It hasn’t just been a big week for Julie Verratti. It’s been a life-changing one.
The co-owner of Silver Spring, Maryland's Denizens Brewing is taking a longtime commitment to advocacy in two new directions, announcing her candidacy for Maryland’s lieutenant governor on Monday and today being named the new chair of the Brewers Association’s Diversity Committee.
“Whenever you start a brand new adventure, you feel a little scared, but also grateful,” Verratti tells GBH. “I have these opportunities to bring my 'A' game and really try to help people.”
In its many definitions, "advocate" is perhaps the best way to define Verratti, who has long worked on behalf of political and social causes. She sports a laundry list of accomplishments that, on paper, make her an ideal leader for both politics and the Brewers Association, for which she was recently appointed to its Board of Directors. In addition to running a brewery, Verratti was previously a Presidential Management Fellow and senior advisor at the U.S. Small Business Administration, an electoral and political organizer for the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Maryland, and Equality Massachusetts, and served on the board of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.
Verratti says her role as a citizen and business owner is a chance to help others. It’s also a big reason why she was named one of Good Beer Hunting’s 2017 Signifiers. “I wasn't planning on running for office, but I try to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity and be of service any way I can,” she says.
Now, she’s taking that commitment to the next level. As a candidate for lieutenant governor, Verratti is running alongside gubernatorial candidate and Democrat, Alec Ross, an entrepreneur who also spent time as a senior advisor in the Obama administration. As head of the BA’s Diversity Committee, Verratti will help guide the trade organization’s efforts to enhance diversity and inclusion within the beer industry.
“Julie is an accomplished activist, entrepreneur, and business owner," says Bob Pease, president and CEO of Brewers Association. "She brings with her both a personal and professional perspective that will greatly benefit our membership as the Brewers Association explores and executes new diversity initiatives."
Verratti said she’s heard from hundreds of industry pros who want to get involved with the committee and its efforts to some degree, and will use a roundtable event at this spring’s Craft Brewers Conference to hear from colleagues and share future plans. Verratti will take over as chair of the Diversity Committee from Scott Metzger, owner of San Antonio’s Freetail Brewing Company, whose term with the BA ended this winter. Metzger said he was “super pumped” for Verratti to lead the group.
“Her passion, energy, and leadership over the last year have been an inspiration to me,” Metzger tells GBH. “I just hope she can find the time to continue to lead and inspire us from the lieutenant governor's office.”
Last year, Verratti talked about the process of opening her brewery on the Good Beer Hunting podcast, citing a desire to integrate herself in the community in which she grew up. As a Silver Spring native, she said she saw a connection between her upbringing and the city's future through the business, providing a place that acts as a hub to bring people together. She owns Denizens with her wife, Emily Bruno, and her brother-in-law, Jeff Ramirez, and believes the trio’s shared values of diversity and inclusion provide a strong base to build a business as well as serve a variety of people in the community.
"We wanted to create an atmosphere and a brand that everyone felt welcome to be just exactly who they are in that moment, and that we would welcome them and treat them with respect, dignity, and equality," Verratti recently told GBH.
She now hopes that these kinds of connections to her hometown and home state will help sway voters in a Democratic primary that will take place this summer. Maryland currently has seven candidates vying for the party's nomination to square off against incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. A recent poll of likely Democratic voters placed Ross toward the bottom of support from voters within the party.
Still, Verratti hopes that her views on issues of equality—whether socially or economically—provide a necessary bump to make her and Ross more viable candidates. She recently told GBH that ideas of respect and dignity for all aren't necessarily a partisan issue—they’re simply part of being human. And that’s why acceptance and inclusion play a continued role in how she, Bruno, and Ramirez view their place as business owners.
“Diversity is something I care about very deeply,” Verratti says. “It’s our strength. Whether it’s our campaign or with the BA, it’s something that can bring everyone together.”