Stonington - When accountant and beer enthusiast Aaren Simoncini began turning space in the former American Velvet Mill into a brewery last year, he never imagined that just two months after opening the Beer'd Brewing Co. he would already be breaking even.
"It's just been wonderful. Way better than where I thought we'd be," he said last week as his brother removed used grain from a brewing tank. "We couldn't be happier with the way it's been received."
"We've had a lot of local people walk in here and say I'm here to pick up my growler for the weekend," added his girlfriend and business partner Precious Putnam.
Simoncini, who is the lead accounting coordinator at Stone Ridge retirement community in Mystic, said that he and Putnam were conservative in starting the brewery. With student loans to pay off, they resisted the temptation of taking out a big loan to fund a bigger operation because they did not want to face a lot of debt with the uncertainty of a new business. In addition, they are still holding down full-time jobs elsewhere.
Instead, they decided to start small, producing about 150 barrels the first year and then slowly growing.
"Anheuser-Busch spills more than that in an hour," he joked. "Our game plan is to upsize as we go along. The more people that come in, the more beer we will offer."
Simoncini said that he's had requests from area restaurants to serve his beer but at this point he can not meet that demand. The brewery's flagship ale, Whisker'd Whit, a Belgian whit with 5.2 percent alcohol and a orange Curacao finish, is sold at Pizzetta in Mystic. He said he's even had people offer to become investors.
Simoncini got interested in beer making when he took a course as a senior at the Rochester Institute of Technology, called "Beers of the World."
When he graduated from RIT in 2008 and moved back home to Mystic to take the position at StoneRidge, his mother encouraged him to find a hobby to fill up his free time. So the Stonington High School graduate began to make beer in his kitchen. He soon outgrew that space and moved out to the garage.
He then volunteered at the Cottrell Brewing Co. in Pawcatuck, which offered him valuable insight into the industry.
Last year, with the help of friends and family, he spent several months getting permits and renovating 2,100 square feet of space in the velvet mill into a "nanobrewery."
Customers can come in, sample beers at the tasting bar and have their growlers filled to take home. Simoncini is always on hand to talk about the brewing process, which patrons can see from where they sit.
Simoncini is excited about a change in state law that will allow him to run a cross between a brewery and brew pub once he receives the approvals. The major change is that he would be able to sell pints of beer for onsite consumption by his patrons, something he said would attract more customers.
Only the Whisker'd Whit, which is a wheat beer similar to mass-produced Blue Moon, is served all the time. The two or three other offerings are one-time creations that Simoncini developed during that time in his kitchen and garage.
This means there's always a new beer to sample. On occasion, Simoncini said he will make a second batch of a beer if there is a demand for it which is what occurred recently for a black IPA aptly named Anomaly. Each batch of three barrels or 93 gallons takes two to three weeks to brew.
"The whole concept is to brew one at a time," he said.
Simoncini has been marketing the brewery through Facebook and Twitter.
"And the word of mouth has been amazing," he said. "The public is finding us."
He said the surrounding neighborhood, the artists and other businesses in the thriving mill complex as well as other breweries such as Cottrell, Grey Sail Brewing Co. of Westerly and the Willimantic Brewing Co. have all been supportive.
"In this industry the tide floats all boats. You see support in this industry that you don't see in other business," he said about the help he's received from the other breweries.
In addition, Simoncini was asked to serve his beer for a Christmas party at Saltwater Farm, a winery located a mile down the road.
The brewery got a big boost in November when an opening event was held for 100 "founders" who paid $100 each to get a special edition growler, glasses, a hat and lifetime discounts on refills.
Simoncini said the event, which attracted 160 people, not only generated revenue but increased interest in the brewery.
The success the business has had so far has allowed Simoncini to invest in some new equipment that increases efficiency and cut brewing time.
Running the brewery, meanwhile, has become a second full-time job for he and Putnam.
"All this labor is a labor of love. Its not work for me to talk to people about something I enjoy doing," he said.