Brewing up interest
Wednesday, Oct. 23
Old Bust Head Brewery Brewmaster Charles Kling, pictured here, will soon be serving his beer at the Vint Hill facility. Along with tours of the production facility, Old Bust Head Brewery will feature a 250-seat tasting room. Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
With more than 200 wineries, Virginia may be for wine lovers.
However, residents of the Old Dominion are rapidly expanding their taste buds to craft beers thanks to industry-friendly rules that have allowed a multitude of breweries to open across the state.
In the past year, the Manassas-Vint Hill area has become a microcosm of what Virginia and the rest of the nation is doing these days when it comes to their favorite libations.
This winter, former Vint Hill Economic Development Authority director Ike Broaddus will open Old Bust Head Brewing Company in Vint Hill while military veteran Sean Arroyo is planning on a late fall opening of Heritage Brewing Co.
Arroyo's facility will be located off U.S. 28 in Manassas directly across the street from BadWolf Brewing Company, a small nanobrewery and the first of its kind to locate in the Prince William County area.
In 2012, 310 microbreweries and 99 brew pubs opened nationwide, bringing the total number of breweries in the U.S. to 2,538.
And those numbers don't include the 1,600 planned breweries that are in various stages of planning, said Brewers Association spokeswoman Julia Herz.
In Virginia alone, there are 48 craft breweries, which include both regional craft breweries and microbreweries.
Herz said there are several reasons for the explosion of microbreweries across the state and the nation.
A more advanced beer lover exists today on top of the fact that regulations in some states make it easier to open a microbrewery, said Herz.
Virginia's General Assembly made it easier for breweries to do business by passing legislation in 2012 that permits breweries to sell their product for on-site consumption.
As a result, beer lovers get the opportunity to purchase the product in an intimate setting while beermakers can make money without having to serve food like restaurants. Before the rule change, breweries could only offer free tastings and beer-to-go.
Since the legislation passed, two-year-old Richmond microbrewery Hardywood Park Craft Brewery has seen a spike in sales of its products at bars and restaurants as word gets around town, said brewery co-founder and president Eric McKay.
Broaddus hopes the same cause and effect will occur with his brewery. After building the production facility, Broaddus is planning a 250-seat tasting room.
Arroyo will have a smaller tasting room but, like BadWolf Brewing Company founder Jeremy Meyers, the goal is the same as Broaddus’. The legislation was so important to Meyers, in fact, that he never would’ve opened his business had the rule not been changed.
"[Without tasting rooms], you don't get to sit and see the different reactions of people trying and tasting the beer," Arroyo said.
McKay said Virginia is still behind many other states like North Carolina, which allows direct sales to retailers without using a distributor. However, the ability to sell his product on-site is a great start.
“Probably the biggest point is that breweries are able to grow more on par with breweries in North Carolina, which have laws that are much more favorable,” McKay said. “You have much more of a level playing field now.”
What's on tap next?
Many people start out drinking craft beers like Sierra Nevada or Dogfish Ale before they decide to start brewing their own beer, said Arroyo.
The New Jersey native did the opposite, drinking mainstream beers until trying his hand at homebrewing six years ago. His first batch tasted great, and from that point on, Arroyo was hooked.
While his operation will be small, Arroyo believes the big taste to his beers will make him successful. Every Saturday for the first 52 weeks, Arroyo will brew a unique recipe in limited quantities.
Arroyo's operation will also be unique in that his business is two-thirds veteran owned. Should the operation grow, Arroyo plans on giving first dibs to military veterans seeking jobs, should those veterans have the same qualifications as non-military applicants.
Opening January 2014, Old Bust Head Brewing Company will be among the largest breweries in Virginia, with a 30-barrel brewhouse and space to brew up to 40,000 barrels per year.
Along with the tasting room, visitors to Old Bust Head Brewing Company will get the opportunity to tour the production facility.
Despite the surge in popularity of craft beers, their national market share is still very small compared to the Anheuser-Busch and Millers of the world.
However, it’s steadily growing. And Meyers believes the demand for microbrews will only increase as people with discerning tastes and a penchant for local products will eventually start pushing the big boys to the sides of the grocery aisle.
In just four-plus months, BadWolf has vastly exceeded the expectations of Meyers, who’s producing twice as much beer as he initially anticipated brewing.
“The days of Folgers [Coffee] and Budweiser are coming to an end,” said Meyers.
The opening of the new microbreweries is also coinciding with ongoing enhancements to both Vint Hill and the city of Manassas.
Vint Hill is already the home of Vint Hill Craft Winery and may soon be purchased by Brookside Development principal Ed Moore, who wants to create a town center in the middle of the former Army surveillance base.
In Manassas, several restaurants have recently opened in the Old Town area. The city is also nearing completion of its Main Street road project, which is designed to increase commercial activity and foot traffic through the city.
Adding a brewery to the city’s rapidly growing entertainment options can only help, said Manassas Community Development Director Elizabeth Via-Gossman.
"It's [the breweries] an exciting new concept that will bring more people into the city of Manassas," said Via-Gossman.
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