We just got back from a pilgrimage to Beer Hound Brewery in Culpeper, VA. We spent a day with founder and brewer, Kenny Thacker, brewing a batch of IPA. Kenny’s transformation into a brewer is quite interesting, so much so that it was described in this Money Magazine article.
The main reason we wanted to visit Kenny was to see him brew on his 7 Barrel Alpha Brewing Operation direct fire brewhouse, because we are getting almost the exact same system (ours will be slightly larger, but a little bit less automated). We also wanted to pick his brain about the ups and downs of starting a new brewery, as he opened in 2014. Hopefully we can benefit from some of the things he has learned over the last year or more. Oh, and one more thing – we wanted to taste his beer. Which was delicious.
Below are some pictures we took of the brew day:
Kenny was beyond hospitable and we can’t thank him enough. While we are many months away from our opening day and have much work to do, we are continually amazed at the craft beer community’s willingness to help us. In addition to Kenny’s help on equipment selection, Karl Roulston at Woodstock Brewhouse invited Kevin to Woodstock, VA to learn about their system; several of Random Row’s founders have taken PVCC brewing classes taught by Hunter Smith (of Champion Brewing Co.). Dave and Levi at 3 Notch’d Brewing Co. have been equally helpful, giving us all sorts of advice and having Kevin over to learn about brewing on a commercial system. Kevin also visited and spoke with Justin at Reaver Beach Brewing in Virginia Beach, Jeremy at Triple Crossing and Michael at Isley Brewing in Richmond earlier on. Without the help of all these breweries, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
A quick search (ProBrewer, Brewers Association, etc.) reveals that this sort of behavior is not at all unusual. When we took a brewery tour in Asheville, NC two years ago, we found the microbrewery business climate just as hospitable – and Asheville has a lot more breweries than Charlottesville (especially now that heavyweights Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are there, and with Oskar Blues in nearby Brevard). We think (hope) that this sort of collegiality leads to mutually beneficial synergies, rather than competition and unfriendliness. While we are not naive enough to assume that this will necessarily last forever, data from the Brewers Association suggests that there is still a tremendous amount of growth potential for craft brewers, as in 2014 craft beer still only made up 11% of the US Market!
Additionally, we note that with SABMiller and AB InBev tying up to create a $106 Billion “Behemoth” it is probably, more than ever, in the best interest of locally-owned craft brewers to work together to produce high quality, constantly changing products that benefit the local economy.
Taking this philosophy to the extreme is Jim Koch, who founded the Boston Beer Company (maker of Sam Adams) and more recently started the Brewing the American Dream project – the goal of which is to provide low interest rate loans as well as a wealth of professional advice, coaching, and resources to promising startups in the food and beverage, hospitality, and craft brewing industries. In what other business would the industry leaders go out of their way to finance their “competition”?