2014 Craft Beer Growth

In May of 2014 I posted a blog entry titled "The Growth of Craft Beer." In that entry I wrote the following: 

"The recently released figures for 2013 show craft beer holding a volume share of 7.8% and a dollar share of 14.3%! 2,768 craft breweries contributed to the 18% volume growth and 20% dollar growth that occurred during the year. This growth is astounding when viewed from any angle."

The preliminary 2014 data recently released by the Brewers Association proves that 2013 was no fluke. As of the end of 2014, craft beer now holds a volume share of 11% and a dollar share of 19.3%. That calculates to 18% volume growth and 22% dollar growth over the 2013 figures! The fact that the total beer market in the United States only grew 0.5% in 2014 makes the continued growth of craft beer even more impressive. 

A 19% increase in the number of operating craft breweries (from 2,863 to 3,418) resulted in production increasing from 15.6 million barrels in 2013 to 22.2 million barrels in 2014. Of those 3,418 craft breweries, 1,871 are considered microbreweries, 1,412 are brewpubs, and 135 are regional craft breweries. Total new openings during 2014 totaled 615, while only 46 previously operating craft breweries closed their doors. 

The Brewers Association typically releases finalized data following the Craft Brewers Conference (April 14-17 in Portland, Oregon). Data for individual states is also released at that time; Virginia's growth should mirror or even outpace what we are seeing on the national level. Check back next month for a look at those figures! The likelihood of reaching the Brewers Association's stated goal of 20% volume share by 2020 definitely increased with the success of craft beer in 2014!

Brewery VBC, Where Are You?

Brewery VBC, Where Are You?

Hope everyone's having a great summmer! It feels like it's been way too long since we've had a thorough blog post about some key aspect of starting a new business, or even about a current event going on in our never ending quest to build Williamsburg's newest craft brewery. Needless to say, that's for a good reason...we've been busy! So this update in and of itself is more like hemidemisemiquaver of an update than a full post. But since we've been so busy, we figured the least we could do was take a quick break to fill everyone in on what's been going on in the world of Virginia Beer Co...

Post continues after the jump! 

Brewing Facility Considerations

Brewing Facility Considerations

One of the biggest challenges we've faced has been finding a facility to house The Virginia Beer Company. This is partly due to the fact that Robby and I have a specific vision for our brewery and are only willing to compromise to a certain point, but it's mostly due to the fact that breweries are extremely specialized uses and require a certain type of facility that isn't easy to find in an area like downtown Williamsburg (our chosen location!). None of the requirements and considerations listed below are hard and fast rules - you can certainly find breweries tucked into buildings with low ceilings and no floor drains! However, they were useful for us as we attempted to narrow our options during our 2+ year search for a facility and will hopefully illuminate why the process has been so challenging. 

The Wild West (aka, Social Media)

As Chris and I have continued to work through various aspects of opening Virginia Beer Co., we have started to establish a humble online presence. We figured it would be better to have some presence in the world than none at all. So while we may still be a little ways off from our physical (eg, liquid) presence in the craft beer industry, we can at least reach into the world and connect with like-minded individuals and entities. The power of the online world and social media is such that even before a drop of sweet, sweet beer is produced for public consumption, we can span VBC across the state, the country, and the world, unveiling our plans to the public at large. It’s thrilling to put something like a link to a blog post out on Twitter and see the kind of response – any response really – we get from old friends and new friends alike. Seeing the number of followers grow, being delighted by more hits on our fledgling website, and interacting with our compatriots in the craft beer universe…well, it’s enough to convince you that meliorism in the craft beer world does exist! And hopefully a preview of the thrill we’ll experience when we can finally do the same in person once our beer is flowing in the VBC taproom and beyond. 

As a brewery-in-planning (our first formal name at the CBC in 2012) the power of social media is not something to be overlooked. As soon as Chris and I (ie, Erin) settled on The Virginia Beer Company as the official name for our enterprise we quickly decided on handles for many of our social media accounts. That said, we had to make a decision on what social media accounts to create handles for; there are quite a few and it didn't seem prudent to have a lot of Virginia Beer Co. entities floating around in perpetuity with no content. We decided on a choice few to start, and Chris was the first to change his workplace on Facebook to The Virginia Beer Company, LLC, which, word to the wise, actually created an unofficial Facebook page for the brewery! We’re working to get the official Facebook page launched very soon, so keep your browsers at the ready! 

Twitter - @VirginiaBeerCo

Instagram - @VirginiaBeerCo

(Way more after the jump, click the link below to read on!)

Naming The Brewery

Once we settled on Williamsburg as our location, our next order of business was to come up with a name for our brewery. On the surface that might sound like a fun, easy task, but I can assure you that it was anything but. We started the discussion in earnest sometime in March of 2012; below you will see emails Robby and I exchanged in April of that year (click to enlarge). 

At that time we were both throwing out any idea that popped into our heads. Many of the names we were considering are obviously historical references - they are not in short supply here in Williamsburg! We continued discussing potential names into the early summer without coming to a consensus. Friends and family repeatedly sent us suggestions and voiced their opinions, but despite our best efforts we never managed to settle on a name. In July of 2012 we both decided that Liberty Tree Brewing Company had potential and began soliciting feedback. Below is a scan of my wife's list of potential brewery names from around that time (note the Liberty Tree logo doodles).

The response to Liberty Tree Brewing Company was somewhat mixed, and after conducting more research we discovered that two newly-opened breweries in Virginia (one in Richmond, one in Norfolk) were already using a tree as their main logo. Back to the drawing board!

Robby and I spent a lot of time thinking about existing craft breweries and how we perceived their brewery and their products based solely on the name they had selected. We decided that having the name immediately convey a sense of place was really important to both of us. Most people associate the term terroir with wine, but the idea certainly applies to beer as well. We also thought about how we ordered beer during our travels around the country. We always wanted to try local flavors but the origin of the beer was often unclear. While we liked the imagery associated with names like Liberty Tree Brewing Company and Gallant Ghost Brewing Company, neither one necessarily screams Virginia!

The Virginia Beer Company isn't listed in any of the emails or lists that were exchanged between March and August of 2012. It seems like such an obvious choice now, but at the time we had spent five months reviewing potential names without ever considering it. No one's quite sure who mentioned the name first, but once it infiltrated our minds there was no other choice. A quick search of the federal trademark registry and the Virginia State Corporation Commission registry confirmed (rather surprisingly!) that the name was available for use. We immediately solicited feedback from family and friends, receiving nothing but positive reviews. A few hours of paperwork and $100 later, The Virginia Beer Company was officially born as a limited liability company in the Commonwealth of Virginia!

A Salute

A time for taking a moment to salute those who have served is upon us. Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of Summer. Pools open, grills light up, and vacations begin in earnest. Most importantly the holiday is in place for us to remember the men and women who died during service in the U.S. Armed Forces, a tradition that began after the U.S. Civil War. Veterans Day marks the foray into fall and ushers in the beginning of the holiday rush. And more importantly, it's a day to salute those who've served their country. So I salute those who've served, and those who've given it all. These days that combine both honoring our armed services and opening the gates of America's two favorite seasons - summertime and the holidays - come with their fair share of beer. And I know I can't think of one of these occasions that didn't also involve a link to beer in some form. 

In my family's past few generations, we didn't have anyone fall in service to the nation, but we do have a number of servicemen in the family tree. My father's uncle, Gene Robinson, was a pilot from Southern Illinois and served in World War II as a radio operator and gunner on the Western Front. His B-17 plane was shot down in 1944 and at 21 he served a year in a German prison camp. He was liberated by one of General Patton's divisions and returned to the States. I can remember many a summer weekend spent visiting with Uncle Gene when he would come to DC to visit the local VFW and visit the city's war memorials. He would solemnly discuss his compatriots in the Army who didn't make it back, with beer in hand and pride in his eyes. How does this relate to my own path to opening a brewery? Well my dad fondly tells the story of going fishing with Uncle Gene back in Illinois along with some of Gene's brethren from the VFW. The troop found themselves at the middle of the lake and my dad noted how thirsty he was. Gene and his veteran buddies smiled wryly and Gene commented, "We didn't bring any pop so if you don't want to drink lake water, you'll have to have one of these." He then tossed an Old Stag to my dad. It was my dad's first beer and I'm pretty sure if not for that fateful fishing trip I would not have become the beer enthusiast I am today (heck, I might be opening a soda factory if they'd brought pop!). 

One of my mother's brothers, Roger Johnson, served in the Navy during the early 1960's and was active duty on one of the ships involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis blockade. My mom used to joke that the tense times during the standoff must have skyrocketed beer sales around the country! My mom also noted that she learned how to drink beer from my uncle after he retired from the Navy. Despite my dad's protestations to the contrary, I'm pretty certain my mom taught me how to drink beer, so again I owe some of my roots in beer-dom to extended family who served their country. 

Finally, my own father, Robert Willey, Jr., was drafted and was in the Army from 1970 (the year my parents' were married!) until 1972, stationed primarily at Fort Dix in New Jersey. The newlyweds adopted a kitten soon after my father was drafted, trying to add a semblance of normalcy to an otherwise disruptive first year of marriage. My dad was discharged before his unit was sent overseas and soon after he and my mom rented a house in Alexandria, VA. My Uncle Roger and his wife were also living in Alexandria at that time. Soon after reconnecting in VA, they were all out for dinner and drinks one evening and took the celebration back to my parents' new abode. My mom introduced their new cat to my Aunt & Uncle, and explained that they had initially struggled to come up with a suitable name for the new addition to the family. Someone had finally suggested just saying the first thing that came to mind and settling on that as the name; my dad immediately blurted out "Budweiser" because that's what he recalled wanting most at the time. This was still a fitting name years later as the four of them at that moment were all holding cans of Bud, with which they promptly toasted and finished! So the name stuck and low and behold, I was born into a family with a cat named after a beer (and the fact that my mom was ok with this was a good sign the family would approve of my future business decisions). 

I'm grateful to have family members who served honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces, and while none of them lost their lives during their tenure, my great uncle and uncle (who was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery) are no longer with us; our family has a rich tradition of taking time on holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day to reflect on the experiences those family members had, recalling the names and tales of their friends and fellow servicemen who served and remembering those who did not make it back. For me, I'll forever toast my great uncle, uncle, father, and their peers for their service and also for weaving a web of beer tales that helped push me down the path that I now find myself on. 

As you salute and celebrate in your own ways, next time you open a beer, craft or otherwise, make sure you give your own toast to the men and women of our military, past and present. You never know who around you may have their own tales of family or friends who served and how those men and women impacted their lives. And if you come from my family, there's no higher toast than that done with a delicious beer in hand. So cheers to those who have served, past, present, and future; and never forgot those who gave their lives in service. We salute you all.

Saluting all those who've given their service and those who've given their lives. #NeverForget #ThankYou

Saluting all those who've given their service and those who've given their lives. #NeverForget #ThankYou

Craft Brewers Convene

One of the most exhilarating events that Chris and I attended in our early stages of starting Virginia Beer Co. was the Craft Brewers Conference. This conference is organized by the Brewers Association (touched on in a previous post) on a yearly basis. It moves from East Coast to Midwest to West Coast venues each year, so you get a chance to experience craft beer around the country. It's primary focus is on improving brewery education and performance for brewpubs and production breweries. The event includes industry updates ("My fellow Craft Brewians:  the state of the craft beer industry is good."); seminars focused on topics from breweries-in-planning to advanced brewing techniques; and BrewExpo America, a trade show for exhibitors and buyers that allows attendees to experience first-hand products and services that industry vendors have to offer. Oh yeah, and there are waterfalls of free craft beer cascading as far as the palate can last. If you've ever dreamt of discussing the pros & cons of a two-vessel versus four-vessel brewing system with an NSI rep while drinking free Russian River Supplication, well this is the event for you. Seriously though the Craft Brewers Conference has been one of the best events that we have spent time and money on, and if you'll grant me a few words after the jump I will attempt to explain why...