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Adam Romanow, Founder & President, Castle Island Brewing Co. - IES Abroad Barcelona, Fall 2005Adam Romanow

Founder & President, Castle Island Brewing Co.
Barcelona, Fall 2005

With a basic understanding of Spanish and an interest in food, art and music, Barcelona was the perfect study abroad location for Adam Romanow. Immersing himself in the culture and language forced him out of his comfort zone, and he returned home with a greater sense of independence and a new outlook on the world. After embarking on a career in consulting right out of college, Adam decided it was time for a change. Interested in craft beer, Adam left his job for an apprenticeship at a small brewery. Turning his passion into a career, Adam opened Castle Island Brewing Co. in December 2015 with a mission to provide great beer without the pretense that can sometimes take the fun out of craft beer. Read on to find out how learning to communicate effectively was, by far, the most valuable skill he brought home from his time abroad.

IES Abroad: What motivated you to study abroad and why Barcelona?

Adam Romanow: I’ve always enjoyed traveling and exploring new places, so the decision to study abroad was an easy one – I never turn down the chance to experience a new place I’ve never been. As for Barcelona, I took some Spanish in high school and really wanted to be able to study abroad in a place where I had a basic understanding of the local language, but where I could take it a step further and really make an attempt at full immersion with not just the language but the culture as well. I had heard great things about Barcelona from a college friend, and also being a huge food, art, and music fan, it seemed like a natural fit.

IES Abroad: What are one or two impactful memories from your semester abroad?

AR: One incredibly impactful moment for me was when my resident advisor invited me to have Sunday lunch with his family in Esparreguera, a small town outside Barcelona. Although there was a pretty thick language barrier, they opened their doors and arms without reservation, and immediately made me feel like part of the family. It really stuck with me that they could invite in a total stranger – about whom they knew nothing – into their home for a great tradition, despite no common background, ancestry, or language.

IES Abroad: How did you grow or change most during your time in Barcelona? 

AR: My time abroad taught me to be more independent than I ever could have anticipated. Up to that point, college life for me was guaranteed on-campus housing, a full-service dining hall, and a 90-minute drive back home if I felt like I needed to get away. Living on your own in a foreign country, where the language isn’t your own, forces you out of your comfort zone, and for the better. I took more chances in Barcelona than I had ever taken in life, made more friends that I normally would not have made, and really started to look at the world on a much larger scale.

IES Abroad: After graduation, you embarked on a career in consulting, but then changed course. What inspired you to launch your own craft brewery?

AR: Consulting required long hours, and long hours required the occasional beer. I’ve always loved to cook, and as I got more into the craft beer scene I decided to try my hand at brewing. After I left my first consulting job, I took an apprentice job at a small brewery to get a taste for the commercial side, and I immediately got hooked. A six-month gig turned into a year and a half job that had me convinced this was the industry for me.

IES Abroad: In December 2015, after several years in the works, Castle Island Brewing Co. opened to the public. Tell us more about your journey from idea to launch.

AR: Bringing Castle Island to fruition was an incredibly huge task. With so many breweries opening every day, I realized there was no point in being quick, but we absolutely had to do it right. So I took my time. I planned carefully, did my homework, and ran multiple models to find the one that was the right fit. I ultimately decided that I wanted to launch a packaging brewery – a beer company whose primary business is the manufacture and distribution of beer, as opposed to a brewpub or retail brewery, where most or all of the beer is sold on-site. The packaging brewery route meant taking on investors and bank loans, which really forced me to get my ducks in a row on the business plan side of things. But it all paid off, and we’ve been open for 7 months and are already at capacity.

IES Abroad: What makes the Castle Island beers unique?

AR: My vision for Castle Island was great beer, at a great price, accessible enough for the casual beer drinker but quality enough for the beer geek. I spent a lot of time in my mid-20’s chasing the newest, hottest, most sought-after beer out there. But I gradually started to drift away from what got me into beer in the first place – it’s not pretentious, and it’s supposed to be fun; but that doesn’t mean it has to suck, either. It’s this balance that we’re striving for at Castle Island.

IES Abroad: As the craft brewing industry continues to grow, what are some of the biggest challenges you face?

AR: For starters, this is an incredibly capital intensive business. Not only are we marketing beer, but we’re also manufacturing it, and that takes a lot of money. We’re also in a crowded business that’s only getting more crowded by the day. Finding ways to secure shelf space without sacrificing our vision is only going to get harder; this is a constant focus and we have an expert sales and marketing team whose mission is exactly this. Another big challenge for us is that our business plan – which I spent years crafting – has gone out the window. We’re undergoing phase I of a capacity expansion right now, but if things continue the way we’ve been going, we’re going to need a bigger boat, and sooner than we anticipated. To be clear, this isn’t a bad problem to have, but it’s a problem nevertheless.

IES Abroad: Are there any lessons learned or skills acquired in Barcelona that continue to be valuable in your work as a craft brewer and business owner today?

AR: The ability to communicate effectively is by far the most valuable skill I brought home from my time abroad. In Barcelona the language barrier created challenges, and in running a business you’re constantly up against communication breakdowns with suppliers, distributors, accounts, customers, stakeholders… the list goes on and on. But the ability to clearly, concisely, and effectively communicate with these partners on a daily basis is key to running a successful business, and I cannot imagine doing what I do without it.

IES Abroad: What advice do you have for students today thinking about studying or interning abroad?  

AR: I went to a terrific school where I learned a ton, but I still contend that I learned more – in a global sense – in my four months abroad than I did in the rest of the time I spent at college. I cannot stress enough how much the abroad experience enriches who you will become. That being said, don’t fight it; you have to grab onto the handlebars and just go for the ride. I remember a few people on my program who only spoke in English, who would eat at McDonald’s most days of the week, who only hung out with other American students abroad. While I’m sure they had a lot of fun, they used four months to do in Barcelona what they likely would have done at home, and I think they missed out on a much broader, more interesting, more rewarding experience. So take chances, do something new, and immerse yourself in a foreign culture to really get the full experience. Otherwise you’re not going abroad, you’re just going on vacation.