I wanted to title this post "Back to the Brewture" but felt that was just trying too hard. With the recent celebration of Groundhog Day and Mr. Punxsutawney Phil (or Chesapeake Chuck, as it were) having declared six more weeks of winter, this felt like an appropriate time to look back on how far The Virginia Beer Company has come over the last 13 months. Originally this was meant to be a 2014 retrospective, but things have continued to roll right along in the wee hours of 2015, so here's a look back on all that occurred for Team VBC in 2014 and some spare change in the new year!
Jan. – Feb. 2014
The winter months were cold and long to begin our 2014 in Williamsburg. We kept warm by staying near our computers and continuing to fine tune our business plan. In an emergency we realized that a 53-page document could be used for robust kindling in the event we needed to make a fire for warmth. If we weren’t working on the business plan or discussing options for financing this brewery-in-planning of ours, we were out braving the elements as part of our location search. While we had decided on Williamsburg many moons ago, there was still the final landing spot for the brewery to be discovered. We had some leads – and a lot of options – but little did we know how much longer it would take us to sign a lease!
While we continued to fine tune our plans to build a brewery (and where to build a brewery), we began to prepare for our public unveiling of The Virginia Beer Company. Chris and I had been discussing for months how and when to start publicly sharing details of our venture beyond personal circles and professional connections in the Williamsburg area. One of our first “company” tasks was to head into Colonial Williamsburg and take photos for 2014’s upcoming American Craft Beer Week “Brewnited We Stand” campaign. A little promotion goes a long way, as we actually made it into the kickoff video!
Things really got moving in April! Whether due to the warming weather or the impending showers, we didn’t miss a beat this month. We were spending less time behind a computer, were narrowing down our preferred location for the brewery, and it was time to head to Denver, CO for our third Craft Brewers Conference! The CBC had become a great learning atmosphere for me and Chris. We even led a seminar in Denver (well, by WE I mean Chris)! Clearly we had come a long way since our first CBC in San Diego in 2012 and took our third turn to formally launch our social media presence:welcome to Twitter & Instagram, Virginia Beer Co.!
April was also a fun month for us, as it brought the first annual Williamsburg Craft Beer Festival! Since we weren’t quite an operating brewery at the time, Team VBC decided to help out by volunteering to pour beers for some of our Virginia craft beer peers. We had a great time networking with brewers, sales reps, distributors, and of course fellow craft enthusiasts! (And we plan to be back for the second annual festival on Sunday, April 26th!)
As we moved closer to the summer months, we continued to actively publicize our plans to build Williamsburg’s next great brewery by launching our website and VB(log)C in order to keep a running list of our backgrounds, to share our experiences in the microbrewing industry, and to get everyone as excited as we are about all of our progress working to open The Virginia Beer Company!
Chris and I have been members of the Brewers Association since 2012, and the membership has been well worth the annual dues. We’ve learned a ton about this growing industry, and we’ve met a lot of great people – professional contacts and personal friends. We had the pleasure of meeting a contingent from the BA in Richmond for a tour of RVA’s amazing craft scene this month. The breweries in Richmond (even before Stone announced it was coming to town) are a must-visit for anyone who loves good brew in a good beer town.
We also had the pleasure of visiting the O-I facility in nearby Toano. Learning about the beer industry isn’t just about knowing how to build a brewery and create delicious ambrosia (ie, BEER). You have to know all about the additional industries that run concurrent to your own. Glass, aluminum, farming, futures, etc…and lucky for us, Toano is home to one of the largest glass producers in the country!
Summer = festival season! This is no different in Williamsburg, where we were invited to participate in our first craft beer fest, the New Town Summer Fest (and we look forward to coming back for the next fest on Saturday, June 20th!)! While we weren’t in a position to pour samples, we were able to promote blueprints and elevations for our potential location (Hint: it was not 401 Second Street), hand out free swag, and formally introduce the fine folks of Williamsburg to our brewmaster, Jonathan Newman. While Jonathan’s hiring wasn’t officially announced until later in the year, he flew up from Atlanta for the festival and made a great first impression on the craft beer crowd (eg, he has a beard the likes of which Chris and I can’t come close to growing).
Jonathan’s visit also brought with it some other good times for Virginia Beer Co. We launched our Facebook page ahead of the Summer Fest, and we got to sample more of Jonathan’s early pilot batches for the brewery!
The craft scene in Williamsburg continued to ramp up in July as hot spots like The Wine Seller offered weekly craft beer tastings and Berret’s rolled out regular 'Steal the Pint' Nights, often featuring a who’s who of great Virginia breweries. We continued to kick the tires on our prospective location (Update: still not 401 Second Street) and at the same time kept active on other potential areas to open as we had long ago learned that you should always have a Plan B (and C, D, E, and F) when it comes to opening a brand new business. We were meeting with representatives in the City of Williamsburg and surrounding counties, talking to professionals about financing options, and continuing to circle a location.
We also received our first piece of fan mail, from someone equally excited for Batman’s 75th anniversary as for the impending opening of a craft brewery promising new beer in an old town. And July brought about one of our first shout outs in print/online media, with a reference in the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily!
As the summer months waned, Williamsburg managed to fit another stellar festival into its crowded social calendar. The Virginia Beer Company was featured in its second beer festival, the DoG Street Pub Craft Beer Festival(not to be confused with the equally magnanimous Big Bold Beer Fest held in January!)! While we still were not able to pour samples, we had even better swag to hand out and provided more details about our planned build-out (Tidbit: still not at 401 Second Street). The festival was a rousing success, and while Jonathan was not available to attend this one alongside me and Chris, he had a very good reason; he was moving to Williamsburg the following weekend!
Our big public announcement in August was that Jonathan was formally joining us in a full-time capacity, leaving his prior role at SweetWater Brewing to become the brewmaster at The Virginia Beer Company. This meant another full-time partner to help us build out the brewing specific aspects of the business, including brewhouse design and recipe development (the new proximity to our test batches did not go over our heads). Our first formal hire was in place, and we were ready to sign a lease and get this business rolling towards a 2015 opening.
In our personal lives we were in full on college mode, taking advantage of being back in the town of our alma mater by attending tailgates to support good causes and of course, supporting the Tribe (and to provide updates to the fine folks of Williamsburg on how our brewery was progressing). We used the month to begin discussing our thoughts on creating an updated logo to convey the heart of the brewery, and Jonathan provided his first update on what (literally) had been brewing.
An exciting month as the temperatures cooled and pumpkin beers were officially in season. We had our first interest piece, a background story put together by the fine folks over at The Beer Road, a fantastic blog about all things Virginia & national craft beer. It was a great way to discuss our backgrounds and introduce ourselves to a wider craft beer audience! We also held court in Richmond, alongside the head brewer of the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Williamsburg and two Virginia wineries, to discuss the business of beer and wine in Virginia!
November provided a lot of opportunity for public and media exposure!
- Jonathan (at least the SweetWater version) was on an episode of HGTV’s Elbow Room.
- This month also saw the public unveiling of our hopeful opening address at 401 Second Street in both the WY Daily and Daily Press. Back in late August we had officially turned our focus from a previous property to 401 Second Street, and the gumshoes in the local press caught on to the story as we made headway with the location. With the support of county officials including the grant of our incentive award from York County, the world officially knew that we were putting our hopes and dreams in a 10,400 square foot facility off of Second Street in York County.
- We hosted a team of associate producers from CNN (yes, that CNN) interested in learning about a trio of entrepreneurs who did not come from backgrounds in the brewing industry. Stay tuned for more on that press day in the near future!
- We revisited our friends in Richmond to see how things had been progressing in the RVA craft scene, and boy had they – the Richmond Beeristoric was an event to remember (if you could).
- And our biggest individual press to date came from the great people at Virginia Craft Brews.
As the holidays approached, Santa Claus came to Williamsburg a couple days early. We – at very long last – were able to sign a lease for our space and tell the world that not only would our brewery be opening, but where it would be opening! 401 SECOND STREET!
Not to be outshined by a building, The Virginia Beer Company also had its first public beer release in December. Jonathan paired up with a pal from his Atlanta brewing days, and together with Twain’s Brewpub & Billiards, The Virginia Beer Company was proud to unleash Double Breakfast Brown on the world (at the least the world of Atlanta).
What a difference a year makes! That may sound cliche, but my oh my are we moving at break neck speed now! How do you top a month where you not only sign a lease on a space in/on which you plan to build a BREWERY + TAPROOM + BEER GARDEN and release your very first professional brew!? By ordering the equipment to put in your building to brew your future beers, of course! After December & January, the rest of 2015 has a lot to live up to!
February and beyond…
We’ve accomplished quite a lot since we started this adventure, and a lot just in the 12 months making up 2014. And it feels like we’ve done a lot in the month-and-change that make up 2015! But there’s still so much more to do. With a Fall 2015 opening in sight, we have our work cut out for us. More test batches. Work with site planners and county staff, architects and contractors. Final maturation of our logo and branding. Even more test batches! Financing, licensing, distribution, OH MY. We hope that you’re as excited as we are for what’s to come, and we’ll do our best to keep everyone updated on our big milestones – we expect many of them this year. Looking forward to a big year for craft beer and for The Virginia Beer Company!