By Rod Lee
In taking time the morning of February 23rd to talk about the Cornerstone Award he and partner Kevin Mulvehill received at the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce’s recent 40th annual meeting, Brian Distefano admitted that running a small craft brew company like Purgatory Beer can be a humbling experience.
“I was halfway to Milford and had to come back to fix a tap,” Mr. Distefano said, while unlocking the door to Building C at the Linwood Mill in Whitinsville and welcoming a visitor to the address.
At other moments, it might be a lightbulb.
“Everything happens at once!” he said, with a smile.
Such is life these days for two friends from Sutton whose knack for manufacturing an unforgettable taste in brews like “Miss Swiss” and “Blackstone River Black IPA” matches the distinctive glasses in which their creations are served at a number of area restaurants including the new Brickstone Kitchen on Worcester-Providence Turnpike in Sutton—and at two local golf courses.
Heading into St. Patrick’s Day, when Purgatory Beer’s quarters will jump with live Irish music, Mr. Distefano said business is “going great, absolutely. The town has been supportive every step of the way, our products are good, we have tripled capacity in less than a year.”
Thus the realization that with success, and with the craft brew industry “growing exponentially” across the nation year by year, comes the need to think bigger.
“We always want to have this be our home, which is beautiful,” Mr. Distefano said of the first level of an old mill store house that he and Mr. Mulvehill worked hard to transform into an inviting neighborhood brewery complete with an outdoor patio. “But we are thinking about expanding our brewing operation, which would take that aspect of it out of this building.”
When that happens, their brewing will be occurring close by, he said.
Their experience is indicative of an explosion of activity in the trade. According to Barron’s “Market Watch,” the number of breweries in the U.S. has doubled from 3000 in 2012 to more than 6000, with cities like Reno, Nevada, Bowling Green, Kentucky, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Spokane, Washington, Minneapolis, Minnesota and Lincoln, Nebraska joining such traditional iconic beer centers as Milwaukee and Denver as “hot spots.”
From the outset of what the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce referred to as the bringing to fruition of “a pipe dream” by the young entrepreneurs in saluting them for their achievement, Purgatory Beer Co. has earned praise. The principals’ applications for the required licenses and ultimately for a farmer series pouring permit and common victualler license from the Northbridge Board of Selectmen were approved without a snag; indeed with enthusiasm. They were on their way.
Relationships forged with various establishments around the Blackstone Valley have helped Purgatory Beer Co. solidify its standing. In the summertime there are food trucks. Starting soon, Mr. Distefano said, “Brickstone Kitchen will have a popup here.” There will be a pierogi truck. Anzio’s Brick Oven Pizza on Westboro Rd. in North Grafton, utilizing its “multiple pizza ovens,” will be providing pizza on Friday’s beginning in April. Corner Pizza & Grill on Church St. in downtown Whitinsville delivers, “which is awesome,” as does Hide-A-Way Pizza on Uxbridge Rd. in Mendon.
Dino Dacosta at Nick’s Country Market on Boston Road in Wilkinsonville is “a huge supporter,” Mr. Distefano said. “He told us, I just want to support you guys” (commenting on the varieties of Purgatory Beer he carries at Nick’s on February 25th, Mr. Dacosta said “whatever they bring to me sells out pretty fast”).
To their “originals”—“Dirty Swan” and “Murgatroyd Pilz Pale Ale”—Mr. Distefano and Mr. Mulvehill have continued to add new brews; among these “Double Dutch” (an “autumnal”) and “Hop Dagg’r NE IPA”).
An eye toward quality goes hand in hand with a desire to not settle. “Certain beers everyone wants, we try to make them better,” Mr. Distefano said. Likewise, the urge to step ever forward with their dream.
“In some ways we’re ahead of where we thought we would be, in meeting our expectations, and looking to get to the next level,” Mr. Distefano said.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.