If everything goes according to plan, P. Scott Vallely will leave behind what he calls his “gypsy” life and start running Danbury’s first craft brewery later this year.
“Unfortunately there’s no ‘easy button’ to push” when it comes to navigating a city’s bureaucracy, said Vallely, who to date has been crafting and packaging his Charter Oak Brewing Co. LLC wares at rented spaces at other breweries in locales such as as Branford and Holyoke, Massachusetts. Although he’s been selling Charter Oak’s brews only since 2012, he’s been homebrewing for some 38 years — “longer than most craft brewers today have been alive,” he said with a laugh.
Getting clearance from Danbury has been an education, said Vallely. “Even though the mayor and the town hall are stoked about it, you still have to work through all the regulations,” including having to amend decades-old zoning rules to allow such an operation … something that nascent brewers in locales like Ridgefield, Berlin and Stonington have also had to undertake.
A New Canaan resident, Vallely said he looked at a variety of possible locations in Norwalk, Ansonia and Seymour before settling on the 10,000-square-foot building at 39B Shelter Rock Road in Danbury. “I loved that it’s a perfect square,” he said of the long-vacant building, which at one time was a warehouse for a manufacturer of synthetics used in furniture.
Working with Branford-based architect and designer Joseph T. Sepot — whose firm’s portfolio includes that town’s Stony Creek Brewery — Vallely envisions Charter Oak’s new home encompassing a 2,000- to 2,500-square-foot tasting room with space for live entertainment and a 100-visitor capacity. The tasting room will be open Thursdays through Sundays.
The remaining 7,500 square feet of production space, which will be available for public viewing, will essentially make a circuit from the loading dock to a pair of brew kettles — a 5,000-gallon kettle for Charter Oak’s limited-edition beers and a 20,000-gallon one for its core brown, pale, and India pale ales. Moving past the kettle area, visitors can observe the rest of the brewing process through to packaging and then back out the loading-dock door.
That Charter Oak’s names are all derived from the Constitution State’s past is no accident. “I’m not an historian, but when you’re in the craft beer business the naming is part of the fun,” Vallely said.
The company name refers to a tree in Hartford where the state’s Royal Charter of 1662 was hidden to avoid being confiscated by the English governor-general in the lead-up to the Revolutionary War. Thus were Vallely’s 1687 Brown Ale, Royal Charter Pale Ale, Wadsworth’s India Pale Ale — named for Capt. Joseph Wadsworth, a key figure in the Charter Oak saga — born.
At its peak, Charter Oak was making over $200,000 per year in revenue, Vallely said, but has scaled down significantly as the Danbury project comes together. Once it’s up and running, he said he expects to start production at 6,000 barrels and build to 25,000 barrels a year.
Vallely said he also has a purchase option on a similar 10,000-square-foot building next to 39B Shelter Rock, which he hopes to exercise within five years and thus grow Charter Oak’s business to 40,000 barrels a year.
The first building will probably end up being staffed by five full-time and seven part-time employees; if the second building is added, Charter Oak would likely have at least 20 full-time and 20 part-time employees, Vallely said.
He said he’s also been negotiating with nearby businesses about using their parking spaces at nights and weekends when they are closed. Levine Auto & Truck Parts, which essentially sits on the same lot at 35 Shelter Rock, has been fairly amenable to the idea, he said.
“I show up there, at my other neighbors and at town hall carrying a couple of bottles of beer,” he laughed. “That usually helps to start a conversation.”