PROVIDENCE, RI – Owen Johnson doesn't put much stock in doom and gloom talk about Rhode Island and the state's supposedly toxic business climate. The Virginia native and MIT grad thinks the Ocean State is a fertile place for new ventures.
Johnson nurtures other people's new ideas as a founder of a start-up business incubator called BetaSpring. But he wanted to pursue his love for beer and start up his own businesses. And that's how Revival Brewing took flight.
"I'm very passionate about beer and brewing beer and enjoying beer and creating experiences around that that people can enjoy," Johnson says.
In 2010, a mutual friend introduced Johnson to one of the local rock stars of brewing, Sean Larkin, the brewmaster at Trinity Brewhouse in Providence. The two men hit it off. They started selling their beer to bars and restaurants last October.
"Our goal is to provide high-quality enjoyable beer and to make it very accessible to anyone," Johnson says, "so whether that's a beer that a craft beer enthusiast is going to enjoy and have a great deal of respect for, but the average person can also pick it up and say, Wow! This is an amazing beer."
Revival Brewing makes five different kinds of beer, including Octoberfest, a French country style known as "saison," or season, and a double-black India pale ale.
"We are currently only available in draft, but we will be launching bottles some time this summer," Johson, "as well as expanding into Massachusetts later this year."
For now, Revival's beer is found at more than 25 bars and restaurants in Rhode Island.
The double-black IPA has found a following at Nick-a-Nee's, a friendly dive bar in Providence's Jewelry District.
Some of Revival's beer gets made under contract at Cottrell Brewing in Connecticut; the rest is brewed under the watchful eye of Sean Larkin at Trinity Brewhouse.
He's watching a tub of coffee-colored beer malt getting mashed and mixed with water. It'll be made into a beer inspired by a former Soviet submarine that used to be docked on the Providence waterfront.
"Well, right now we're mashing our Juliet 484 Russian Imperial stout," Larkin says. "Basically during the steeping process you're converting your starches to fermentable and un-fermentable sugars, so the grain will sit in this mash tub for an hour."
Larkin grew up in Providence's Olneyville section, and he remains a big fan of his home state.
"I know that some people say it's harder to run businesses in Rhode Island - "Why don't you move to Massachusetts? Why don't you move to Connecticut? I really have no interest in going to those places," Larkin says. "This is where I'm from. I love the people, I love the state, and I may move some day - you know, close to retirement - but for right now, this is what we want to do and this is where we want to do it."
Owen Johnson says it helps that Revival is distributed by the state's biggest beer distributor, McLaughlin and Moran. He says the company also has good timing since there's a growing market for craft beers. Revival Brewing is essentially three partners; there's no physical plant or a large payroll, but still, Johnson says talk about the state's bad business climate is overstated.
"I think this historical view of Rhode Island not having a good climate for business really applies to larger businesses," he says.
Rhode Island is home to other brewers. They include Narragansett, Newport Storm in Middletown, and a new craft brewer, Grey Sail Brewing in Westerly. Johnson says there's more room for growth in the local craft beer industry.
"We're very excited about that because our view is that the more is better," Johnson says. "We don't view that as competitive. We view that as creating a strong supportive ecosystem for brewers like ourselves, and our goal is not only to serve Rhode Island, but the entire country."
Johnson says Revival Brewing expects to become profitable next year. Revival also has big plans for the future, including opening a destination brewing facility in Providence, and a farmhouse brewery in a rural part of the state.
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