The Virginia Beer Company takes a cautious approach to expansion.
By Robyn Sidersky
No one could accuse The Virginia Beer Company of rushing things.
The Williamsburg-area brewery has been in business for three years and it only recently added a new beer to its core offerings. But such a measured and calculated approach has the peninsula hot spot ready to double its production and begin targeting markets overseas.
In June, the brewery released Liquid Escape, a tart ale brewed with lemongrass and Australian sea salt. It was first offered in March as a one-off, small-batch experiment titled “Tart Escape.” The new beer joins a lineup that includes Free Verse, its flagship India pale ale, and mainstays Saving Daylight Citrus Wheat and the award-winning Elbow Patches Oatmeal Stout.
“It’s not something that will cannibalize something else,” says Robby Willey, co-founder. “It shows off the brewing skills of our brewing team, and we just felt like it showcased a different side of Virginia Beer Company.”
Wiley and Chris Smith, graduates of the College of William & Mary, opened the brewery in March 2016 with Jonathan Newman, their partner and brew master. The business has enjoyed steady growth since then. Though now one of five area breweries, it has earned a spot as a major player in the area. Jim Noel, York County’s director of economic development, says The Virginia Beer Company has been a redevelopment leader and has contributed to a sense of place for the community.
The brewery recently doubled its brewing capacity, adding a sixth 60-barrel fermenter and its first 90-barrel brite tank. Another 90-barrel fermenter is on the way, although the team does not expect to use the brewhouse’s available capacity right away. Willey says that initially he only expects it will produce about 25 percent more beer. The company also added a canning line in the past year.
Increased production opens the door for the brewery to spread its product across the state – and beyond. For the past two years, The Virginia Beer Company has attended craft beer festivals in the United Kingdom through a program with the Department of Agriculture. It’s been such a positive experience, Willey says, the brewery has started exploring how to send beers there more regularly and hope to start shipping to the U.K. by early fall.
Closer to home, The Virginia Beer Company has ramped up its agreements with distributors. The beer can already be found in Richmond, but the company is eyeing Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.
“We wanted to make sure we were taking our time, putting out the best possible product and the best possible experience in our home market first, then adjacent ones,” Willey says.