Monroe’s Veracious Brewing Co. was not the first craft brewery in Fairfield County, and it isn’t the largest — but that’s not to say that it hasn’t made its presence felt.
“There weren’t a lot of breweries around when we started” in 2015, said Mark Szamatulski, who, with his wife Tess, co-owns both Veracious and home brewing and wine making supply store Maltose Express, next door at 246 Main St. “A lot of the people who used to come here to drink have now gone off and started their own.
“We’re kind of victims of our own success,” Szamatulski added with a laugh, though he said there’s still plenty of room for brewers nearby. Bad Sons, Nod Hill and Charter Oak opened over the past couple of years in Derby, Ridgefield and Danbury, respectively, and Reverie joined the crowd in Newtown earlier this year. Another Newtown brewery, Asylum, hopes to open around Labor Day.
Veracious’ output of 1,000 barrels a year is a far cry from the approximately 60,000 that Stratford brewing behemoth Two Roads puts out annually, but that kind of production has never been the Szamatulskis’ plan.
Noting that Two Roads is now distributed in over a dozen states as well as in the U.K., Szamatulski said “I’ll be happy” if Veracious is available in 100 restaurants and liquor stores by the end of this year. It’s currently at about 35 eateries and 18 package stores.
The business is home to such brews as: 29 Pews, an American IPA named after the 29 repurposed church pews with which Veracious paneled its tasting room walls; Goldens Summer, which won the gold medal for light golden ale at the 2018 Great International Beer, Cider, Mead & Sake Competition; and seasonal concoctions like blueberry-flavored Bloobs wheat ale and Big Scotty scotch ale. Veracious has 19 beers on tap and several ready to rotate in at any given moment.
Szamatulski said that while the taproom — open from Thursdays through Sundays — “is finally taking off,” draught sales at restaurants and canned sales at package stores have remained strong.
Key to the taproom is its staff: two full-time bartenders and a handful of part-timers are expected to be as welcoming as a restaurant’s waitstaff, he said, while Ralphie — the owners’ easygoing dog that frequents both the taproom and Maltose — has become such a favorite that he “dropped the puck” at a recent Bridgeport Sound Tigers game.
Also key to a craft brewery’s success is a series of events. In addition to regular karaoke and live music nights, Veracious also hosts a variety of parties and competitions — one of the latter was taking place when the Business Journal visited on May 15, with the winner out of 70 participants to be brewed there later this year — and rents its taproom on nights when it is not open to the public.
“It’s kind of like being in the entertainment business,” he said. “You hope people will come in because the beer’s good, but you definitely need other things to keep them coming back.”
Formerly an engineer at defense company Northrop Grumman in Norwalk, Szamatulski and his wife opened Maltose Express in 1991 and, after sampling the homebrewed wares of a friend, decided to turn the space next door into a brewery when an Ace Hardware closed. Both stores — Maltose is open Mondays through Saturdays — measure 6,250 square feet.
“Anyone can make beer,” Szamatulski said. “But to make a good beer, something that somebody else wants to drink, takes two, two-and-a-half years.”
Although Monroe “has been really good for us,” the Trumbull resident said there have been occasional bumps in the brewery’s road. It took two years of wrangling to get town approval to have food trucks on-site, and the seemingly endless road construction on Main Street, aka Route 25, has had an understandably deleterious effect on business at times.
Szamatulski has taken a lead role in protesting a state-level proposal that would have prohibited craft breweries from selling beer in their taprooms, and another that would have required breweries to choose between off-premise or on-premise sale and consumption. While those bills were introduced and quickly withdrawn in the spring, Szamatulski said he remains wary of their return — or of something even worse.
“Those bills could essentially have put us out of business,” he said, noting that Republican Rep. J.P. Sredzinski, whose 112th District includes Monroe and Newtown, had been a solid ally in fighting such legislation.
That craft brewing is becoming such a big business in Connecticut — it’s quickly grown from a handful when Veracious began to about 90 today — has been a double-edged sword, Szamatulski said. “The big distributors are getting nervous,” he said, adding that such companies had made significant donations to the legislators behind the aforementioned bills.
Szamatulski said the Connecticut Brewers Guild is in the process of hiring its own full-time lobbyist to protect “the little guys.”
“All of us have put too much time and money into building our businesses to stand by helpless,” he said.