Who’d have thought that a summer on the beach, a couple of Brown University undergrads and a homebrewing goat farmer would be the beginnings of a brand new booze, but that’s how Farmer Willie’s came to fruition.
Back in 2015, Brown University sophomores (and best friends) Nico Enriquez and Max Easton got the idea to start a business. Enriquez had spent summers in Truro chilling on the beach, playing volleyball and sipping on a homebrew made by a goat farmer named Willie Fenichel. The brew had built a solid fanbase on the Outer Cape and the enterprising students reached out to Fenichel about bringing it to market but not as an addition to the crowded field of microbrews. Fenichel wasn’t known for making IPA or hefeweizen. He was known for his alcoholic ginger beer.
A year later, Enriquez and Easton began hand-selling Farmer Willie’s Craft Ginger Beer. They kept their inventory in Enriquez’s grandmother’s home and set out to introduce their product to the world one local liquor store or area restaurant at a time.
“We had no idea what we were doing,” Enriquez says of their humble beginnings. “It was definitely trial by fire, showing up and shaking hands with a big smile. We didn’t even know who to ask for.” But it didn’t take long for the pair to make their first sale to Cranberry Liquors in Harwich Port. He says, “After that, it was like, ‘Ok we got this.’”
Faced with challenges not unlike those faced by lambrusco, rose and hard cider, the pair strove to increase appeal and overcome stereotypes – quirky YouTube videos and charming (and environmentally friendly) packaging, helped create brand awareness – but the proof was in the proverbial pudding.
Ginger beers are notoriously sweet and over spiced. “A lot of the time ginger beer has this ginger ale flavor and then overwhelms you with sugar and spice,” Enriquez explains. “Ours is clean and balanced. The main flavors are ginger and lemon with the nutmeg, molasses and cane sugar bridging the gap between citrus and spice.”
“All we need to do is get people to try it and they like it,” Enriquez says. It’s tough to argue with his confidence. Though the recipe is simple, the results are surprisingly complex. Cold pressed fresh ginger steeped with ginger puree, lemon juice, molasses, nutmeg and cane sugar are all fermented with champagne yeast yielding a clean and nuanced flavor profile. Enriquez boasts that Farmer Willie’s has such a clean palate that you can burp a few minutes after you finish your drink and it will smell like ginger. “It’s that clean!”
At four percent alcohol, it’s a perfect daytime sipper and a welcome addition to the field of gluten-free booze. It also opens the door for the creation of new cocktails. Enriquez keeps it simple and likes to mix Farmer Willie’s with tequila over ice in a high ball with a lime.
Brewed out of Pawtucket, Farmer Willie’s remains a regional product placed in about 500 restaurants and retail shops throughout Eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. There are modest plans in the works for an eventual expansion into the Tri-State area, but for the time being, they’re content to scale up slowly. So far, the small team of young entrepreneurs (and students and beach bums) is off to a great start.