As most people reading this post are well aware, Rhode Island has the official nickname of The Ocean State. It is appropriately given this name due to its small size (1214 square miles) relative to the total amount of shoreline the state boasts, which is roughly 400 miles. Towns like Narragansett, Westerly, Charlestown and Newport are all well known for their beaches, beautiful views and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. Each one is different in its own right and the town of Westerly is no exception; home to many popular destinations for tourists and locals alike such as Watch Hill, Misquamicut State Beach, as well as the historic Ocean House. It is also gaining notoriety for another local establishment – their very own microbrewery known as Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island. For a brewery tucked away in this small, southwestern shoreline town, they have been producing craft beers well known throughout the state while also gaining some regional buzz for themselves.
Grey Sail is owned and operated by husband/wife duo Jen and Alan Brinton who came to RI in 2000 and, on their 10th wedding anniversary in 2009, decided to “go for it” and open their own microbrewery. As Jen put it, “I wasn’t into beer… that was all Alan. He would homebrew and is a chemical engineer, so it is like second nature to him. Dating back to 1998 he already had ideas for some type of brewpub or microbrewery.” While taking care of their children (finding out Jen was also expecting as they were working on opening the brewery) and both having full time jobs already, they were able to find a home for Grey Sail in Westerly. The building they found has known many industries, starting out as a macaroni factory and then later evolving into the US Post Office parcel service building. When heavy rain and floods came in 2010 the building was submerged in water and the town wasn’t sure what would happen to it but in 2011 Jen and Alan purchased it, giving a different type of business the chance to thrive within the historic property. “We love the location and the town. We have grown with the space and have done it on our own (with a little help and funding from close friends and family). Ultimately we want to keep this a small, family business… something one day we can hopefully pass down to our children.” If one thing is for certain, not only does a sense of family and pride exist within Grey Sail, they are also passionate about the community and producing quality craft beers for all to appreciate.
A closer look at the lineup of Grey Sail beers shows a well-balanced selection of styles for both novices and enthusiasts to choose from. As Jen explains, “There is the Flagship (a cream ale), a beer that Alan wanted as a gateway into craft beer. Flying Jenny (an extra pale ale) is one that Alan and Josh Letourneau (head brewmaster) came up with. And Leaning Chimney (a smoked porter) is one that came from Josh because he felt like there were not many of that particular style out there.” Jen went on to say, “It felt like most breweries come out the gate with an IPA because it is a style that will most likely sell. We asked ourselves, can we succeed without one? We went our first 3 years establishing ourselves without having one.” Eventually they did launch an IPA, in two different varieties. Pour Judgement can be found in cans (which originally was brewed as a draft beer for the bar Pour Judgement in Newport), along with the highly sought after and well recognized imperial IPA, Captain’s Daughter. For a year round beer, Captain’s Daughter almost seems to have its own cult following and tends to sell out the moment it hits store shelves. Rounding out the lineup in cans is Great Ketch (an imperial India Pale Lager) and the soon to be released Black Mast (an American stout), their newest addition. There are also seasonal releases like Hazy Day (a summer Belgian Wit) and Autumn Winds (an Oktoberfest style ale) that fans should keep an eye out for. With so many different styles and offerings being produced, Grey Sail has worked hard establishing a name for themselves in the RI craft beer community.
While Grey Sail takes pride in producing quality craft beers they also strive to put family first all while supporting their community as a whole. As an owner of a local microbrewery, a Member of the Board of Directors for the Westerly Chamber of Commerce as well as the RI Brewers Guild, and a nominee for the Westerly Land Trust Board of Directors, Jen has her plate full but says that “I’m still a full time mom. Alan and I said when we first started that our family (more specifically our kids) will always be a priority.” That same value of putting family first also carries over into their extended brewery family which Jen attributes as one of the two biggest reasons why they are successful. “Everyone that works on our staff has approached us to work here, we have never posted any jobs. We want to embrace that sense of family with our staff, and we are ultimately successful because of the people.” The other component of their success and what has helped put them in their current position are their distributors, McLaughlin and Moran. “When we were first starting off we wondered, who will sell our beer? They came on board day one and we have been working with them ever since.” Even with the company doing as well as it is, they still take time to support the community and give back as much as they can. Jen explained, “We try to never say no to a charity. We enjoy helping to contribute to others in and around the community.” One event they started at the brewery that helps raise awareness and promote local non-profit organizations is called Cheers for Charity. On a Friday night, after brewery hours, a group can come in and host their own fundraising event, with 100% of the profits raised going towards their charitable cause. While beer itself might be the driving force behind Grey Sail, it is the positive approach internally and externally that most certainly attributes to their overall success.
From being an owner of Grey Sail, to her involvement with the RI Brewers Guild, Jen is invested in seeing not only her own brewery succeed but also craft beer as a whole continue to grow and do well in the state. “The Brewers Guild is working hard to promote RI and the quality beers being produced here. The brewers can benefit as we grow and it leads to opportunities to create more jobs and expand the culture of craft beer here as well.” Along with a growing industry throughout the state, Grey Sail itself is also currently experiencing an exciting growth period. They recently purchased the house next to the brewery which is in the process of becoming their new tasting room area: a historic, fun, quirky and relaxing space for visitors to come enjoy samples of their beers, while their the old tasting room will eventually be used primarily as a space to get growlers filled. The brewery building also has plans in the works to expand onto the property on the opposite side which will double their brewing capacity. “We worked with the town on securing both new property spaces and our goal is to tie all three spaces together,” said Jen. Grey Sail has been brewing up quite the scene down in their small coastal town of Westerly. From the quality selection of beers, to additional brewery space providing more room for visitors to come enjoy said collection, it seems like there is no slowing down this RI microbrewery. As they embrace the community, support local and promote a family oriented company environment, Grey Sail continues to shed a positive light on brewing craft beer here in Rhode Island. I’d like to close out this post with a very big thank you to Jen Brinton for her time, personal perspective and thoughtful contributions. And a special thanks to Cara Lieffers (Director of Sales) & Thomas Rivera (IT Manager & Marketing Assistant) for all of their help, positive insight and brewery knowledge. On behalf of Prost Providence, I raise my glass and Prost Grey Sail Brewing!
(Go over and visit the Grey Sail website (www.greysailbrewing.com) for details about their beer lineup, the brewery/crew and Cheers for Charity. You can also find them on Twitter (@GreySail) and Instagram (@greysail) to see what’s available on draft in the tasting room and other brewery related info).