This former biotech executive left her day job to open her own brewery - and Samuel Adams is taking note
- Beverly Armstrong made her career as a biotech industry executive, but her passion was rugby, which she played semi-professionally for 15 years.
- While playing rubgy internationally, she developed a love for session beers that were shared by competitors after rugby matches.
- When she returned home, she began brewing her own session beers and eventually opened up her own brewing company, called Brazo Fuerte. It's the first owned by a woman in the state of Massachusetts and the second owned by an African American in the US.
- She's now teaming up with The Boston Beer Company, the brewer behind Samuel Adams beers, to release a limited-edition beer later this year.
In the early 2000s, Beverly Armstrong was just your typical biotech industry executive with expertise in both the legal and finance arenas. While her career was a success, it wasn't the main passion in her life. That title belonged to rugby, a sport that Armstrong played at the semi-pro level for more than 15 years. On the field, she was a force to be reckoned with, earning the nickname Brazo Fuerte - or Strong Arm - during a trip she and her team made to play rugby in Spain.
That nickname wasn't the only thing Armstrong picked up while overseas, it would turn out; she also got the germ of an idea that would not only change her life, but that would eventually change the way many people think about beer and about brewers.
One of the most beloved aspects of any rugby game comes after the match has wrapped; the two teams come together to share a few post-game beers, burying the hatchet after any rough plays and enjoying the camaraderie that comes with any good sporting event.
While playing on foreign tours, Armstrong developed an affinity for the full-flavored, lower-alcohol beers favored by international clubs. Commonly referred to as session beers, these low-ABV brews allowed the players to share many rounds together without anyone getting too far into their cups.
Back in America, Armstrong searched for decent session beers she could bring to these post-game drink-ups. She had a hard time finding one with enough flavor to satisfy, yet with a low-enough alcohol content not to stupefy.
"So I just started brewing at home," Armstrong said.
And for many years, she kept brewing. The full-flavored, low-ABV beers she created in her kitchen were a hit with fellow players, and the more time and energy she devoted to brewing, the more Armstrong began to realize that her life had room for yet another passion. Soon, it was no longer about finding the perfect beer for post-rugby toasts; it was about making the best beers possible for anyone and everyone interested in superlative session beers.
Making friends with the competition
Armstrong founded Brazo Fuerte Artisanal Beer hoping to satisfy beer drinkers who thirsted for a quaffable, tasty brew that they could enjoy round after round. Establishing a brewery is hard work - it requires long hours, serious investment, patience, passion, and a veritable scythe for slicing through red tape.
After hearing the origin story of Brazo Fuerte, I asked Armstrong if being an African-American woman entering what has long been a white man's realm threw up obstacles for Brazo Fuerte. Her answer? "No."
As it turns out, she says, the greater professional "brewing community is a welcoming and supportive group of people," so much so that her biggest source of support would be a company one might, at first blush, think of as a competitor: The Boston Beer Company, the brewer behind the Samuel Adams beers.
Through the Samuel Adams-supported Brewing the American Dream initiative, Armstrong was selected for a 2017 Brewing and Business Experienceship, which comes with a comprehensive program of mentorship, firsthand experience, coaching, and a lot of beer tasting, too.
Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams, personally worked with Armstrong on multiple occasions, and the two developed a warm camaraderie.
When I met with Amstrong a few weeks ago, she was sampling some of the latest beers developed by Samuel Adams. We sat with one of the Boston Beer Company's head brewers, Jennifer Glanville, and also got to stop by the (sort-of) secretive nano brewery within the larger facility, where Megan Parisi is in charge of developing new recipes for the latest brews.
Where Armstrong hopes Brazo Fuerte beers will have the greatest impact is not with the existing craft beer community - not exclusively, at any rate.
"I want people from all different cultures, all ethnic backgrounds, to realize that good beer is theirs to enjoy," she said.
In short, Armstrong knows how to make a good beer; one that anyone who appreciates a good beer can enjoy. And she knows that people everywhere, from myriad cultures, backgrounds, and regions will enjoy said beers if they can just be reached and convinced to try a sip or two.
And when Brazo Fuerte and Samuel Adams team up to release a special limited-edition partnership brew later this year, you can bet that a lot of people are in for a treat. Just what they'll brew up, we'll have to wait to see.
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