Loudoun Microbrewers Talk Industry Successes, Concerns

By John Patterson

Loudoun’s blossoming microbrewery community met at Smokehouse Live on Tuesday night to discuss their shared passion: craft beer.

Audience members and expert panelists alike sipped beer from glass jars during a panel discussion, which quickly evolved into a relaxed question and answer session between the audience and panel.

Sitting center stage were Sten Sellier, founder and president of Beltway Brewing Company; Jasper Akerboom, a Dutch microbiologist specializing in yeast strains and head of operations at Lost Rhino Brewing Company; rural economy giant and owner of Dirt Farm Brewery Janell Zurschmeide; and Josh Chapman, co-founder and head brewer of Black Narrows Brewing Company.

Moderator Kellie Hinkle, agricultural development officer from the Department of Economic Development, opened the discussion by referencing the exponential growth the industry has experienced the past four years. In 2013, the county had four microbreweries and one acre of hops being grown. Today, 21 breweries are open for business and four more have active license applications. Hops production has grown to 16 acres, and Loudoun now has its own hops processing facility and malthouse.

All four panelists attributed the success of the industry to its collaborative spirit.

“I think it’s first and foremost our leadership—the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild and now our association that we formed here, the LoCo Brewer’s Association. That really brings us together,” Zurschmeide said. She and Sellier are both founding member of The Loudoun County Brewers Association, which formed in January.

“Everyone got into [brewing] at the same time. So the links between farmers, brewers, and everyone that’s involved is very close” Akerboom added.

“I think in Virginia and Loudoun County especially there’s a lot of innovation.” Sellier said. “There can be that many breweries in one place that can get along and be friends, not just head-to-head competitors. We all have different business models, and for that reason we can all find our niche”

Loudoun County’s top brewers talk about the ups and downs—but mostly the ups—of the industry as part of Loudoun Small Business Week. [John Patterson/Loudoun Now]
The panelists’ backgrounds exemplified Sellier’s point on variety among microbreweries. His own Beltway Brewing Company serves as a host for contract-brewing to help smaller breweries build their brands. Zurschmeide produces beer using fruits and produce she grows on her family’s 300-acre farm. Chapman will open the first brewery on Virginia’s eastern shore, and aims to “exemplify the land and waters that surround us out there.”

The panelists spoke to a savvy audience, who voiced concern about “big beers” encroaching purchases of microbreweries. They specifically referenced Anheuser-Busch’s purchase of Devils Backbone, one of the most prominent microbreweries in the commonwealth, last April.

“The big breweries want you to hear it’s all about the beer … it doesn’t matter where it’s from. What also matters is honesty and truth to the consumers,” Sellier said. “Anheuser-Bush just wants to confuse you on that.”

“If we can focus on what’s great about our local breweries and champion that, that noise is always going to overshadow any negative thing that’s coming out,” Chapman said. “That’s the ethos of craft beer.”

After the panel, the brewers melted into the audience to watch “Craft,” an hour-long beer documentary that follows filmmaker Craig Noble’s personal experience as a beer apprentice, scholar and brewer, and analyzes the industry as a whole, from ancient Babylon to the craft beer revolution.

The “Craft” screening and expert panel were part of Loudoun Small Business Week, which has events around the county every day this week. See details at loudounsmallbiz.org/calendar/small-business-week.

John Patterson is an intern with Loudoun Now. He is studying English and economics at the University of Virginia.

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