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When Denizens Brewing Co. opens its 12,000-square-foot brewery and taproom on May 25, it doesn’t just mean more beer for Maryland’s Riverdale Park neighborhood. It’s the start of more locally brewed suds for the region. “We built it for distribution so we can send beer out into the field,” says Co-founder Julie Verratti, adding that Denizens maxed out on meeting demand about three years ago. “Our hope is to sell a lot more beer in D.C. and Maryland.” Enhanced Northern Virginia distribution is also on the table.
Denizens got its start in Silver Spring in 2014. Verratti opened it with her wife, Emily Bruno, and brewer Jeff Ramirez. “You remember us from five or six years ago,” Verratti says. “We were bootstrapping everything. We built a lot of the stuff.” The new facility captures what happens when a young brewery hustles and earns the opportunity to grow. “I’m excited that this time we’re able to raise the capital we needed to get the project done the right way.”
The 150-seat taproom has a dramatic wood terrance hanging over a bar with 20 taps; the tabletops were sourced from a woman-owned business in Annapolis; and the edgy wall art reminds customers that Denizens is still a small business, not a corporate monolith.
Patrons will be able to try an array of beers, a full menu of cocktails from general manager Gabriela Jones, and global pub grub daily. Think fish & chips, steamed mussels, pulled pork sandwiches, and quesadillas. The food menu (below) will mirror the one in Silver Spring, at least to start. The Riverdale Park Denizens will also offer Saturday and Sunday brunch.
Find it at 4550 Van Buren St. in a shopping center that also has a Whole Foods, District Taco, Burtons Grill & Bar, and MOD Pizza. While there’s only space for modest outdoor seating, Bruno says Denizens’ lease includes access to adjacent green space where they will be able to put on beer festivals. Because of the way Maryland liquor laws are written, Denizens will be able to sell beer cans and growlers to-go from a fridge by the entrance, unlike the Whole Foods across the street, which is dry.
Ramirez explains the new brewery will allow him to quadruple production and increase quality control with the addition of a dedicated lab run by Tim Fothergill. Riverdale Park will be where Ramirez concentrates on brewing Denizens’ four core beers—Southside Rye IPA, Born Bohemian Pils, Belgian-style Third Party Tripel, and Lowest Lord ESB.
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“Being able to make all of our core brands here means there’s a bunch of tank space freed up in Silver Spring for seasonal beers and we can increase our barrel-aged and mixed-culture programs,” Verratti adds. Maryland law lets Denizens ferry their beers back and forth.
When people visit Denizens, Verratti wants them to feel like they can be themselves. “We’ve always tried to be open and welcoming for people to be exactly who they are and meet them where they’re at,” she says. “If you’re someone who is really into beer and likes talking about the details of the hops and the yeast, we want this to be a place you can come. But if you’ve never really gotten into craft beer or don’t drink beer that often, we’ll work with you to find a beer that you’ll enjoy.”
Denizens is steadfast in its approach of creating a wide range of styles. By keeping a diverse portfolio, which has included porters, pilsners, lagers, saisons, red ales, Belgian-style witbiers, maibocks, and beyond Verratti hopes Denizens can appeal to the most people. “Some we don’t send into distribution, but they’re going to be on tap seven days a week here or Silver Spring,” she says. “We have options for every kind of palette.”
Other local producers are taking a different approach, Verratti observes. “You see a lot of breweries in the area that are going towards the hazy IPA exclusive event-type stuff,” she says. “I enjoy hazy IPAs. I’m not trying to rag on them, but there are a lot of events and programming around the release of these four-pack hazy IPA cans that creates this hora of exclusivity.”
Is Denizens’ plan to keep expanding? Not quite. “Growth [in craft beer] isn’t what it was five years ago,” Bruno explains. “Breweries have to be very careful about how much they bite off. We’re not trying to go from 2,000 to 50,000 barrels. Maybe 2,000 to 15,000 in a couple years down the road. That’s where we feel we can make good money, run our taprooms, and make the kind of beer we want.”
“The second you get that big, and some local breweries in the area are trying to get there, you obviously have more competition with the bigger ones above you,” Bruno continues. “We don’t see ourselves as big. We think we’re doing some big things with beer when it comes to our styles, complexity, and range. That’s big, but production-wise we’re still pretty small.”
When Denizens Brewing Co. in Riverdale Park opens May 25, its hours will be Sundays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Fridays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Denizens Brewing Co., 4550 Van Buren St., Riverdale Park; denizensbrewingco.com