With her neatly cropped hairstyle, involvement in the PTO and jokes about never-ending piles of laundry, on the surface Jennifer Brinton seems like a typical suburban mom.
What's not so common is her role as co-owner and de facto manager of Westerly's new Grey Sail Brewing Company. "I wouldn't say women are underrepresented, I think it's more like not represented at all," she said about her place in a male-dominated field.
While her co-owner husband, Alan, works full-time as a chemical engineer, Jen oversees the day-to-day operations at their five-month-old microbrewery. Her duties include delivering beer to Grey Sail's distributor, McLaughlin & Moran.
"I'll never forget when I drove the truck up there [to Cranston] for the first time and watched my beer coming off the truck," Jen said. "I was a nervous wreck on Route 95 with all of that product in the back, but seeing it get unloaded was such as great sense of pride in everything we had worked for."
Alan fell in love with homebrewing -- and started thinking he might like to do it professionally someday -- more than 20 years ago as a college student. It remained a hobby as he built his career, married Jen and they had three children.
The idea to open a brewery resurfaced when the Westerly couple began thinking about a way for Jen, a mechanical engineer, to work flexible hours to accommodate more time with their kids, Ryan, 10, Emily, 7, and Grace, 9.
After a couple of years of saving (the brewery is mostly self-financed), planning and build-out, the Brintons made their first batch of beer in November. During this time, they also welcomed a fourth child, Mary, now 18 months
"It's a balancing act, but we're just making it work," Jen said. The Brintons run the brewery -- located in a 1920s-era factory building that at one time housed The Westerly Macaroni Manufacturing Co. -- with help from two employees, account manager Daniel Rivera and head brewer Josh Letourneau.
"I do the fun stuff, they do the work," Alan said. "I enjoy coming up with the recipes, talking about making them and being the quality control, but I can't say I'm putting in many more hours than when it was a hobby."
At a time when many craft beers are high in alcohol and feature edgy branding, the Brintons are attempting to create a niche for themselves by doing the opposite. The philosophy starts with their first brew, Flagship Ale, a cream ale that is a low 4.5 percent ABV.
"I liked the idea of launching with an easy drinking beer because the craft industry in general is leaning toward very highly hopped beers," Alan said. "It's a session beer, meaning you can have more than one and still feel OK."
The couple named the business Grey Sail because much of their dreaming and scheming was done during family outings to Westerly's Misquamicut and Watch Hill beaches. They'd sit for hours watching boats on the horizon.
Grey Sail's branding has a cheery coastal vibe; the logo features a sailboat surrounded by bright yellow rays of sun and deep blue water. A reviewer on the beer rating website BeerAdvocate described it as the "happiest label design ever."
The Brintons decided to can rather than bottle their beer because they thought it fit with the lifestyle of the brand's target customer. They envision people sipping the beer on boats and at beach bars and yacht clubs, where cans are more welcome than glass bottles.
They also wanted to take advantage of the can's 360-degree label and aluminum's ability to block out light (too much exposure can give beer an offensive or "skunky" flavor).
Some customers equate cans with a lower-end product, Jen admits, but she says that's changing as more craft brewers opt for aluminum. "I see the trend switching over to cans," she said. "I think the glass bottle is more of an image thing."
The Brintons also launched with a Leaning Chimney Smoked Porter. In contrast to their light, easy-to-drink Flagship Ale, the robust porter displays coffee and chocolate characteristics, with a bit of peat smokiness.
They are planning to debut a Belgian-style wit beer called Flying Jenny Extra Pale Ale at Providence's Great International Beer Festival at the Rhode Island Convention Center on April 14. "Flying Jenny was a perfect name," Alan said, "because it's a sailing term and with Jen in the brewery always flying around."
Grey Sail beer, offered in kegs and six packs, is currently sold at more than 100 bars and liquor stores in Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut.
"It's nice to have another local [beer] option," said Christopher Champagne, chef-owner of 84 High Street, in Westerly. "There's a sense of pride among the bars in town that have their product on draft."
The Brintons say they've received "tremendous support" from the community and town officials. "There's still a very small brewing scene in Rhode Island, so we were bringing in something that was different and could attract tourism," Jen said.
They are now working toward increasing production and creating additional jobs.
"I like the fact that we have two employees and know that we're going to have more," Jen said. "The brewery came with skilled manufacturing jobs when the whole country is clamoring because we're not making anything anymore."
Grey Sail even sparked a business idea in the couple's 9-year-old daughter, Grace. This summer, she plans to sell lemonade, dubbed "Grace Ale," outside the brewery and donate the profits to a charity such as Students Against Destructive Decisions.
"It's a family business; it just happens to be a brewery," Jen said. "It may not seem like that goes hand in hand, but for us it does."
Details: Grey Sail Brewing, 63 Canal St., Westerly, (401) 212-7592, greysailbrewing.com. The brewery is open for tours and tastings every Saturday from 1-5 p.m.