The Cellar Circus

Virginia Beer Co. to Begin Release of Cellar Circus

Barrel-Fermented Permutation Series

The Cellar Circus is a new oak barrel-fermented permutation series concocted by the brewers of the Virginia Beer Co.

“This is a thoughtful experiment in Brett Farmhouse Ale recipes fermented directly in 11 Red and 11 White Wine Oak Barrels with a fusion of Saison yeast and Brettanomyces,” stated VBC Brewmaster Jonathan Newman.

Blending from unique, individual red and white wine barrels creates a litany of flavors amplified by almost a year spent fermenting directly in wood. Sweetness from the oak barrels is immediately followed by aromatics produced by the estery qualities of a Saison and delicate use of a variety of hops. Upon further investigation, the character instilled by the use of Brettanomyces during fermentation produces a complementary fruit-forward aftertaste with a clean, dry finish.

These will be the launch of an ongoing exploration of the infinite number of permutations possible as a result of purposeful, experimental barrel-fermentation and blending. The first two releases – Blend No. 001 and Blend No. 002 – were aged entirely in oak for almost a year, then blended and bottle-conditioned since Jul. and Dec. 2018 (respectively). These Brett Farmhouse Ales will be unveiled in the Virginia Beer Co. taproom beginning in late April with planned releases of new blends every quarter going forward.

“Featuring a rotation of hops and a combination of yeast, oak, and time…the finished product is complex yet delicate,” noted Jonathan. “After over a year of fermentation and aging, these blends are ready to enjoy now and fit for extended cellaring. We hope you’ll enjoy peaking behind the curtain to learn about the juggling act of brewing with wild yeast and the many permutations of blending as much as our team has.”

Learn more via the brewery’s Facebook page here:

Alewerks Collaboration Beer

When Alewerks Brewing Company's Brewmaster, Geoff Logan, first approached us about doing a small batch collaboration beer, obviously, I was excited at the opportunity. It’s to the point that it’s cliché, but despite the inherent business competition, craft brewing really is a congenial and collaborative industry, and nobody exemplifies that more than Geoff.

Geoff and I first started talking casually about what we might want to brew back in the spring, at the local homebrew club, CASK (Colonial Ale Smiths and Keggers), spring party. Conversation over a couple well-done homebrews led to discussing some of the newer hop varieties that have gone into production in recent years, specifically varieties coming from the American Dwarf Hop Association.

Azacca is one of these hops, and will be featured heavily in The Virginia Beer Company's year-round IPA, so I have plenty of it contracted for the next few years. Geoff was interested in working with the new variety, so we had a bit of a direction for the collaboration, and we eventually settled on a Red Rye IPA as the base beer.

Azacca is a great, high alpha acid variety, which also has great oil content giving intense aromas of tropical fruit- mango, pineapple and the like. The fruity character of the variety is almost overwhelming as a standalone hop, so we decided to balance it with some Simcoe for a little bit of dank, resiny, pine flavor and aroma.

The brewday at Alewerks went quite well, and it was great to be back working in a brewery again after a year of pilot batching. The rye malt gives a nice crispness to the beer that allows the hops to really shine in the IPA. We also did all of our hop additions at the end of the boil and in the whirlpool, in order to keep the bitterness moderate for an IPA (around 65 IBUs) while still packing the wort with as much of the aromatic and flavorful hop oils as we could. The beer was then dry-hopped with copious amounts of Azacca to really pull out the tropical aromas of the hop- it seemed a fitting choice for a summer release. And with 2 lbs. of dry hops added per barrel (for 20 total lbs.), those tropical aromas and flavors should shine like the summer sun!

Speaking of the release, we’re excited to pour our collaboration Red Rye IPA alongside many of Alewerks’ other beers on Sunday, 8/2 at the Whistle Belly Virginia Beer & More Festival in Williamsburg, hosted by our friends at DoG Street Pub. It should be a great celebration of all things Williamsburg beer. And we're excited for the follow-up release at the Alewerks taproom on Thursday, 8/6 as part of the National IPA Day celebration.

Cheers to collaboration and exciting new hop varieties!

Brewer's Lab PSA

QA/QC laboratory instrumentation and procedures are important for producing high quality beer in any brewery, but they are absolutely critical in a brewery like The Virginia Beer Co. where we will be purposefully introducing wild yeast and souring bacteria into some of our fermentations.

Brettanomyces (a family of "wild" yeast strains) fermentations will often grow a pellicle (especially in the presence of oxygen) as seen in this photo of our Saison Tournante- Bretta taken just prior to packaging.

Brettanomyces (a family of "wild" yeast strains) fermentations will often grow a pellicle (especially in the presence of oxygen) as seen in this photo of our Saison Tournante- Bretta taken just prior to packaging. Brett in a primary fermentation or mixed culture, like this Saison, will drop the pH of beer further than typical ale or lager yeast strains, producing a fruity tartness, but not a true sourness. To get a truly sour beer, lactic acid bacteria such as lactobacillus and pediococcus must be introduced into the culture.

Our Sour Saving Daylight Citrus Wheat was fermented with three brettanomyces strains as well as a mixed bacteria culture, and it eventually dropped to a very sour 2.98 pH before packaging.

Martini Instruments Mi 150 pH/Temperature Bench Meter - our Sour Citrus Wheat was fermented with three brettanomyces strains as well as a mixed bacteria culture, and it eventually dropped to a very sour 2.98 pH before packaging.

Martini Instruments Mi 150 pH/Temperature Bench Meter - our Sour Citrus Wheat was fermented with three brettanomyces strains as well as a mixed bacteria culture, and it eventually dropped to a very sour 2.98 pH before packaging.

A cellar tool, but also a lab instrument -- Zahm & Nagel CO2 Volume Meter

These beers are exciting, but they're also inherently risky for the other beers in our brewery, so we're making significant investments in our laboratory infrastructure to ensure I can sleep at night knowing our clean ales are indeed clean. Now back to your regularly scheduled craft beer programming!

Virginia Is For Beer...Ingredients

In the Spring 2015 issue of Virginia Craft Brews magazine, there's an interesting article entitled Virginia Brewers Supporting Small Scale Growers (page 21). With the Virginia craft beer landscape growing at a rapid pace it only makes sense that the VA industries supporting local craft beer would be growing too. And just like fans of craft enjoy drinking local, it's important that craft itself supports local. VBC and other Virginia craft breweries agree:

“Jonathan Newman, brewmaster at The Virginia Beer Co.[,] sees various challenges facing new breweries. While sourcing local ingredients...and yeast from RVA Yeast labs, Newman understands that the availability of local ingredients from growers and producers is...finite and knows that ‘once they’re out, they’re out.’ Newman believes in the added level of ‘story for a beer.’ When produced with local ingredients, it is something that customers gravitate to.”

— Jonathan Scott, The Virginia Hop Initiative

Cheers to Virginia beer...and all the Virginia ingredients that go into making it great!

What's Brewing... Part 3

While things are getting more and more busy around here working with contractors, engineers and equipment manufacturers, I have still found time to be brewing each week; and we’ve had a fairly good mix of experimental beers possibly destined for our 5bbl Pilot Brewhouse and many batches of our planned year round beers.

On the more technical side of things, now that we have our building settled it’s been time to focus on the water chemistry there, so recently we sent a sample out to an independent lab for analysis. I had been brewing test batches from a different water source, so it’s been important to re-brew all of our beers using the water that I’ll be using on a production scale for The Virginia Beer Co. beers. Our water at 401 is actually pretty well suited for brewing- for paler beers it does take a little tweaking to get the alkalinity under control, but nothing drastic, and it is pretty much perfectly suited for brewing darker beers with their more acidic grists, which naturally neutralize some of that alkalinity. It’s definitely been a chore collecting water for brewing ahead of time, but it’s worth the effort to be able to understand the needs of our brewing water prior to our opening!

Brewing of course is part science and part art, so let’s move on to the more interesting artistic side of what’s been brewing in Williamsburg. One particularly fun beer actually came about through conversations with the good folks over at the restaurant, Silt, here in Williamsburg. The VBC team went over there one afternoon to meet their team, and naturally I got to talking with Chef Nelson Miller about beer and food pairings. He mentioned that he had always thought that peppadews (a sweet, red pepper) would make a great beer ingredient, and I was intrigued by the idea. Of course Nelson sent me off with a huge jar of peppadews and I started planning an Imperial Peppadew Porter with the idea that the chocolate malt flavor would balance and complement the sweet, mild heat of the peppers nicely. And of course as I looked more into the peppers, I realized they were pickled… Vinegar and Imperial Porter didn’t seem like such a great idea, but I was happy with the base beer recipe I had written, so I headed to a local market to try to find fresh peppadews, but had no such luck. While wandering around the market looking for something interesting to add to the Imperial Porter I had designed, I came across Goji berries. Known as a bit of a super-fruit for their high nutritional value, Goji berries are a small red berry native to China that have a mildly tart and somewhat bittersweet berry flavor. They seemed like a perfect match for the chocolate forward beer I had planned! On the brewday I packed the hopback vessel full of the dried berries and ran the hot wort through the vessel extracting the berry flavor (and a bit of their red hue) just prior to cooling the wort on it’s way to the fermentation vessel. The beer was a total experiment, and the results were quite nice. Goji Porter clocked in around 8.6% ABV with a nice tart and slightly sweet Goji note in the background and beautiful red highlights in the glass. It may not have been the beer Nelson and I initially envisioned, but without that collaborative conversation, the beer never would have come into being… And I hear he’s working on sourcing some fresh peppadews, so fingers crossed for that!

Another more experimental and collaborative beer came through the taps recently. One of our main hop suppliers,47 Hops, sent me some samples of a new hop variety called Pekko (pronounced “peek-o”) to try out. Having never used the variety before, I was very excited to see what they were all about, so I devised a fairly straight forward malt-bill in order to let the hops shine. The finished beer had a very distinct peach aroma and flavor from the hops that was quite pleasant! A perfect example of a beer that would fit in one of our planned taproom series of beers, a line we’re calling Single Hop Sessions. It should be a great way for taproom drinkers to explore the wide variety of hops available on the market!

One other intriguing beer that I’ve been quite pleased with of late is another iteration of our rotating Saison Tournante series. Our citrus peels supplier sent us some dried tangerine peel a couple months ago, and the aroma of tangerine just begged for warmer weather and a saison! As soon as the spring started to come about I propagated saison yeast that I had saved from the fall and got to brewing. In addition to the tangerine peel, I also used Australian Galaxy hops, which have a distinct tropical fruit aroma and flavor. The resulting beer pours a hazy orange and has an intoxicating tropical tangerine flavor and aroma that are perfect for drinking outdoors on a beautiful day.

That’s all for now… It's been an adventure brewing full time with The Virginia Beer Company, through our first collaboration with Twain's, along with all the 20+ (and counting) styles and recipes we continue to develop and refine. And the adventure continues:  time to head to the building to filter and collect water for Monday’s India Pale Ale brewday!

The Color of Glass

We were recently approached by a member of the Williamsburg community with a specific question about the color of glass bottles and the direct impact that color has on the beers contained within. After answering we realized that this is a fairly common question out in the beer world, so we wanted to share the conversation with everyone who might be wondering about the same. 


"What is the rationale behind [the] commentary about avoiding beer in bottles that are not brown. I suspect it has something to do with light affecting the taste of the beer, which would explain clear bottles, but I would have thought that green bottles would be similar to brown bottles in their opacity (or perhaps even black bottles, like Guinness, I think). 
So do you know of any actual studies about the effects on beer by the color of the bottle that the beer comes in?" 

Our answer, after the jump! 

What's Brewing...

This first month and a half in Virginia has been a whirlwind of pilot batching, and even with the challenges of brewing on a small scale, it's been quite fun. One of the things that drew me to The Virginia Beer Company over other projects was the emphasis placed on having a variety of beers. While we will certainly have our core, year round beers (more on those later), we want every visit to our taproom to offer beer lovers something new to try. My early pilot batch brewing has definitely been reflective of this philosophy, and it has been a fun change of pace from my more regimented production brewery background. 

At two private parties we have served our Citrus Wheat and IPA; along with the first iteration of our rotating Saison series, Saison Tournant Galaxy/Amarillo; and a Wet-Hopped Cascade Harvest Red (brewed with Virginia-grown hops). The response has been incredibly positive across the board, not only for the individual beers, but for the variety of beers we are presenting. 

There's more variety to come, as well! Currently fermenting I have an Oatmeal Stout and Hoppy Rye Amber, along with more Citrus Wheat and IPA (including a small batch of IPA fermented solely with the wild yeast, Brettanomyces). We'll have to wait a bit for that one, but I'm excited for the combination of flavors and aroma brought about by Brettanomyces and Pacific Northwest hops. 

This week will bring a new iteration of Saison Tournant featuring various peppercorns, so I have been hard at work propagating more of our Saison yeast strain! 

To small batches and variety. Cheers! 


Clockwise from top left:  Citrus Wheat with grapefruit & orange peel, IPA with Azacca hops, Wet-hopped Cascade Harvest Red, and Oatmeal Stout

I'm Jonathan...

Hello. I’m Jonathan…

My name is Jonathan Newman, and I am the brewmaster for The Virginia Beer Company.  I’ll be honest I’ve been meaning to write my introduction for a while now, but frankly, I’ve been busy brewing pilot batches.  More on that to come… First a little on my background in brewing.

I got my start in brewing, like most brewers, as a homebrewer.  I was living and working at a boarding school where I taught American and British literature to 11th graders. Homebrewing offered a most welcome escape and I quickly became quite obsessed.  The students didn’t drive me to drink, but they most certainly drove me to brewing. Thanks, kids!

After a few years of serious homebrewing, I started working part time as a brewer for Jackalope Brewing Company in Nashville, TN.  If you’re ever in Nashville, definitely check them out. They make some great beers. After about a year with Jackalope working part time while still teaching full-time, I got an offer I couldn’t refuse. I packed up my life and moved to Atlanta in September of 2011 to take a full time brewing job at SweetWater Brewing Company. It was a life changing decision, and one of the best I’ve ever made.

I spent just under three years at SweetWater and saw that brewery transform.  When I first started there I was brewing on a 50 bbl brewhouse that we were running 24/7 churning out 45-50 batches per week.  It was a breakneck pace, but a great learning experience.  About a year and a half ago, SweetWater completed its big expansion and moved onto a 330 bbl brewhouse (one of the largest craft brewhouses in the country). I have to say, brewing 10,000+ gallon batches was pretty great fun (most of the time).  While at SweetWater I completed the American Brewers Guild’s “Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering” diploma program studying everything from yeast metabolic pathways to the physics of heat exchangers and everything else in between that goes into the brewing process. This coursework has already proved quite valuable as we start building The Virginia Beer Company, and I’d recommend the American Brewers Guild to anybody looking to make a career in brewing.

All this has led me to Williamsburg, Virginia and The Virginia Beer Company. I’m greatly looking forward to sharing my beers with the local market and beyond. It’s going to be a wild ride building this brewery, and I am beyond excited for the challenges.  



Hiring Employees - Fun with Taxes!

Did you see yesterday’s news on the blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram? Team VBC is growing! We started laying the groundwork for this expansion about a month ago when we began researching the rules and regulations related to running a business that has actual employees. The Virginia Beer Company is registered as a limited liability corporation. As a result, Robby and I (as co-founders) are not counted as employees of the business; we are considered member-managers of the LLC and are subject to different laws and tax regulations than a standard employee.

Let’s just say that hiring our first employee has been an incredible amount of work. As we plan to hire many, many more, we are choosing to believe that the process gets easier over time. The challenges associated with being an employer are not brewery-specific...

We Hired a Brewmaster!

We are thrilled to formally announce the first addition to the VBC team (and it's a BIG one!) - three cheers for our Brewmaster, Jonathan Newman! 

Jonathan is a graduate of the American Brewers Guild. He has previously brewed at Jackalope Brewing Company in Nashville, TN and most recently at SweetWater Brewing Company in Atlanta, GA. 

Now that Jonathan is in Williamsburg on a full time basis, we couldn't be more enthusiastic about the future of #BurgBeer (because this means A LOT more test batches)! 

Follow Jonathan on Twitter at @JNewmanBrews, and keep up with VBC on Facebook and Twitter & Instagram at @VirginiaBeerCo for more news. And check back in to VB(log)C soon for Jonathan's full bio and updates on our recipe development

Welcome to the team, Jonathan! 

Jonathan, left, pictured here with co-founders Chris Smith & Robby Willey, at the 2014 New Town Summer Fest in Williamsburg, VA. Respect the beer. And the beard. 
Jonathan, left, pictured here with co-founders Chris Smith & Robby Willey, at the 2014 New Town Summer Fest in Williamsburg, VA. Respect the beer. And the beard.