Draftivism and Dreams of Queer Beer Across the Country with Provincetown Brewing Co.
By Nathan Tavares
Congratulations on surviving the last few years! Chances are you could use a drink, especially if, like the team at Provincetown Brewing Co., you kept a business afloat and even built a community when just being around other people cued the anxiety.
“Opening a business just months before a global pandemic presented a challenge, that we learned,” Erik Borg, partner and head of sales and marketing at Provincetown Brewing Co. says with a laugh. “One thing we definitely had in our favor is that we never were really set in our ways about how we operate, or how things go because we were so new. That allowed us, in a weird way, to roll with the punches.”
As tourist season rolls around, it’s might come as a surprise that this will actually be the brewery’s first time operating from Memorial Day to Halloween without interruptions or restrictions—knock on wood. The taproom on Bradford Street only opened in August 2019. Though with their weekly gatherings, events like last fall’s first-annual Washashore Music & Arts Festival, and carnival bashes, it seems like the brewery has been bubbling around forever. And throw in the giddiness to gather again? “We want to take advantage of everybody’s excitement and everybody’s return to community,” says Christopher Spaulding, the taproom’s new general manager and events guru. “So we’ve got some really great programming lined up.”
That’s not all that’s brewing, either. The brand is soon bringing its beer and the magic of town to queer folks across the country.
The brewery’s beginnings sound a lot like the classic Ptown tale where someone visits and never quite leaves. For founder Chris Hartley, he first vacationed here with friends in 2012 and fell in love with town right away. “As soon as we dropped our bags at our rental, I was like, ‘let’s go to the brewery.’ And they all just laughed and were like, ‘there’s no brewery here.’ I just automatically assumed that Provincetown would have the oldest brewery considering the pilgrims landed here and everything.”
An avid craft beer drinker, the brewery black hole bugged him until around 2016, when he returned back home to Sag Harbor, New York after a Labor Day trip to Ptown. A conversation with a friend over dinner challenged him to take the plunge. If he was really serious and could figure out the beer side of things, Hartley’s friend could link him with investors to help launch that dream brewery.
Soon, Hartley trained at Turtle Swamp Brewing with the Jamaica Plain brewery’s co-founder, Nik Walther. “Luckily the brewing community is super communal and supportive,” Hartley says. As for how Borg came aboard, he and Hartley had been longtime friends. Borg had previously lived in town, even working as a staff reporter at The Provincetown Banner. Though life took him to New York, “So many of my closest friendships had something to do with Provincetown, or coalesced in Provincetown,” he says. “It’s always been very central to my life and that’s part of the reason that [Hartley] saw me as somebody he wanted to do this with.”
The duo moved to town at the same time and construction began in May 2019. When the 3,200 square-foot space opened that August, with its vintage vinyl floors, pieces by local artists, and kitschy touches—just check out the Dolly Parton pinball machine—it was clear from the jump that this wasn’t just a taproom. It was a queer haven.
“We refer to it as a queer clubhouse,” Borg says. “We love that it really invites this cross-section of people from the queer community, to the straight community, to families. All the while, we’re trying to make sure that people know this is a queer space. And that’s sometimes not a given when you’re talking about a brewery.”
This “we’re here, we’re queer, we drink beer,” ethos was why they started the brand in the first place. “I think people in the LGBTQ community, they’re not shunned from the beer community, but they’re not really seen as a potential market,” Hartley says. Borg adds, “Part of where the brand comes from is this notion that you would see rainbows slapped on a tap handle or on a product for Pride month, and I think most queer people know that feeling of being pandered to, where it feels inauthentic. So we really wanted to be a true queer beer company that was by and of this community.”
Part of that community focus is their mission of “draftivism,” where 15% of the brewery’s profits go to progressive and local causes. From Rainbow Railroad, to Indivisible Mass Coalition, to the Provincetown Conservation Trust, “We figured that draftivism would serve as the backbone of what we’re doing, and that would hopefully resonate with people,” he continues. “We’re building community and they can be a part of it, too.”
The Ptown and queer community of course extends beyond this corner of the Cape, and soon Provincetown Brewing Co. brews will, too. “We’re taking the idea of ‘we are queer beer,’ along with our draftivism work, and we’re going to export that into new markets and really be the queer beer brand of choice for a queer beer drinkers far and wide,” Borg says.
You can already find their brews around the Cape and Boston, but now they’re thinking bigger. Back in February, the team took a trip to California, where they met with distributors and owners of gay spaces who were excited about what’s brewing in Provincetown. Soon, folks around Los Angeles and Palm Springs—and hopefully beyond—will spot the Provincetown Brewing Co. beer tap at their favorite watering holes, and order some of that seaside bliss.
“Ptown is a lot of people’s favorite vacation spot and they want to have that memory when they’re back home,” Hartley says. “So I’m happy to be part of that, and happy that Ptown is at the forefront of that queer brewing community.”