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Tickle the Tastebuds - Beers & Breweries

The Growth of Virginia Craft Beer

Hot in the July sun, but patient and curious, the crowd listened to Gov. Terry McAuliffe beside the lake in West Creek Business Park. 

“Today’s announcement and the whole craft brewing industry has been spectacular for the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Gov. McAuliffe said. “It equates to about $623 million a year of economic activity. It equates to over 8,000 jobs.”

The announcement heralded a new 60,000-square-foot facility for Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, with brewhouse, taproom, amphitheater, garden, and more amenities supplementing their current space. The operations are projected to create 56 jobs and to allow Hardywood, already the largest brewery purchaser of Virginia agricultural products, to purchase 300,000 pounds of local hops, grains and adjuncts. 

“By putting an emphasis on local ingredients, the craft beer industry is growing their connection to Virginia’s agriculture community in a big way and our farmers are keen to supply them with the products they need to make their outstanding beers,” said Secretary of Agriculture & Forestry Todd Haymore. 

Devils Backbone

If you have yet to become enamored of the fizzy fermented beverage called beer, you may not care about the growth of the industry. But like the drink itself, there’s more to this than meets the eye: inhale the sweet smell of success, wafting past the confines of the glass; taste flavors that have blossomed beyond those that used to define American beer; and wrap the experience into a complete context of enjoyment.

Nationally, craft beer production volume increased 16 percent during the first half of the year, according to mid-year data released by the Brewers Association (BA) on July 27, 2015, the not-for-profit trade association of small and independent American craft brewers.

“Industry growth is occurring in all regions and stemming from a mix of sources including various retail settings and a variety of unique brewery business models,” reported Bart Watson, chief economist of the Brewers Association. 

As of June 30, 2015, BA reported, 3,739 breweries were operating in the U.S, an increase of 699 breweries over 2014, with 1,755 breweries in planning. The trade association estimates that craft brewers employ an estimated 115,469 full-time and part-time workers, thus contributing significantly to the U.S. economy.

According to the “Beer Serves America” report on July 28, 2015, jointly commissioned by the Beer Institute and the National Beer Wholesalers Association, the overall U.S. beer industry contributed $253 billion to the American economy and supported 1.75 million jobs in 2014.

Virginia reflects the same rise in numbers: since 2012, the number of state breweries has increased from 44 to 121. 

Individual breweries continue to grow, too. Devils Backbone Brewing announced in July that it was expanding distribution to North Carolina, expanding their Rockbridge County production brewery – again.

In the Richmond area, the brewery count has reached 14, with eight more on the way. Our current breweries continue to grow. Among other indicators: Hardywood Park is projecting that 2015 production will top 14,000 barrels; Center of the Universe expanded distribution into Hampton Roads and plans an equipment expansion; Midnight moved into a larger production facility.  

Local and state governments have encouraged established breweries to open facilities in the commonwealth, too. 

Last October, California’s Stone Brewing announced their choice of Richmond as their East Coast production facility and restaurant, vowing to use Virginia vendors for equipment, supplies and ingredients, and to hire for 300 jobs. Virginia Beach has landed San Diego’s Green Flash Brewing Co. for its East Coast expansion, and Loudoun County recently declared Victory, announcing that the Pennsylvania-based Victory Brewing will open a brewpub in Leesburg. 

If those industry reports don’t mean anything to you, consider the closer-to-home effects. 

Picture yourself at a brewery tasting room – as you glance around you, evidence of the beer boom surrounds you.

That beer you’re holding may use local ingredients – malted barley, hops, and flavor adjuncts like herbs, berries and pumpkins. Facilities exist and are in development to smoke and malt the barley and to process hops. These products support the local economy and bring freshness and flavor to your glass.

If you’re at the tasting room during an event, you may be chatting with tourists or enjoying live music (the outlets for local musicians have multiplied magnificently), a fair of local vendors or a game of Jenga.

Perhaps the most welcome results are in your mouth. Besides brewing beers that represent classic styles, our brewers use newer techniques – hop bursting in Starr Hill’s updated Northern Lights IPA, for example – and perfectly paired adjuncts, such as Isley’s Choosy Mother peanut butter porter, Ardent’s Honey Ginger and Lickinghole Creek’s Rosemary Saison, plus numerous barrel-aged beers.

You’ll also see evidence of industry growth when you’re out and about, as local restaurants and retailers have added tap lines and packaged beers. 

“Hardywood’s new $28 million expansion in Goochland … along with expansions from California breweries like Stone and Green Flash, solidify Virginia’s position as one of the best places to make craft beer on the East Coast,” said Secretary Haymore. 

“Drink beer, drink wine, drink everything you can to help us increase our economic activity,” Gov. McAuliffe told the West Creek crowd. That’s one government directive that’s easy to support.


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