[A version of this column was published in the Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American on Aug. 10, 2018.]
There’s a question I’ve asked every new brewery owner, and from P. Scott Vallely of Charter Oak Brewing, I got the most unexpected answer.
Q: What’s surprised you most about starting a brewery?
A: There weren’t any surprises.
Coming from another owner, I’d have done a spit-take that covered the bar. But from Vallely, who started homebrewing more than 30 years ago and brewed Charter Oak at the former Paper City Brewing in Holyoke, Mass., for five, it made sense.
“I’ve been asking, ‘What keeps you up at night’ to owners so many times that there really wasn’t anything I didn’t expect,” he said, smiling through a bohemian beard as cool and relaxed as he is.
Vallely, who keeps his age a secret from the nosy press, sold his business Paper.com and transitioned to professional beer-making in 2012. After years of logging miles to and from Holyoke, Vallely was close to having his own brewery in South Norwalk, before that deal fell through. He said he’s received a much warmer welcome in Danbury.
The 10,000-square-foot former distribution site had its share of “rats and spiders” when Vallely was first able to enter, he said. By the June 28 grand opening, it had been scraped, sanded, scoured and reborn with a 70-seat gray and tan tasting room, 13-seat concrete bar, and a brewhouse with a 20-barrel system and a 5-barrel for pilot batches. Vallely employs Mike Granoth as his brewer, but continues to take a hands-on approach to everything.
Charter Oak treats all of its city water and puts it through a three-part filtration system to remove chemicals, including chlorine. “I’ve done everything I can to ensure quality here,” he said.
During a brewhouse tour, he let me try one of his upcoming India pale ales made with Equinox hops. It was delightful right off of the brite tank, a stainless steel vessel used to store and carbonate beer before it’s distributed to kegs and cans.
Tasting room as home
From the rotating 10-tap line, I enjoyed a flight of the Easy Riding Kolsch, which was smooth with a hint of tart; a gently malty King’s Extra Special Bitter; the bright and expressive Brewbury I IPA, featuring Citra and Mosaic hops; and a roasty Midnight Ride Porter.
So far no one beer has emerged as the most popular, sai Vallely, who was surprised that even the beers Vallely cans are as popular as the draft-only offerings.
During my visit, there was a group of friends gathered at a few four-person tables pushed together. That happens quite a bit, Vallely explained. His wife Michelle would separate the tables at closing time each night, only to notice that people would pull them back together again. They decided to keep a community table in the center of the tasting room.
The Vallelys had a bit of a rough start in one department: collecting payments from customers. Scott said he thought he’d set up new payment system properly for opening day for credit card purchases, but he did not. He ended up asking folks to come back and pay on the honor system. They did, he said.
While he’s settled into his own brewery, Vallely hasn’t stopped moving. He and Michelle were constantly on the go as new customers arrived, welcoming them and answering questions.
Michelle, who works as a secretary at an elementary school full-time, said she feels like she’s with family at the brewery.
“It’s like hosting a party every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” she said.
Michelle was the one who added a poignant bit of decoration behind the bar. She took a greeting card she had given to her husband and framed it.
It says, “Never never never give up.”
Until next time, sip well.