In Good Company
It will be called ‘Brécourt.’
And like the beers that came before it — and the ones that will likely come after it — this one celebrates a chapter in the powerful story of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, known simply as Easy Company. This was the ‘band of brothers’ whose exploits during World War II are famously chronicled in the Stephen Ambrose book and HBO miniseries that both took that name.
Brécourt Manor is a town about three miles southwest of Utah Beach in Normandy, France. It was the location of a German artillery battery that was disrupting landing forces of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division on D-Day. Easy Company’s assault on the Brécourt Manor, led by First Lt. Richard Winters, is one of the unit’s more noted accomplishments, and there were many.
“They charged that gun nest and took all four guns out, saving countless lives,” said John DeVoie, co-founder of the growing Hot Table chain of panini restaurants, who has long been entranced by the story of Easy Company. So much that, when he and his longtime best friend and fellow veteran Jeff St. Jean — they both served with the 104th Tactical Fighter Group at Barnes Airport, and St. Jean still does — decided to create a beer label and donate all the profits from the sale of those products to agencies that assist fellow veterans, the name came easily — although not much else has, as we’ll see.
Easy Company Brewing, branded simply as ‘E,’ plans to introduce Brécourt, what’s known as a keeping ale, in the coming months. It will join two labels already available in many liquor stores, bars, and restaurants: Currahee American Lager, named in honor of the hill the men of Easy Company had to run up daily while in training in Toccoa, Ga., and Ald-Borne, a new English IPA, named after Aldbourne, the tiny village in the south of England where the unit would begin the preparations for D-Day.
“We thought, ‘why don’t we just give it all back?’ We’d model it after Newman’s Own and give 100% of the profits to charities that support veterans.”
DeVoie and St. Jean, both beer lovers themselves, could hardly contain their excitement as they pondered what might come next for beers as their venture continues to follow the story of Easy Company as the war progressed. Indeed, the unit took part in the ill-fated Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands, famous for its beer, and also in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, equally famous for its beer, then were in several operations in Germany, including occupation duty at Berchtesgaden, home to Hitler’s famous Eagle’s Nest, at the German-Austrian border.
“The next stop is Holland … and these guys captured Eagle’s Nest, so we may use that name when we get to making a German beer — or not; there are plenty of options from Germany,” DeVoie said, noting that, in honor of Dick Winters, famously a teetotaler, they may make a non-alcoholic beer.
But the two are even more excited about where this venture could go in terms of what it can do for veterans.
Launched just before Memorial Day in 2022, Easy Company Brewing did not turn a profit its first year due to the high operational costs involved with getting the venture off the ground, but the two partners wrote checks anyway to several well-vetted nonprofits that assist veterans, including Operation Second Chance, the Special Operations Warriors Foundation, and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
The brewery is expected to turn a small profit this year, and there is considerable optimism about where all this might be down the road.
In a word, the story of Easy Company Brewing and its mission “resonates,” said St. Jean, adding that most all those who hear the story, or just see the name, want to know more and support the effort in some way.
That goes for everyone from the thousands who sampled the Easy Company’s offerings at the Big E to Donnie Wahlberg, who played First Lt. Clifford Carwood Lipton in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers — and who, upon becoming acquainted with the venture and its mission when St. Jean and DeVoie met him briefly at Foxwoods at the opening of a new Wahlburgers restaurant, posted on Instagram a picture of himself with a large class of their brew and the words “my new favorite beer!”
For this issue, and with Veterans Day approaching, BusinessWest talked with DeVoie and St. Jean about their venture, the veterans (and especially the members of Easy Company) who inspired it, and how they intend to make what is now a local story into a national phenomenon.
Lager Than Life
As they talked with BusinessWest earlier this month, St. Jean and DeVoie were making plans to head to Newport, R.I. the following weekend for a reunion involving descendents of the men of Easy Company.
There are no living members of that unit, but the reunions, which started in 1946, the year after the war ended, have continued, said DeVoie, adding that he met the granddaughter of William ‘Wild Bill’ Guarnere, a staff sergeant in Easy Company, recently, and she invited the partners to this year’s gathering.
“We’re going there almost with reverence — we’re going to share our beer with them and tell our story,” he went on, adding that, given their mission and the way it honors those in Easy Company, they were to be “guests of honor” at the event in some ways.
In most all other ways, the two consider themselves merely stewards of the Easy Company name, and they have made it their mission to use it to both honor those men and to help those who have served their country — as they have themselves.
Indeed, they served together as mechanics in the 104th’s engine shop, servicing the A-10 Thunderbolts that flew over Barnes — and served in tip-of-the-spear operations in many parts of the world, including both Gulf wars. Nicknamed the Warthog, the plane was not pretty to look at, but, then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
St. Jean, still serving in an administrative role with the 104th, likes the A-10 much more than the F-15s currently flown by that unit, and DeVoie said simply, “everybody thought it was ugly; I thought it was beautiful.”
DeVoie left the 104th after 11 years, but he and St. Jean have remained good friends, getting together often. One of their favorite spots is the Student Prince in downtown Springfield, and it was there that the story of Easy Company Brewing began.
Indeed, while enjoying a few Spatens at the bar there in 2018, and thinking about all the beer-making countries where the men of Easy Company had been, that they started discussing the notion of creating a beer label that would pay homage to that unit.
They quickly decided that, while this was a good concept, they could not, in good conscience, profit off the names of the men of Easy Company, many of whom died in combat.
So they shelved the concept, only to revisit it later and ultimately decided to honor those from Easy Company and … not profit. To be more specific, they would profit, but then turn those profits over to select organizations assisting veterans.
“We decided that we were going to try to do it on our own; I just read anything and everything I could about brewing, I bought books, read articles, watched a ton of videos, and just started experimenting.”
“We thought, ‘why don’t we just give it all back?’” said DeVoie. “We’d model it after Newman’s Own and give 100% of the profits to charities that support veterans.”
Elaborating, St. Jean said that, as good stewards of the Easy Company name, the brewery and the foundation created to distribute its profits are very selective when it comes to the nonprofits they support.
“We reached out to several charities, but we decided we would only reach out to those charities that gave more than 85 cents on the dollar back to veterans,” he said, adding that they have found several that met this standard.
While the partners knew they had a good idea, and also knew a lot about business — Hot Table will soon be opening its 12th, 13th, and 14th locations — as well as the story of Easy Company, they didn’t know a lot about brewing or the growing, immensely competitive brewing industry.
So they, and especially St. Jean, set about learning.
“We tried to think of ways we could work with an established brewer to develop recipes, but there are a lot of barriers to entry there,” he said. “So we decided that we were going to try to do it on our own; I just read anything and everything I could about brewing, I bought books, read articles, watched a ton of videos, and just started experimenting.
“I brewed a ton of recipes in my basement, and we enlisted the help of some friends in the area and in the industry to help us taste the beer, develop the flavor profiles, and give us feedback, essentially, until we settled on what we thought we wanted to brew,” he went on, adding that the partners brought the recipes to a contract brewer, Brewmasters Brewing Services of Williamsburg, which scaled them up commercially.
The partners started where Easy Company started, with an American Lager named Currahee, and officially launched, with ceremonies at the Fort, in May 2022. Since then, the learning curve — involving everything from brewing to distribution to marketing — has continued, and they’ve been climbing their own steep hill to profitability.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation was launched to honor the life and work of New York firefighter Stephen Siller. He had just finished his shift on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and was on his way to play golf with his brothers when he got word over his scanner of a plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He abandoned his golf plans and returned to Brooklyn’s Squad 1 to get his gear.
He drove his truck to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and, upon finding it closed to vehicular traffic for security reasons, ran the full length of the tunnel with 60 pounds of equipment on his back. He reached the Twin Towers, where he died while trying to save others.
Today, the foundation carries on a number of programs, including the Smart Home initiative, which builds mortgage-free smart homes for catastrophically injured veterans and first responders, and the Gold Star Family Home Program, which honors the legacy of fallen veterans by providing mortgage-free homes to surviving spouses with young children.
That mission certainly resounded with St. Jean and DeVoie, who have made the foundation one of five charities to which the Easy Company foundation will distribute profits from the brewing operation.
The profits are expected to grow as the venture continues to scale up and expand, geographically and otherwise. There are still some considerable hurdles to clear — it’s costly and difficult to expand into new markets in this state, let alone into other states and other regions — and there is immense competition.
“We can throw a rock and hit Connecticut from here, but we haven’t been picked up by a distributor yet,” said DeVoie. “Each state is different, all the laws are different … it’s very complicated.”
But the partners have two big things working for them — the name Easy Company and the mission they have taken on. As noted earlier, both resonate with constituencies ranging from beer drinkers to veterans groups to the business community.
This was made clear to the partners — not that they really needed more affirmation — at the Big E, where they had a presence at the Local Brewers Showcase and other locations where their beer was sold. And it’s been made clear in the feedback and offers of support they’ve received, not just locally, but nationally and even internationally.
“Quite often, people from across the country and even around the world, particularly Europe, will inquire about us and our beer. People will say, ‘hey, can we get your beer in the UK?’ And we hear that in Ohio and California and all over.”
“We don’t see this is as just another local brewery — there are so many great breweries in every city and town now,” said DeVoie. “We see this as really a national brand.
“When we tell people this story, they get excited about it,” he went on, adding quickly that the story has spread rapidly with the help of social media. “Quite often, people from across the country and even around the world, particularly Europe, will inquire about us and our beer. People will say, ‘hey, can we get your beer in the UK?’ And we hear that in Ohio and California and all over.”
Right now, they can’t get the beer, but they can buy swag, in the form of Easy Company Brewing T-shirts, hoodies, hats, koozies, and other items, which are selling well and raising some revenue, said St. Jean, adding quickly that the beer is the heart of this operation, and the obvious long-term goal is to sell it in more places and to more people.
Already, Easy Company’s beers are in many liquor stores and several taverns and restaurants, including the Student Prince and those at MGM Springfield, and its reach has extended across this region and into Central Mass. thanks to a partnership with distributor Quality Beverage. The goal is to continually add more distribution points and eventually expand well beyond the current markets.
DeVoie summed it up poignantly by saying their mission now is to “sell a lot of beer and give away a lot of money.”
Getting back to Brécourt, the new label that will be coming out soon, St. Jean and DeVoie acknowledged that, while the French are known mostly for the production of fine wine, champagne, and cognac, they said they also make some very good beers.
And so do the Dutch, the Belgians, the Germans, and the Austrians.
Which is why the partners are looking ahead with such enthusiasm to how they will continue to tell the story of Easy Company through beers that reflect the countries where the band of brothers made history together.
But more than that, they’re looking forward to making that mission much broader and more impactful.