Denizens Brewing Co. will open its new location in Riverdale Park May 25, an expansion that will allow the company to offer retail sales in the county’s liquor stores, according to Julie Verratti, co-founder and chief brand officer.
“Three or four years ago, if you had asked me about it, I would have told you there’s no way I would ever sell my beer to the DLC, but I actually think that [Department of Liquor Control Director] Bob Dorfman has done a pretty good job in trying to revamp [the department],” Verratti said.
“He’s not 100 percent there yet—I’m not going to say that he is—but he’s trying, and his heart’s in the right place and he’s really put an effort into really improve the customer service,” she added.
The DLC has tweaked the system to allow Denizens to continue to self-distribute its canned products while only allowing the DLC stores—no other licensees —to order and sell those beers.
The additional capacity in Riverdale Park will enable Denizens to brew 75 barrels in a brew day, as opposed to the current 15 barrels, in order to meet the increased demand. It also will ensure that the brewery’s four core beers—Southside Rye IPA, Born Bohemian Pilsner, Third Party Tripel, and Lowest Lord ESB—will be for sale at all times, among other benefits.
“The fact that we’re going to be able to do production of our core beers over in Riverdale means that we don’t have to make them in Silver Spring anymore,” Verratti said, “which gives us so much more flexibility in terms of production, so you’ll be seeing a lot more seasonals coming out, and having them around longer [and more consistently].
“The tightness of what types of beers and how many different kinds of beers we can make has been really tamped down, because we have to use all of our tank space to make sure that we have those four [core] beers available year round,” she continued.
There are also plans to expand the beers that are aged in wood barrels that formerly held spirits such as bourbon, tequila, rum and others.
“Because we moved our canning line over to Riverdale Park, that creates more space in the production area downstairs [in Silver Spring], so we can add more barrels,” Verratti said, “and also because the production schedule is gong to be flexed, we’ll be able to be a little more creative in the seasonals we make.”
The new location is in Riverdale Park Station and includes a 12,000-square-foot production house with a 150-seat taproom. Neighbors in the mixed-use development along Route 1 include Whole Foods Market, Gold’s Gym, and Bella Lifestyle Nail Salon and Spa. The food menu will be the same, at least for the opening, Verratti said, though that could change depending on customers’ taste at the new location.
The company’s experience opening in Prince Georges County differed from the Montgomery County process in several ways, Verrati said.
“You were either a production brewery that did distribution, or you were a brewpub, and all the brewpubs were national chains and they [were] mostly a restaurant, not so much of a brewery,” she said about the time of their original start in Silver Spring.
“For us, we were saying ‘Hey, we want to open this business. We want to sort of feel like a brewpub, but we’re not really a brewpub,’” she added.
So she and co-founders Chief Administrative Officer Emily Bruno and Chief Brewing Officer Jeff Ramirez faced legal and regulatory hurdles, in addition to the usual permitting process to open a county business, prior to opening what amounted to a hybrid business model.
In Prince Georges County, the owners found that there were more inspections than they had to go through than in Montgomery County, which was frustrating. It also cost a lot more to pay for inspections and permits there.
However, there was what Veratti called “one stark difference” to opening a business in Prince Georges County.
“The response and attitude that I get from the folks that are working for the county is one that is warm and embracing and ‘Thank you so much for investing in our community and wanting to build a business here,’” she said, adding she also experienced better cooperation when it came to getting answers from county officials.
“It’s very customer oriented,” Veratti said.
“From the top to the bottom, the culture over in Prince Georges County is coming from a place of ‘We want to invest in our community, we want to grow the economy, we want to support local, independently owned businesses and help them through the process’” she said, while noting that the processes could be improved.
“At least when you’re interacting with folks, you don’t feel like it’s you versus them,” she continued, “whereas Montgomery County, [while] it’s a little more transparent in terms of if you go onto a website, you can get somewhat of a check list. It’s little bit easier in that way logistically speaking, but if you do talk to somebody, it’s like an attitude of ‘Why are you bothering me?’”
There were other issues that cropped up in the co-founders’ home county, Verratti said. For example, they had to pay a $4,000 recordation tax when she and Bruno used their Silver Spring home as collateral for a loan to invest in the expansion in another county.
“It’s such a level of not understanding the risks,” she said. “If Denizens goes down, Emily and I end up being homeless. That’s the level of risk that we’ve taken in order to grow this business.
“That’s an example of where I think Montgomery County needs to probably improve,” Verratti continued. “You’ve got folks who are risking their livelihood, risking their homes to grow the economy in the state of Maryland, why would you make them pay a tax on that? That just seems antithetical to [a] policy that encourages economic growth.”
In the meantime, though, Verratti said, “People should keep expecting that we’re going to continue to be as active as we are in Silver Spring, as we always have been.”
Photo of Riverdale Park brewing tanks courtesy of Denizens.