Anawan Brewing Company’s taproom burned down on Feb. 12. The owners still don’t know why.
Rehoboth native Steffen Johnson’s goal after leaving the military was to open a brewery.
In December 2021, he achieved that goal, but thanks to an unexplained fire, all that’s left of his newly-opened taproom is a pile of ash and wood and one photo of the team.
The idea to open a brewery came to Johnson, 34, after he joined the Army in 2010. He was serving in Afghanistan when he got the idea while out on patrol with his buddies. They were discussing life after the military, and he decided opening a brewery was the way to go.
When Johnson got back to the U.S., he bought a home brewing kit. He tried to recreate known recipes and develop some of his own, such as his peanut butter stout.
In 2017, when Johnson returned to Rehoboth, he started working with Dan Dirienzo, a friend from high school who was also working on some home brews, to try to get a brewery up and running.
“It was just two friends working together on the dream of one day opening up a brewery,” he said.
That year, they registered Anawan Brewing Company as a business and started honing their homebrew recipes while working out of Johnson’s parents’ garage in Dighton.
In 2019, they found a location for their taproom at a suite in 7 Park St. in Rehoboth and got construction going.
Construction on the suite ended in December 2020, but because of the pandemic, they decided they didn’t want to open the taproom yet. Instead, they began doing curbside beer sales in February 2021.
Johnson said they started with a New England IPA and an oatmeal stout, but throughout the year, they experimented and went through over 35 different beers.
In November 2021, Johnson and Dirienzo had a soft opening of the taproom for family and friends. They had nine beers on tap, and brought back their Persistence IPA and Palm River Pale Ale which they created while they were experimenting throughout the year.
Finally, in December 2021, they opened to the public, offering flights of their beer to try, continuously rotating their taps, and having food trucks there on weekend nights.
“Every week we were getting more and more and were growing more and more. It was really nice to see,” Johnson said.
Around 5 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 12, Johnson got a call from his father who said the building the brewery was in was on fire. He rushed over to the brewery, getting there around 6:30 a.m., and saw flames destroying the taproom.
“It was a really hard. Really emotional,” he said.
While the Rehoboth Fire Department is still investigating the cause of the fire, Johnson said they declared the building a total loss.
Johnson and Dirienzo were unable to get anything out of the taproom to save it because the roof had collapsed. They are still not allowed inside.
But one decoration from the taproom miraculously survived the fire.
“We had our original crew doing a little fundraiser one time a while back, probably 2017. And there was a photo of our original crew, about eight of us in front of a barn in Rehoboth,” Johnson said.
“The whole building had pretty much been burned, but I was speaking with one of the firefighters and he was able to pull that photo out of the wreckage, which was kind of interesting to me. It was really almost like a sign, that everything else was burned around, but that one photo just remained in the corner of the room.”
Johnson said he and Dirienzo are still debating whether or not to try to reopen the brewery somewhere else. He still hasn’t figured things out with his insurance company and the loss of the current brewery is so new.
Still, he said, they would like to reopen if that becomes a viable option for them.
“We’ve had such an influx of help through the brewing community and through our local community. It just seems like we owe it to our community to come back stronger,” he said.
A GoFundMe has been set up for those interested in helping Johnson and Dirienzo.
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