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Entrepreneur’s Local Business Brews Beer—and Social Activism

MC alumna Julie Verratti ’01 believes we are all “unified by beer.” At least that’s the tagline of the local brewing company where she is both cofounder and chief brand officer. Denizens Brewing Co., based in Silver Spring, provides a hip and cozy space that brings people together to enjoy quality craft beer brewed on the premises. Talking to Verratti makes you look at beer in a different light. At Denizens, beer seems to be the quiet catalyst for so much more: it inspires civic engagement, local entrepreneurship, and social activism.

Verratti at the main Silver Spring location

“We make a beer for everyone,” says Verratti, alluding to Denizens’ diverse range of offerings. Among them, four core craft beers and 20 rotating taps between two locations, in addition to two full bars and two full restaurants. “Everything we do, we try to do with an eye toward making sure everyone is welcome at any point, and that no one feels excluded.”

If one were to list the number of nonprofit organizations Denizens supports, there would be no space left in this article. From the Human Rights Campaign and the National Archives Foundation to Montgomery County’s Coalition for the Homeless and Maryland Women’s Business Center, Verratti and her two cofounders/business partners believe strongly in advocating for the rights of women, LGBTQ+, and other minorities. Everything from Denizens’ décor to its schedule of upcoming events promotes these values.

Denizens Brewing Co. is a family affair; it began as an idea conceived around the Christmas dinner table in 2012. Two years later, Verratti, her wife Emily Bruno (chief administrative officer), and their brother-in-law Jeff Ramirez (chief beer officer) joined creative forces. The new team opened the doors to their Downtown Silver Spring Barrel House and Beer Garden in July 2014.

“All three of us have very distinct skill sets, which I think makes it work,” said Verratti. “Jeff makes all the beer. Emily calls herself the chief administrative officer, but she is really the CEO. I do all the business development and sales, overseeing all of our wholesale operations and strategic partnerships, including nonprofits we will be working with.”

In May 2019, Verratti and partners opened a second, larger production facility: Denizens Riverdale Park Production House and Taproom. And while her current business is based in Maryland, with locations in two neighboring counties, Verratti’s academic and career trajectory took a few twists and turns as it developed.

I like that I can combine the advocacy work that I do, whether I’m representing small business interests or still being politically active on social issues

Brewery at the Silver Spring barrel house and beer garden

A Silver Spring native, Verratti graduated high school in 1997 and began studying at MC in 1999. She took 20 credits each semester and worked 30 hours a week, plus she was a member of the MC women’s soccer team. Looking back, she says it was a time in her life when she learned to hustle in a way that prepared her for the future.

“I started my day every day at five in the morning and went to bed at midnight. I worked from 5:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., then took back-to-back classes from noon until 4 p.m. After that, I went to practice, went home, and studied,” said Verratti. “But I think it gave me the skills and life experience to be able to do something like open a business.”

Verratti transferred to Brandeis in 2002, where she learned she was only one credit shy of not one, but three different majors. She decided to triple-major in history, politics, and philosophy, and minor in economics. After graduating from Brandeis, she stayed in Boston, working in politics (she met her wife while working on then-Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign) before heading south to attend George Washington University Law School.

So, where does the beer come in?

“I really got into beer when I was in law school. I started home brewing as a hobby,” she says.

After receiving her JD from George Washington University, Verratti worked for five years in the Small Business Administration as a presidential management fellow and that’s when the idea for Denizens Brewing Co. really started brewing.

“I traveled all over the country and met with a lot of small business owners and got to see some really cool companies around the U.S.,” said Verratti. “That experience for me was really inspiring.”

Now Verratti, along with Bruno and Ramirez, oversees two brewery locations, a staff of 50, plus 150 retail locations in Montgomery County and more than 500 in the DMV. In terms of workload, her beer mug runneth over.

“Owning a brewery…it is a complex business model,” said Verratti, noting all of the different wheels in motion from hospitality to manufacturing to wholesale distribution to retail. “It’s a lot to manage…which is why I’m glad I have Emily and Jeff…but being in beer has been really fun.”

The best part, however, is not the Southside Rye IPA or the PGC Premium Lager though those are great, too, she laughs. It’s the community aspect of it.

“I like that I can combine the advocacy work that I do, whether I’m representing small business interests or still being politically active on social issues,” said Verratti.

That’s how beer unifies.

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