Sean Larkin Reviving Craft Brewing in Rhode Island
Led by veteran brewmaster Sean Larkin, Revival Brewing Company in Cranston, RI has achieved great success in a matter of a few years.
Larkin began his brewing career by chance while working as a cook at Trinity Brewhouse in Providence. In 1996, he made the leap to brewmaster. After nearly 10 years at Trinity, Larkin was asked to join Narragansett Brewing Company to help recreate some of their classic recipes after new ownership took over.
In 2009, Larkin decided to go out and create a name of his own in the industry.
“Everybody gets into brewing for different reasons,” he said. “I just figured if I had some success writing recipes for other people that I would try to figure out a way to make a name for myself.”
That name would be Revival. The naming has a few key parts to its backstory, but in essence it was to pay homage to the revival taking place in West Providence at the time, as well as the "revival" of Larkin’s own career.
Beginning as a brand, Revival was first brewed at Trinity while the business plan was developed further and the search began for a permanent location. They brewed there from 2010 through 2013 before moving to the barbecue restaurant and brew pub Brutopia in 2014.
The first three beers under Revival were an Imperial Oktoberfest, a double black IPA and a saison. Over the years, the company’s portfolio has grown to around 14 different styles of beer including seasonal and year-round offerings. However, throughout his career, Larkin said he’s brewed around 40 or 50 different styles of beer.
Operating out of a brew pub also allows for more flexibility and experimentation with different styles. Small batches can be tested without any great commitment to larger production. Larkin also experiments with barrel aging for some extra strong brews that are limited edition releases.
All the bottling at Revival is done by hand, though they are looking to purchase some automated systems in the near future. Their beers are currently distributed in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
When it comes to choosing what beer festivals to attend, Larkin said venues and audience are key.
“I think if they’re done correctly, you get the right customers,” he said. “I think customers still really want to connect with the brewers.”
With a growing craft beer market comes a growing body of support and fans. Many share thoughts and comments on a variety of online forums that have begun to place some popular brewmasters in the limelight.
“It’s kind of funny. You reach this pseudo-celebrity status that is defined by internet culture and people's excitement over the brand and people are disappointed when you don’t show up,” said Larkin.
However, just like with anything else, people have different tastes and interests and don't always agree on all types of brews. With so many websites dedicated to discussing craft beer, one doesn't have to look too far to find some negative comments.
It's taken some practice, but the seasoned brewer doesn't typically let those comments get to him anymore.
“Just because somebody isn’t talking about you on the internet, it doesn’t mean you’re still not selling beer,” Larkin said. “There continues to be amazing beer out there that people just don’t talk about.”
He describes the industry as very competitive, especially as it continues to grow throughout the nation. This makes it much tougher to stand out from the crowd.
“For as many ways people think they’re being innovative, there’s not really a landscape for exclusivity in ingredients,” he said. “People are either re-creating beers that have been done before or following the latest trends.”
It's also important to get into the business of brewing with the right attitude and mindset. You need to know the complex road that lies ahead.
“I don’t think that everybody that starts a brewing company really considers how strenuous it’s going to be, both mentally and physically. The ‘artistic’ appeal is only a fraction of the work,” Larkin said with a smirk.
“It’s a very odd world and it’s a great fabric of community that we have out there.”