Naptown Pintcast: Julie & Emily, Denizens Brewing Co.

Surprise! I’m dropping two episodes in one day, today, and here’s the second… 

If you’re into Maryland beer, and you haven’t heard of Julie Verratti and Emily Bruno of Denizens Brewing Co., can you tell me about the rock you’ve been living under? Does it have a walk-in closet? How’s the square footage? Are utilities included?

Okay, that was a bit rude, and I’m sorry.

For those unfamiliar, Julie and Emily are married. And along with Emily’s brother (and now brewmaster) Jeff Ramirez, founded Denizens Brewing in Silver Spring three years ago. (In fact, I wrote about their story and their anniversary earlier this year.)

In that (relatively) short amount of time, they’ve made a name for themselves in both Maryland and Washington, D.C., for their beer, their space, and their authenticity, as well as their voice.

Julie and Emily’s journey toward opening Denizens with Jeff didn’t follow a conventional path, with both possessing an extensive professional background in government, political organizing and humanitarian work.

However, their education and experience have not only helped them define and flourish in their current roles as brewery owners, it has also empowered them to take on a more active role within the community regarding social justice issues, as well as the legislative challenges facing brewers at local, state and national levels.

For example, Julie recently served as a member of the Reform on Tap Task Force and was also elected to the board of the Brewers Association.

Following the second town hall meeting of the Reform on Tap Task Force, which took place at Denizens earlier this year, I had a chance to sit down and talk with Julie and Emily about a wide range of topics, including:

  • How they moved from careers in the government and humanitarian work to the craft beer industry.
  • The story of how they convinced Jeff to join them in opening Denizens.
  • Managing work-life balance as business owners and a married couple.
  • Advice for startup brewers, and what they may not realize are getting into.
  • Julie’s experience on the Reform on Tap Task Force, and how it gave a voice to the brewers and provided an opportunity for concrete policy discussion.
  • The emerging imbalance between the supply of a limited number of available wholesalers and the demand of a growing community of small craft brewers.
  • Why, in spite of Maryland’s reputation, Julie and Emily wanted to start a Maryland brewery, not a Virginia brewery.
  • Why Montgomery County functions differently than the rest of the state — and the country — when it comes to the regulation and distribution of alcohol.
  • The grey area of alcohol regulation and morality-based policy-making.
  • How they express their position as a community gathering place in Silver Spring through the beer they choose to make.
  • Why Maryland beer drinkers should embrace Silver Spring as part of the state, and not Washington, D.C.
  • And much more…

Okay, Here’s the Episode

“My first year, it was total mayhem. I wasn’t getting a salary from Denizens; I was obviously getting a salary from my day job. So, I would work nine to five — sometimes more than that. And then, at night, I would go around to bars and restaurants and try to sell our beer. And sometimes I would still be wearing my government ‘Went to work today!’ outfit with my little briefcase on my shoulder, trying to talk to people.”

“[At a brewery], you never feel like you’re actually going to work. And that can be bad as a business owner, because you need to create work-life balance for yourself. Especially being married. We could literally work from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep.”

“I have a job that allows me to combine my previous experience in being a political organizer and community organizer with beer and sales. And that is something I absolutely love.”

“You do everything as a business owner. Unless you’re just flush with cash, you can afford to hire experienced people for all of the roles, you are literally doing everything. For the first year and a half, I cleaned the toilets. I cleaned the bathrooms every day. And I still do all the landscaping.”

“And then [House Bill 1283] came out of the corner and created a scenario where it helped Guinness — but it wasn’t exactly what Guinness wanted. It definitely helped the wholesalers and the retailers. And it completely fucked the breweries that were Maryland homegrown businesses. We were left off the table. We were thrown under the bus. We were completely ignored. And when we tried to advocate for ourselves, we were chastised like we were children.”

“I think people are uncomfortable [at the Reform on Tap Task Force meetings] and that’s okay. Because there is change that’s coming.”

“There are a limited number of wholesalers and more breweries, so at some point, the supply and demand doesn’t work out for small breweries.”

“It’s important for any new brewery opening up to have a point of view and to do it in a way that’s authentic.”

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