Craft breweries are beginning to attract the attention of economic developers in the Northern Neck of Virginia. They are part of a vibrant industry of dedicated entrepreneurs who go beyond the business model of attracting customers just to buy drinks.
“They are becoming part of the fabric of many communities,” Steve Versen said during his presentation at Brew#3, the third annual meeting of brewers and growers in the Northern Neck region, hosted by the Northern Neck Planning District Commission. Versen is a project manager at the Office of Agriculture and Forestry Development in the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Ted Saffos, co-founder of the Colonial Beach Brewing, agreed. “We’ve become the Cheers of Colonial Beach,” he said, in reference to how his retail space has become a gathering place in town, a place for families to hang out. “We even have toys for the children to play while their parents meet with friends,” he added.
Versen discussed the many public/private opportunities available to this nascent industry. “A brewery is a factory,” he said, “a place that can be toured,” a location where value is added to raw materials—grains and hops—which can all potentially come from growers in the region.
The Governor’s Agriculture & Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund, he added, can help established microbrewers with business planning, technical assistance, workforce certification and training, marketing via the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and financing through loans and small grants.
The main purpose of the annual Brew meetings in the Northern Neck is to keep the conversation going, to share experiences and knowledge. Back in 2011, there were 32 craft breweries in all of Virginia. Today, there are over 250. “The community of craft brewers and related growers is notorious for not being competitive,” said Lisa Hull, an economic development coordinator with the Northern Neck Planning District Commission. “There is room for all of them to grow,” she added, “and the better they become at their craft, the more they will benefit as a collective.”
Other participants at Brew#3 included Andy Beale, co-founder and general manager of Tradition Brewing Company in Newport News, which will be opening the Old Rappahannock Brewing Company in Warsaw in 2019; Matt King, with Wild Run Brewing Company of Stafford, which will also be opening a new location right outside Montross in 2019; Butch Filkoski, a local grower of hops who works closely with Montross Brewery; Casey Blaylock and Bob Busick, both with Colonial Beach Brewing; Ricardo Colón, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Dr. Laban K. Rutto (with Virginia State University), who gave a presentation on the challenges of growing hops in Virginia; and several local-government representatives.