Adam Oliveri ’05 and Bryan Ferguson ’05 used the skills they developed at URI to build a burgeoning boutique craft beer business.
By Grace Kelly
The story of Adam Oliveri ’05, Bryan Ferguson ’05, and Craft Collective, their beer distribution company, begins with a song.
“ZBT, we were not the typical fraternity, and one of the things we really prided ourselves on was the Greek Week competition,” says Oliveri. “We made it our business to always win the Greek sing and the lip-sync competition. We’d get a room in a basement somewhere and practice some a cappella song. It’s funny, I was on vacation last week and I found myself singing, ‘jum jubba doo-ah, jum jubba doo-ah.’ That was my part in one of the songs we covered, “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind.”
With each smooth harmony, jum jubba doo-ah, and refrain, they’d smash the competition and win.
That same desire to hone their craft and win is what drove Ferguson and Oliveri to build Craft Collective, a boutique beer and beverage distribution service that is sought out by suppliers and clients in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maine.
“Our fraternity, we were underdogs—we were the smallest, we were new—and so we just decided to get really good at a few things,” says Ferguson. “And that’s not terribly different from the approach we’ve taken with our business.”
Craft Collective, based in Stoughton, Massachusetts, gives New England craft breweries and beverage-makers the chance to get their product out there, and simultaneously helps restaurants and retailers carry the best in the local craft beverage scene.
“I think their vision was about a serious focus on smaller, specific, really good craft breweries,” says Chip Samson, owner and business manager of Shaidzon Beer Company in Kingston, Rhode Island, and one of their suppliers. “It’s also the strategy of their clients and accounts they work with—these really beer-specific, beer-appreciating restaurants and bars.”
This has not only attracted small craft breweries looking to make a name for themselves, but has also made Craft Collective sought after by trendy restaurants and bars. Tom Dennen, owner of Bayberry Beer Hall in Providence, says he opened Bayberry knowing he’d use Craft Collective.
“I had my eye on Craft Collective long before they started distributing in Rhode Island,” he says. “From what I could see they had the best beer brands, which I wanted to build my business around.”
“I had my eye on Craft Collective long before they started distributing in Rhode Island. From what I could see they had the best beer brands, which I wanted to build my business around.”
—Tom Dennen, owner, Bayberry Beer Hall
Started in 2015, Craft Collective has grown from the two-person team of Ferguson and Oliveri to a team that’s pushing 50 employees, with a portfolio that includes local breweries like Proclamation and Shaidzon, craft beverage peddlers like The Nitro Cart and Anchor & Hope, and restaurants and bars llike Bayberry—and the longstanding Mews Tavern in Wakefield, Rhode Island. Their idea for a boutique distribution service has its roots in Oliveri and Ferguson’s appreciation for craft beer, the expansive growth of the industry in the last 10 years, their close friendship, and the leadership opportunities that attending URI afforded them.
Oliveri and Ferguson met during rush season.
“I met Adam when I was joining ZBT,” said Ferguson. “I recall that Adam was involved in recruiting me and getting me into my leadership roles there.”
Their friendship grew and their very different personalities helped push each other.
“I’m sort of more extroverted; Adam’s a little more introverted,” says Ferguson, who majored in business management at URI. “Some of those classic traits that partners have.”
“He leads through fire and competitiveness and gut feel, and for me, I’m like, ‘I’m going to diagram this beautiful mind style,’” says Oliveri, an economics major, laughing. “But that’s actually worked out pretty well for us, having these different styles and approaches. It’s allowed us to leverage our strengths in being leaders that we developed at URI.”
As newly minted 21-year-olds at URI, the duo also began to develop a taste for beer.
The early days were all about the light lagers that were popular at the time. But as the craft beer movement began to grow, so too did Ferguson and Oliveri’s curiosity for a better brew—partially sparked by the local craft beer brand Newport Storm (now Newport Craft Beer Company).
“During our senior year, we used to go over there on a Friday, and we would do a tour and they would give out these wooden nickels that you could trade for half-pours of beer,” says Ferguson. “I think that’s when I first became aware of craft brewing, and what breweries actually were and what it meant to make and sell beer.”
A few years later, Oliveri had developed an interest in wine, while Ferguson was making frequent trips to breweries in Vermont—those were the early days of the craft beer industry.
Then, in the early 2010s, the craft beer world exploded.
“I first learned about beer and the culture through Newport Storm and then transitioned to going on these wine trails … and later came back to beer when the craft beer proliferation was happening in the early 2010s,” says Oliveri. He became inspired to apply his background in tech and finance to beer, first crafting the idea of a beer incubator, which then morphed into a craft beer distribution service.
“I started the distribution company as a way to lead into doing this incubator, and then it took off and we shelved the incubator,” he says. “But along the way, I was like, ‘I need a partner here.’”
And his longtime friend Bryan Ferguson immediately came to mind. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Ferguson and Oliveri not only have a growing business with happy customers and clients, they also have a team that includes a number of URI grads.
“I think being a part of an organization that is so passionate about this industry is infectious and a great motivator. Everyone is so excited about their job, and to be a part of that gets me excited, too.”
—Jessica Becker ’07
One of them, Jessica Becker ’07, knew Oliveri when she was at URI and always thought he’d do something great.
“He’s a great leader. He has vision and that’s really critical when you’re starting or running any company,” she says. “Craft Collective is a multi-state operation, so it requires a lot of vision and planning and leadership. Those are skills I saw in him back at URI, and he continues to shine now.”
As for her taste in beer back then?
“I wasn’t drinking craft beer back then, not even close,” she says, laughing. “Lots of Busch Light, I can’t even think about it anymore. Luckily I’ve become educated since then.”
In addition to learning to appreciate a beautiful brew, Becker is thankful to be a part of an organization whose spirit and mission is clear in everything it does.
“I think being a part of an organization that is so passionate about this industry is infectious and a great motivator,” she says. “Everyone is so excited about their job, and to be a part of that gets me excited, too.”
Jamie Buscher ’15, brand management lead at Craft Collective, adds, “Bryan and Adam are hands-down the best bosses I’ve ever had. Bryan and Adam truly care about their employees and treat us like family.” •
Brews and Bites
Craft Collective distributes hundreds of products from more than 90 independent craft producers, from beer and wine to hard seltzer and nitro cold brew coffee. With so many options on tap, we asked five Craft Collective staffers (all URI grads) to pick some of their favorite fall and winter brews and the bites they enjoy with them.
Adam Oliveri ’05, founder and CEO
SingleCut Eric More Cowbell! Milk Stout + Chocolate Pecan Pie
Milk stouts have their origins in the early 1900s when they were promoted as restorative drinks for everyone from laborers to nursing mothers to the infirm. To make the drink sweeter, unfermentable milk lactose was added to the brew, hence the name, ”milk” stout. Oliveri likes to pair SingleCut’s version with an equally sweet and rich dessert.
“My wife and I host Thanksgiving every year, and while I look forward to the turkey and fixings, I’m there for the pie. Chocolate pecan is the dark horse. I usually pair it with SingleCut’s Eric More Cowbell! Milk Stout. It’s creamy, balanced, and roasty; not too sweet, and the touch of vanilla works well with a slice (or two) of chocolate pecan.”
Bryan Ferguson ’05, co-founder and president
Proclamation Tendril IPA + Hot Wings
Do IPAs even need an introduction? The craft brewery darling has grown from a drink that languished in obscurity to a powerhouse with endless varieties. But in almost every IPA, one thing is for sure: hops are the stars. And for Ferguson, a full, fruity IPA with a hint of bitterness goes great with a bucket of hot wings.
“My dad and I have been going to Patriots games together for years, and we’ve always enjoyed the tailgating almost as much as the game. On the menu? Something spicy like Buffalo wings, and a few iced-down cans of an assertive IPA like Proclamation Tendril. A West Coast/East Coast hybrid, Tendril has some bitterness but is super drinkable. It pairs superbly with spicy foods, standing up to the heat with refreshing notes of grapefruit, pine, orange, and melon.”
Emily Warden ’07, senior manager, business services
Anchor & Hope Mendo Red + Pizza
Who says Craft Collective only distributes beer? Anchor & Hope, a Rhode Island wine négociant, works with small vineyards around the world to produce craft wines. And Warden likes her Mendo red wine with a classic: pizza.
“My husband and I travel a lot around the holidays to visit family throughout New England. We never leave home without a bottle or two of wine from Anchor & Hope. Their wines are incredible, make the perfect host/hostess gift, and pair really well with pizza, which is our go-to for takeout after a long day of holiday travel. We usually open a bottle of Mendo red to enjoy with a slice or two.”
Jamie Buscher ’15, brand management lead
Shaidzon Buffalo Czech Pilsner + Cheesesteak
Czech pilsners have a clean malt profile with a hint of spiciness from Saaz hops. Drinkable, with a clean, bitter finish, Buscher likes to pair Shaidzon’s Czech Pilsner with a cheesy, meaty cheesesteak, like the ones from Tilly’s in West Kingston, Rhode Island, near URI—and a stone’s throw from Shaidzon Beer’s taproom.
“When I’m craving a crisp and delicious beer to match the autumn weather, I take the familiar trip down Routes 2 and 108 to West Kingston, where Shaidzon brews Buffalo Czech Pilsner. It’s clean, refreshing, and a thirst-quencher after a long day of leaf-peeping. The beer’s subtle sweetness and noble hoppiness cut through the salty fare I usually pair it with, like cheesesteak—or chili, or a grinder.”
Jessica Becker ’07, head of marketing
Oxbow Farmhouse Pale Ale + Clam Chowder
A saison’s flavor lies in its use of a specific breed of yeast, which lends peppery, spiced notes to the brew. Oxbow throws in some hops for a bit of citrus punch, creating a quaffable beer that Becker sips with some “chowda.”
“I’m a Rhody native, and I recently moved back to Rhode Island after a 13-year hiatus. What I missed the most? The clam chowder. I usually pair a bowl with a bottle of Oxbow’s Farmhouse Pale Ale, brewed due north in Newcastle, Maine. Hopped with American hops, Oxbow masterfully marries the traditional Belgian saison with the American pale ale for a blonde, dry, highly carbonated beer that balances the rich, creamy chowder exceptionally well.”
Stories and illustrations by Grace Kelly