Bev Armstrong played semi-professional rugby for 15 years. And in that time, she had trouble finding a postmatch beer that she truly enjoyed. She wanted one that was full-bodied with great taste, but also one that you could enjoy for hours.
Eventually, she decided to brew her own. Armstrong is now the owner of Brazo Fuerte, a brewing company based in Massachusetts.
She started brewing out of her home about 10 years ago. After several years, she became a certified beer judge and began winning awards for her beers. She found that people really enjoy session beers, which have about a 4.5 percent alcohol volume or less, but that the market was lacking in options for this type of craft beer. So she started taking professional brewing courses, and when the time was right, she pulled the trigger to pursue her passion, leaving a job in biotech behind.
"When I find something that I really love, I tend to get very deeply into it," she says.
Though Armstrong played other sports at the collegiate level at Harvard -- varsity volleyball and softball, junior varsity basketball -- after her graduation, she decided to try her hand at rugby. She says she took to the sport and was able to elevate to some of the regional and international All-Star teams, as well as the U.S. pool for rugby sevens (which is the variety played in the Olympics) and then rugby (the more standard variety played around the world) at a national semi-professional level.
She spent 15 years playing for a team in Boston called Beantown, which consistently has been in the top four teams in the country for its 35-year history. For Armstrong, she says that a team sport such as rugby inspired her to gravitate towards something else that brings people together, "and beer brings people together like no other liquid does," she says.
The confidence and self-assured attitude that sports instilled in her helped her take the leap from her stable job in biotech into the unknown world of opening a brewery. And because of the work ethic and determination that she learned from playing sports, she says she wasn't deterred by the hard work and dedication that owning her own business would require.
Armstrong played wing, which she describes as "one of the people who was fast enough so no one touched me, and I got all the glory by scoring." She says she's "semi-retired," but she still plays in the summers for a sevens team called the Pony Express (which has a beer, the Pony Rye'd Rye Pale Ale, named after it).
Brazo Fuerte is both a play on Armstrong's name ("brazo" means "arm" and "fuerte" means "strong" in Spanish) and a nickname given to her by her rugby teammates while on tour in Spain.
"To this day, people will still call me 'Brazo,'" she says. "They'll see me in the street and say, 'Hey, Brazo!'"
The company's name is a nod to the sport that gave birth to the beer, one that's rooted in camaraderie and sportsmanship, and a sport that has a post-game tradition of sharing a drink with the other team.
Many of her beers have been created specifically for her teammates. In addition to the Pony Rye'd, there's Big E -- their most popular -- a West Coast-style session IPA, named for Armstrong's teammate and friend, Erin, who moved out to California. There's also K-Wags Chocolate Coconut Brown Ale; K-Wags plays for the U.S. National Rugby team and has a border collie named Brownie. And the Chara Golden British Golden Ale is named after a former teammate's golden retriever, Chara.
She launched Brazo Fuerte only a year ago, and Armstrong says the response has been "beyond my wildest dreams." While she's still looking for a location to open her own brewery and taproom near Watertown (she currently brews out of a friend's brewery about an hour north of Boston) Brazo Fuerte was awarded the 2017 "Brewing and Business Experienceship," part of the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program. The winner gets an intense mentoring session with Sam Adams staff and the opportunity to brew a collaboration beer with Sam Adams, which Armstrong says should come out later this year. Her beers are available at a variety of bars and liquor stores in the Boston area.
Armstrong describes her brews as "the kind of beer you want to enjoy after you've had a long day on the pitch or the field or hiking or biking or whatever you do."
Her goal, she says, is to make excellent beer, but to do it in a sustainable and conscious way. She uses organic ingredients, and she's focusing on green and sustainable technology and fair business practices.
"I'm very, very big into a socially, environmentally conscious company and being respectful of community and customers and employees," she says, "and also implementing as much green technology as I can to minimize waste and to experiment with new ways to generate and utilize and conserve energy; to brew beer in a way that is respectful of the future."
Ultimately, Armstrong views rugby and beer as a perfect marriage.
"I think that rugby instilled in me the idea that if I work hard, play hard, do the right things, then I can make it happen," she says.