Having a birthday on New Year’s Eve, there is no surprise that the owner of Connecticut Beer Tours, Michelle Stanish would enjoy social gatherings and be inspired to start a beer tour company.
Q1: When did you first start having a passion for craft beer?
I will be honest, I was 100% a Coors Light drinker prior to 2014. Back then there was around 14 breweries in the state (don’t quote me on that). Most breweries I visited was with family out of state in places like Burlington, VT. My cousins fiancé at the time was big into whiskeys and craft beer. It quickly became a regular social activity to visit new spots and began to open up my taste buds. It is amazing how my palette and preferences have changed over the years from constantly trying the new “best thing.”
Q2: When did you have that ‘ah-ha’ moment of “this business is for me”?
I am sure we can all agree, we have those moments of dreading going into work. I still have a day-job and adding beer tours to the mix makes it often a 7 day, 60+ hour work-week. But when I pull up to a house and a group hops onto the van; within 15 minutes I can judge how much fun the group will be. Joining in on their special day, cracking jokes, blasting music, and sampling great products is no better way to spend my day (and get paid for it)!
Q3: What makes CT Beer Tours unique?
In other states most brewery tours are in highly populated cities and focus on the history of the area while driving to/from the stops.
CT Beer Tours focuses on the entertainment side of things such as games used to entertain on the van, the music that plays between stops in which we can sing or play “name that tune.” We bring you to the craft experts to learn about the beer, wine, spirits and ciders, but when in our hands, in between stops it is all about having fun!
We also differ by having our private trips all customized to benefit everyone (even non-drinkers). Want to throw in an hour of ax-throwing or escape room into your trip (with road soda’s)… you got it!
Q4: You incorporated the business in 2015, is running CT Beer Tours different then you thought it would be?
The biggest difference I found was to be the laws here in CT compared to other states. Doing my due-diligence when starting up and chatting with other beer tour operators quickly made me realize how un-friendly CT is when it comes to the extra red-tape so to speak that makes starting up and running a small business not an easy task.
Q5: Speaking of small business struggles, how is your company looking ahead after a difficult year dealing with the COVID pandemic?
When 2021 began, I was hopeful, but not delusional that it would take awhile for breweries, restaurants, and tourism to get back on track to where they were prior to the pandemic and government shutdown. Our tours shifted to private groups of 8-12 people and like everyone else we had to add cleaning policies, mask guidelines and PPE protective gear to our staff and guests. We integrated in holiday food and drink packages with the help of the collaboration of local vendors (a concept that never would of come to fruition if it wasn’t for the pandemic).
With 2022 approaching, we started adding back in our Friday Shuttles and Public Trips, where individuals can purchase individual tickets and visit predetermined stops with other people.
Q5: Running a business takes an army, what have your employees done to help make the business a success?
My staff is absolutely kick-ass, and I am not just saying that! They each have a individual personalities and skill sets that make them different so that if you are a 2nd or 3rd time customer you get that fresh unique first time experience all over again. They are reliable, make my life easy and the guests love them!
Q6: On every tour, the biggest question always is, “what is your funniest/craziest beer tour related story?
I hate this question, haha! I will say this… a cappella college reunion. Never have I ever been clapped at so hard when leaving a brewery than with this group. And they weren’t clapping because they were good.
Q7: What do you like best about being a beer tour owner?
Something about this industry energizes me.
- Talking about beer, spirits, wine, cider, cocktails.
- Checking out new establishments to check out the atmosphere and products.
- The socialization around going out, relaxing, living in the moment.
Even the worst of trips, I never end my day thinking I could be doing something better.
Q8: Okay, I am going to put you on the spot – which is your favorite brewery right now and why?
Hands down Coles Road Brewing! Their small batch system is always turning out new beers to try, they offer a wide variety of styles and I have yet to have a beer I have not liked.
Q9: What current projects are you working on currently with CT Beer Tours to help build business? Where do you see the business in a year? Five years?
One of the things we started to slowly integrate into the company a year or so ago is offering more than just beer and more than just in the State of Connecticut. We have created relationships with vineyards, distilleries, and hard cider companies and branched out into Rhode Island and Massachusetts. We have began to add in entertainment options to our private trips such as ax throwing, go karts, smash rooms, escape rooms, and laser tag.
Our next line item to work on is to enhance our trips with more food options (charcuterie boards, finger-sandwiches, food trucks), merchandise add-ons (pint glasses, koozies, custom tshirts), and kick our in-vehicle entertainment up a notch (digital trivia, custom music playlists, tv slideshow and/or presentation capability).