"It's an unusual story in a few different ways," says Beverly Armstrong, founder of a new Massachusetts beer company, Brazo Fuerte Artisanal Beer, attempting to describe how she got started.
Until a year ago, Armstrong was an executive in the biotech industry. For nine years she's been brewing beer at home, sharing batches with her rugby teammates and opponents. Some of the beers contain surprising ingredients. There's a pale ale with green tea, a wheat beer with goji berries, and a brown ale with chocolate and coconut. All of the brews are session beers, below 4.5 percent alcohol by volume to facilitate socialization off the rugby field.
"I've been an athlete all my life," Armstrong says. "I'm a very health-conscious person. I'm not going to say beer is healthy, but there are certainly ways to incorporate healthful ingredients."
Last month, Armstrong officially launched Brazo Fuerte, Spanish for "strong arm." The company is her full-time job. Armstrong brews at Great North Aleworks in New Hampshire, and is in talks to brew at Dorchester Brewing Co. once it is up and running. The next step is getting the beer into bars, restaurants, and retail stores.
In a climate where a new brewery seems to open every week, the fact that Armstrong is launching another is not unusual. But black, female brewery owners are harder to find. As a certified beer judge and one of the few black women attending craft beer conferences, Armstrong is aware that she's in a distinct minority. That's only been magnified in the last few weeks as she's gone bar to bar peddling her beer.
"It's still sort of a 'why should I talk to you?' situation," she says. "But once they taste the beer, it's different. It's a challenge that I feel very capable of taking on."
Armstrong wants to make clear that the craft beer community she's gotten to know has been very supportive. She also knows that if her beer isn't good, it won't sell.
"I don't want to be that woman-owned beer company," she says. "I want it to stand on its merits. I'm a real brewer. I can tweak my recipes. I really just want my beer to be great."
Armstrong currently has five beers — Big E Session IPA, Pony Ryed Rye Pale Ale, K-Wags Chocolate Coconut Brown Ale, Brazo Fuerte Pale Ale, and Green Tea Pale Ale — scaled up for release. She eventually hopes to open her own brewery in either Watertown (where she lives) or Allston-Brighton. In the immediate future, she'd like to get Brazo Fuerte on tap and in retail stores within the next month.