reflect the new name. Despite having endured the uniquely soul-crushing drudgery of navigating through mountains of legal paperwork, his outlook remains positive: “If you’re doing what you love, and you’re making a living doing it, what could be better than that?”

Listening to Drew talk about his experience launching a new brewery, it became obvious that he doesn’t see the rise in craft breweries over the past decade as additional competition. Instead, it’s a simply reflection of people being more willing to experiment and try new beers. “Follow your passion and make the beer you want to drink,” he says. “People will respond to that.”

Barley Head Brewery is located at 12 Water St., Unit 1A, Mystic, CT. Visit their website at BarleyHeadBrewery.com or find them on Facebook!

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