STONINGTON — For Aaren Simoncini, the past 12 months have been a year of hard work, little sleep, and sweat. It’s also been a year of growth, and progress, and dreams come true. But mostly, it’s been a year of beer.
Simoncini opened his tiny craft beer shop, Beer’d Brewing, just about a year ago. While keeping his accounting job at StoneRidge, a retirement community in Mystic, Simoncini moved his burgeoning home-brewing operation to the Velvet Mill on Bayview Avenue, thinking that he would work there part time, opening for tasting and sales on weekends.
But after five months of brewing, part-time blossomed into full-time. He left his job at StoneRidge, and began putting 80 or so hours each week into his brewery. And, he’s happy to report, “We’ve kind of been selling out, every single weekend.”
He credits his success so far to sound fiscal management and a product that the public likes. And besides, some consider beer a recession-proof commodity. “People drink when it’s bad times; people drink when it’s good times,” he said.
He started by making three beers. His flagship brew is Whisker’d Wit, an amber-colored wheat beer. He also concocted Midnight Oil, a black oatmeal stout, and Anomaly, a black India pale ale. In all, he’s made 18 different beers in the past year, and three or four are available at a time. Over the past 12 months, Simoncini said, he’s learned what his customers like, and has adjusted accordingly. “It turns out that people really love hoppy beers,” he said.
His initial financing came from his own bank account, and those of his family and friends. Without conventional loans to repay, he has been able to pay himself, double production, and buy new equipment. One of his recent purchases was an automatic keg washer, which reduced keg-washing time from eight hours to two.
“I can dedicate my time to growing the business, and not mundane tasks like washing kegs,” he said.
Before quitting his day job, Simoncini would work from 8 a.m to 5 p.m., at StoneRidge, and then head to the brewery to work until 1 a.m. On Friday nights, Saturdays, and Sundays he was open for tastings and sales of refillable 64-ounce glass growlers. He puts in those same hours now, but all of them in the brewery.
“I don’t want to know what I pay myself hourly,” he said. “It’s been eye-opening, but I really enjoy my time here.”
And, he said, his business continues to grow. Beer’d Brewing hats and T-shirts, and the beer sold on tap at Pizzetta in Mystic, have attracted customers, he said, adding, “We kind of convert them to regulars.”
He has always sold 64-ounce growlers for people to fill, and recently added 32-ounce growlers. “Once a month I have to order a new pallet of glassware,” he said.
Customers have requested that his beer be available at Westerly locations, particulary the Malted Barley on High Street, he said, but crossing state lines with beer is more of a hassle than he has time for right now. He’s too busy brewing and selling.
Simoncini classifies himself as a nano-brewer, although that’s not an official term. In comparing his operation with Cottrell Brewing in Pawcatuck, for example, Simoncini said the amount of beer he’s brewed to date is equal to just a couple of days work at Cottrell. “What they can do in two days took me almost a year,” he said.
He said he’d like to further increase capacity, but he doesn’t want to compromise the quality of the beer to do it. “There’s definitely an intimacy with every drop of beer that I have.”
Simoncini also relies on his longtime girlfriend, Precious Putnam, who works the front of the house with customers while he is in the back, dealing with the beer. “She’s been paramount to running the business,” he said.
Simoncini, a 2004 graduate of Stonington High School, earned a degree in finance from the Rochester Institute of Technology — something that comes in handy when he’s doing the books, whether it’s tax returns or the government paperwork associated with the brewing business. “It’s fun for me at this point in time, because it’s going well,” he said of the pile of financial reports.
Although other craft breweries in the area are his competitors, they’re also his allies. He trained at Cottrell Brewing Co. before he opened Beer’d Brewing, and he buys some supplies through them. He also worked recently with Relic Brewing of Plainville to make parallel batches of a beer they’ve named Nano a Nano.
The two breweries devised the recipe together, and then each made its own batch. Although it’s the same recipe, Simoncini said he was expecting nuanced differences in the two brews. “It’s very cool to have these close-knit relationships with people who are technically your competitors,” he said.
To celebrate his year of beer, Simoncini is holding an anniversary event on Saturday with live bands, commemorative glasses, food, and of course, beer. The event is sold out. For those who couldn’t get tickets, check the beerdbrewing.com website for his regular hours.
“I’m really excited that I made it a year,” he said.