With Cheshire Craft Brewing close to opening, the backers hope the brewery can serve as a meeting place for the community as the pandemic subsides.
“Everyone in the country has had it rough over the past year, so we are looking forward to gathering together again and helping each other set our phones down and getting back to communicating face to face, because it seems on social media that people find ways to have division,” said Jami Ferguson, owner of Cheshire Craft Brewing.
She hopes the business will fill a similar role as coffee shops. The interior is being designed to promote relaxed conversation around a table.
With an estimated 85 percent of the preparations to open completed, Ferguson said it could be a matter of just weeks before they’re in operation at 125 Commerce Court. The town and state have already completed inspections and are processing the final paperwork.
“There’s just a couple logistical things … just those last little details of polishing things up,” she said.
Economic Development Coordinator Jerry Sitko said he toured the brewery recently.
“They’re making great progress and they still have some work to do, but I'm encouraged,” he said.
Ferguson was inspired to open a brewery in Cheshire by the town’s 2017 Market Assessment and Marketing Plan report, which said the town’s economy and social sphere would benefit from the local gathering space that a brewery would provide. The idea had already been floating around in her head, but the report “solidified” the notion.
A former public defender and realtor with Coldwell Banker Premier Realtors, Ferguson, 51, described herself as a “jack-of-all-trades.” She was recently appointed to the local Economic Development Commission — its Feb. 16 meeting was her first — and she also ran for the Board of Education as a Democrat in 2019.
She’s partnered with two area brewers known for the homemade beers they’ve entered in competitions across New England — Scott DeMeo, of Cheshire, and Frank Barretta, of Plantsville.
The two, who have been homebrewing for around 20 years, met through their background in education around eight years ago. Once they realized they shared the hobby, they began collaborating and entering competitions together. They also share a fondness for the beers of their youth.
“Frank and I both grew up in the ’90’s where there was a lot of pale ales and English bitters; IPAs hadn’t blown up yet,” DeMeo said.
They’re aiming to adapt to what customers are ordering once they’re open.
“We want to react to what people are drinking. It is a business so we want to give people what they want,” he said.
They’ve already finished their first batches of pilsners and stouts, which take longer to brew, and will begin the process for IPAs when opening day draws nearer. DeMeo said working at a larger scale was scary at first, but they quickly learned their way around the new equipment. Part of their preparations involved visiting breweries across New England. They found customers were always interested in the process, which led to them adopting an open floor plan.
“We can't wait to share the space so there’s going to be a sense of pride in opening the doors to people … we’re hoping that leads to a lot of people coming in and sharing with us and a lot of storytelling and sharing how we got to where we are,” he said.
Though Cheshire Craft Brewing is slated to be the first brewery in town, Counter Weight Brewing plans to move their Hamden brewery and taproom to 7 Diana Court. A third brewery, Malpractice Brewing Co., is also searching for locations in town for its brick and mortar location.
“I think they sense a market here, we haven't had a brewery here so there’s a market,” Sitko said.