“You can’t teach work ethic, but you can model it,” said Jennifer Brinton, co-owner of Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island. “I don’t ask [staff] to do something I won’t do, and they see that.”
Brinton said that the common culture of all team members pitching in equally nurtures the family atmosphere at the Westerly brewery she owns with her husband, Alan Brinton.
“We are a family brewery with our 11 staff members,” said Brinton. “We strive for that culture of feeling like we are a family brewery.”
Having the right team members in place sped up the couple’s plan to start the brewery seven years ago. Brewing, said Brinton, was a hobby for her husband while their children were small. The two talked about exploring the idea of starting a brewery as a business but were purposely moving slowly in their planning. Then, they found a head brewer, and things just snowballed from there, said Brinton.
There were other signs that the brewery should begin, as well.
A distributor sought out Grey Sail early on: McLaughlin & Moran Inc. of Cranston, after reading about the brewery in the news. “They really have been essential. [They] wanted to meet and were interested in our story and taking us on as a brand. They believed in what we wanted to create,” said Brinton, who admitted to doing cartwheels in her house after receiving the message from the company that it was interested in Grey Sail for its craft-beer portfolio.
Grey Sail products are now distributed all over New England and in New York.
Since its 2011 founding the brewery has doubled in size and is now at 7,500 square feet after a fall renovation, boosting capacity just in time for the summer season, Brinton said, when Grey Sail brews multiple times a day.
Brinton, a former process engineer, and her husband have four daughters. She runs an event-planning company on a part-time basis, in addition to handling the financial side of things at Grey Sail.
“If it weren’t fun, I would step back,” she said of event planning, mostly weddings, which she did full time before the brewery. Brinton now does a few select weddings a year. “I think I provide value with costs and keeping things in check.”
She said the ability to juggle logistics, planning and budgets are relevant in all the fields in which she’s worked so far: engineering, event planning and handling the brewery’s finances, operations and HR.
‘Some businesses get settled, and that’s where they have trouble.’
JENNIFER BRINTON, Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island co-owner
For a woman with seemingly limitless energy, Brinton also manages a chronic disease, multiple sclerosis.
That, she said, is also a team effort at the brewery.
“My husband is huge at preventing triggers from happening,” she said. “My staff prevents me from having almost all stress. It’s all about having the right people.”
Brinton has both respect for history and ambition for the future, along with a belief that all things happen for a reason.
Housed in the former Westerly Macaroni Factory on Canal Street, in a 1924 building that still bears the pasta company name, Grey Sail is in an iconic location. It’s a building Grey Sail was able to get due to fortuitous timing, said Brinton.
In 2009, the Brintons were looking for a location for their future brewery. They could not agree on a lease with the landlord. The building they were looking at flooded and later went up for sale. Then, Brinton discovered she was pregnant with her youngest daughter, now 7. They put their location search on hold.
Later, they learned of the availability of the Canal Street building that’s now the brewery’s home. Without the pregnancy, complications with the other site and the resulting timing delay, Grey Sail wouldn’t be where it is today, said Brinton.
She enjoys learning about the old building’s history and has even met a woman who used to live in the building as a child, when her relatives worked at the factory.
But along with pride in its historic location, the brewery is always looking ahead. So, with the building reincarnation well underway with the brewery, Grey Sail opened its taproom in 2016. Though manufacturing is the core business, the taproom features regional beers in addition to their own, Brinton said, and tasting events.
As a member of the Rhode Island Brewers Guild executive board, she then takes it a step further, getting involved and banding with other brewers to further elevate the regional craft-brewing industry and spur further growth.
“We shouldn’t be battling it out with each other. The guild works to promote synergy rather than competition,” said Brinton.
Though she does worry somewhat about the number of craft breweries opening, she feels Grey Sail Brewing has the right elements in place to maintain strong sales. But it takes work, she noted.
“Some businesses get settled, and that’s where they have trouble,” she said. “I remain appreciative of every ounce – no pun intended – of business we secure and maintain.”