Buffalo Wing Factory did an unusual thing when it won third place among American Pale Ales in the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild awards with its Rain or Shine Session IPA: It won an award with the only beer it has ever submitted to the competition.
It managed that with the help of an unusual brewery: Beltway Brewing Company in Sterling.
You won’t find many Beltway Brewing Company beers in stores or bars. When Beltway’s brewers have the space, they make their own beers, but their bread and butter is as a contract brewery—helping to bring other brewers’ recipes to market.
“My music analogy for this is, if beer is music, and beer brands are the bands, then we’re a recording studio,” said Beltway Brewing Company founder and president Sten Sellier, who is fond of speaking in musical analogies. “You come here for us to use our fancy equipment and our fancy and educated engineers to produce an album that really kicks ass, but it’s up to you to sell it.”
When Sellier started Beltway Brewing, he was inventing a new type of business. He was a home brewer with dreams of quitting his job and making beer for a living. He had the idea to pay other breweries to make his recipes while he got started.
“I started making those calls and quickly found out that nobody was interested in helping me out with that, either because they were not interested in doing small quantities for me,” or they were too busy with their own brews, Sellier said.
He started looking for breweries that would take the kind of contract work he was looking for, and couldn’t find any. He knew he couldn’t be the only person who needed it.
“As soon as I started throwing this idea out to other brewers, they were like, ‘you have to do this. We need something like this.’”
That’s what he did. Beltway Brewing Company just celebrated its third anniversary with the release of one of its own brews, Octo IPA. But for the most part, it still brews other people’s beer—“smaller breweries that can’t keep up, larger breweries, like Lost Rhino, that can’t keep up with demand, and then we’ve got the folks that their brewery hasn’t opened up yet,” Sellier said. Those new breweries benefit from Beltway’s experienced brewers.
That includes Buffalo Wing Factory, which worked with Beltway on perfecting its recipe for more than a year.
“We’ve been trying to nail down this session IPA recipe for like a dead 14 months or so,” said Buffalo Wing Factory Director of Operations Dan Tufts. “Now this beer is settled and we’re thrilled with it. We’ve already been in talks with Beltway to start developing our new style.”
“I want to have a very serious conversation with the people and create the best beer possible, but also the exact type of beer that they would produce at their facility,” said Operations Manager Tucker Street. Many of those brewers are well-known Loudoun names—Adroit Theory in Purcellville got its start with help from Beltway Brewing, and Beltway production manager Greg Skotzko worked at Adroit Theory.
Beltway helps out with brewers all across the country, which means that its tasting room, though small, has some hard-to-find beers.
“We have a couple brands that, to be honest, you just can’t get in the state of Virginia, but you’re able to get here,” Street said.
Now, Sellier says, it’s time to grow. He’s in the process of growing his staff and getting ready to expand into adjacent space at its Davis Drive location.
“Loudoun has a great craft beer consumer base,” Sellier said, “And they keep asking for more.”