Category: Craft Beverage

Adroit Theory Brewing Company

Dark Magic: making better beer in Loudoun County

$100,000 increase in export sales

From the beginning, Adroit Theory Brewery Company has never opted to do anything small, quiet, or dainty. Their inaugural beer, a 10.0 ABV Imperial Stout, set the stage for a litany of wild, novel, and downright extreme beers that have earned a cult following, not only in the United States but beyond. When asked about his favorite beer, owner Mark Osborne quickly describes an “Invisible Black IPA” that is brewed with black sesame seeds. “It’s actually delicious,” he says with a laugh. 

Adroit Theory’s goal was to start small, but with a big idea. “I remember thinking, ‘I can make something different, cutting edge,’” Mark recalls. “Our specialty is experimental beers. We’ve been polarizing our fan base since day one with these wild, crazy beers.” 

Adroit Theory is also set apart by their marketing and the designs on their bottles. “I decided right away that I wanted to heavily brand what we were doing,” he explains. “I wanted to give it a distinct look and feel. People often describe this look as ‘dark art’ or shocking, but it’s still aesthetically beautiful.”

With Adroit Theory releasing over 915 distinct beers in 6.5 years, the creative demand for new ideas is high. Mark credits Adroit Theory’s singular aesthetics for a huge part of their success. “I would say the branding aspect made it possible for us to expand as fast as we did,” Mark says.

Wanting to get into exporting, Mark remembered how neighboring brewery, Port City Brewing Company, had worked with the Virginia SBDC Network to begin selling internationally. The folks at the Virginia SBDC’s International Business Development (IBD) program conducted market research and shared recommendations for a way forward. Mark and the Adroit Theory team found themselves on a trade mission to Europe, where their unique and bold brand of beer was gaining traction. You can detect the amazement in Mark’s voice as he lists the countries that Adroit Theory ships to — Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom, Russia, and France — with more orders from European countries pouring in. Production has doubled in the last 12 months. For Mark, the analysis from the SBDC’s IBD program was critical to successfully moving international sales forward. “They provided us so much valuable advice,” he says. “Honestly, it’s changed the way we do business.”

As Mark and his team continue to push beer boundaries, both here and overseas, they know the SBDC will be by their side for a dark, wild, and most importantly, fun ride.

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Box Office Brewery

Box office hit: Brewery wins big

Box Office Brewery created 43 jobs.

One of the most popular places in downtown Strasburg to grab a pint, catch the game, or listen to live music is Box Office Brewery, owned by Tom Price and Karl Roulston. But it was not always that way. Built in 1918, the spacious location at 177 East King Street was originally the Strand Theater, believed to be the first movie house in Shenandoah County.

The high, pressed-tin ceilings caught the eyes of Tom and Karl when they were scouting for a location. “When they visited the building, they knew the high ceiling would accommodate the brewing equipment,” explains Mary Price, Tom’s wife. They were eager to have a role in maintaining such a meaningful piece of community history. “It has been a gathering place since 1920,” Mary adds. “We are proud of the environment and space and what it has offered to the community.”

For Tom and Karl, the path into beer brewing was unexpected. Karl dabbled in home brewing but didn’t find real results until he started milling his own barley. Tom, on the other hand, had always considered himself a wine connoisseur. “The story all makes sense if you know what you’re looking for,” says Tom, a former engineer. “The whole brewing side — the design of the brew house and how it functions — is all engineering. The actual brewing process — how yeast converts sugar into alcohol — is all biology and chemistry.”

After they carefully and painstakingly turned their love of barley and hops into a marketable product, the pair decided to pull the trigger on the large downtown property. They approached Christine Kriz, Director of the Lord Fairfax SBDC for help. “The SBDC was a key resource for assisting us with building a business model that we could use to get financing. They also provided resources and templates when it came time to fulfill our human resource needs and hire staff,” says Mary. “Christine Kriz was always available. When we contacted her, she was always quick to respond.” With the help of the SBDC, Tom and Karl were able to secure a major investment to help fully renovate the building while maintaining several of the original murals.

Since opening last year, Box Office Brewery has hired over 20 additional staff members including a head brewer and head chef. They received numerous local accolades including the Northern Virginia Daily’s Best of 2019 for beer selection/restaurant, beer selection/retail, and best Brewery and Sports Bar. Thanks to the strong business plan and strategy developed with Christine and the Lord Fairfax SBDC, Box Office Brewery is a hit.

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Sugar Hill Cidery

Brewing success times two

With the SBDC’s help the Baileys were able to secure a $50,000 grant and 3 loans from economic development agencies for the Sugar Hill Cidery. Currently their brewery in St. Paul and the Norton cidery employ 65 people.

Five years ago, Jennifer and Greg Bailey were selling hardware in St. Paul, population 970. Then their son came up with an idea for a brewery, and the couple has been brewing up business success ever since.

Their Sugar Hill Brewing Company opened three years ago in St. Paul, and Sugar Hill Cidery held its soft opening this summer in nearby Norton. “In the hardware business we were surviving, but that’s about all,” Jennifer recalls. “We decided our area needed something different, and a hardware store wasn’t one of those things.”

The Baileys met Tim Blankenbecler, Director of the Mt. Empire SBDC, during their “hardware” years. “We got a lot of help from Tim,” Jennifer says. “When we decided to open a brewery, he helped us write the business plan and find funding.”

After the brewery opened, the City of Norton, 20 miles down the road, approached Jennifer and Greg with a proposal that offered a new slant on brewing — a cidery. “We like things that are different. We asked our head brewer if he could make cider. He told us, ‘I can ferment anything!’ We decided to go look at some buildings in Norton,” Jennifer explains. “We included Tim Blankenbecler early on,” Greg adds. “We knew he would be realistic and wouldn’t encourage us if we didn’t have a workable business plan and good cash flow.”

Tim assisted the Baileys once again with writing their plan and connecting them to sources for financing. The Baileys were able to secure a $50,000 grant and three loans from economic development agencies to make the cidery project possible. “It was really a public-private partnership,” Greg says. On the facilities side, the City of Norton invested over a million dollars to renovate a formerly vacant car dealership where the cidery would be located. “The city had the headache of remodeling, which helped us a lot,” Jennifer notes. Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball stated that Norton’s investment in turning the car dealership facility into an economic enterprise would have a transformative effect on the downtown area. It will house a farmers market and an entrepreneurial center along with the cidery that seats more than 200 people.

The Baileys also increased their workforce. “Currently we have 65 employees,” Greg notes. Future plans include installing equipment for bottling at both the brewery and cidery. “Tim will be there when we start talking about that,” Jennifer adds. “Whenever we have a problem, we call Tim. He always comes up with a strategy.”

Both Greg and Jennifer are quick to direct others to the SBDC. “The SBDC has been a great help,” Jennifer concludes. “When someone says they want to start a business, I tell them — that’s a good idea, but call the SBDC first.”

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Ballad Brewing

Brewery taps new markets with the SBDC’s help

Ballad Brewing had 6 new hires totaling 16 jobs supported and a $754,000 investment.

Ballad Brewing opened in Danville in 2017. “The first year, we sold beer in our own tap room to learn what our customers liked and to choose the beers we wanted to put into distribution,” Ballad’s Business Operations Manager Tim Meyers explains.

The brewery was an offshoot of a Danville River District project started by developers Ross Fickenscher and Garrett Shifflett. “Ross and Garrett had been working on this building as a third phase of their loft-apartments project,” Tim says. “Rather than rent the lower floor of the building to other businesses, they decided to get into the brewery game themselves.”

Ross and Garrett, who also restored Farmville’s Hotel Weyanoke, had previously worked with the Longwood SBDC. When the brewery needed financing for its bottling line, visiting the SBDC was the logical next step. “I initially reached out to the Longwood SBDC Executive Director Sheri McGuire, and she told us all the things the SBDC had to offer,” Tim explains. He and Aly Fickenscher, Ballad’s Creative Director, have been working with the SBDC team ever since. “SBDC consultant Brandon Hennessey did a fantastic job of working with us to build various models so we could analyze the types of beers we make, change recipes, and approach new markets,” Tim added.

The Hotel Weyanoke opened and so did Ballad Brewing. “Farmville is a small market, but it has a higher volume than we expected,” Tim says. “Now our bottles are for sale in Farmville’s Food Lion plus several restaurants. Then we added Danville, South Boston, and Martinsville.” Tim adds, “Just a few months ago we brought Lynchburg, Roanoke, and Salem into the fold.”

Tim plans to grow slowly until the brewery reaches full capacity. He credits the SBDC with guiding them through this gradual growth process. “They’ve been super helpful in giving us a roadmap so that the growth we’re experiencing is good growth,” he says.

Tim appreciates the long-term relationship the SBDC offers. “When I first started working with the SBDC, I assumed it would be a one-time deal. They would help us get our things in order, and then we would be on our own,” he says. “What we found was exactly the opposite. I can send Brandon new financials any time I have them, and he’s ready to help. I would absolutely recommend the SBDC,” Tim concludes. “They’ve been extremely helpful for a small startup business like ours. I can’t thank them enough for all the help they’ve given us.”

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Haley’s Honey Meadery

Haley’s Honey Meadery looks to golden future in Hopewell

With a $60,000 loan, a $24,000 grant, and $135,700 owner investment, the Meadery created 4 jobs.

Haley’s Honey Meadery is the new business on the block in downtown Hopewell, and Tonya Haley could not “bee” more pleased. “My mom and dad were beekeepers in Richmond for years,” Tonya says. “Later I branched out and opened Haley’s Honey.”

In 2016, Tonya and husband Mike decided to expand. “The honey market was saturated with local farmers, and we needed a new product,” Tonya explains. “We decided to start a meadery and make honey wine.” Tonya worked with the Longwood University SBDC – Eastern Region when she opened Haley’s Honey 25 years ago. “I decided to go back to the SBDC,” she says. “Ellen Templeton was a tremendous help. I would go to her with a question, and she would point me in the right direction.”

To secure funding for the meadery through Virginia Commonwealth Bank and the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) grant, Tonya sought help from Ellen. “The projections Ellen computed for the bank to secure the loan were very important,” Tonya notes. “The business plan she helped me with included description, visions, and projections — everything was there.” The SBDC helped Tonya secure an AFID grant, matched by the City of Hopewell. One stipulation of the grant is the use of all Virginia products.

“We offer our own Virginia honey, bee pollen, and mead, which is honey wine, by the bottle, glass, or flight,” Tonya explains. “Mead is biblical, and it’s one of the oldest fermented alcoholic drinks. People think it’s sweet, but it’s not. Mead can be dry, semi-sweet, or fruity.”

Finding the right location for this unique product was another challenge Tonya took to the SBDC. “Ellen and I discussed localities where this business would work,” Tonya says. “There are no breweries or meaderies in Hopewell, and they welcome unique ideas. Hopewell was willing to work with me.” The Hopewell Downtown Partnership helped Tonya find a downtown location, and Tonya, in turn, hired local craftsmen to renovate the building.

Tonya also turned to the SBDC to fine tune her business skills. “I’m taking a QuickBooks class that meets every other week,” she notes. Another plus for Haley was the cost. “Since I was working with the SBDC, the class was free to me,” she says.

Haley believes that the SBDC helped her establish her business in the right place at the right time. “In the next five years this little downtown in Hopewell is going to change,” she predicts. “I’m hopeful in Hopewell!” With the SBDC on her side, Haley believes there is nothing she cannot achieve.

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Drop It

Stop, drop, and sip: Business owner beats the red-wine blues

Drop It is sold internationally through Amazon and in many US stores across half a dozen states. In 2018, her revenues jumped ten-fold, and she obtained an equity credit line of $50,000.

Drop It

You would not know it now, but for years Jenny Corcoran couldn’t drink wine. Even a single glass would leave her with a piercing headache. “And, while a martini is not a bad option,” Corcoran jokingly adds, “it really just isn’t the same.” Today, wine is a huge part of Corcoran’s life and livelihood.

Using her background in biochemistry, the University of Maryland graduate began to explore the connection between sulfites (FDA-required additive in wines for preservative purposes since 1988) and tannins (naturally occurring in most red wine from the grapes themselves) and their relationship to the dreaded RWH or red wine headache. While anecdotal evidence suggested that many people shared her experience, scientific research yielded further proof that there is a connection.

Jenny spent roughly a year and a half developing a liquid that targets and neutralizes the sulfites and tannins in red wines. She’s quick to assure customers that Drop It won’t prevent a hangover, but it has been shown to decrease the average person’s sensitivity to the headache-producing tannins and sulfite. “I like to call it ‘prehab,’ not rehab,” says Jenny.

The start of Drop It was the epitome of grassroots. Her friends kept asking her about the small bottle she would produce at dinners and parties, and she would explain what Drop It was and how it worked. “I would tell them to stop by the house, bring a little bottle, and I would fix them right up,” recalls Jenny. “There was one point when I had so many people dropping by my house with small bottles for me to fill up I almost felt like a dealer of some sort!”

It was clear that Jenny was on to something with Drop It. She began selling Drop It in a local wine shop in Cape Charles. Interest and demand continued to grow.

In 2017, Jenny participated in the InnovateHER Business Challenge facilitated by Old Dominion University and the Small Business Administration. Through this challenge, she became a client of George Bryan, advisor with the Eastern Shore SBDC of Hampton Roads. “He outlined the importance of profit models and having things on paper,” says Jenny. “He has been an endless source of great ideas and, above all, of contacts,” she adds. “Every connection he has brought me has yielded countless others — it has truly been invaluable.”

Today Drop It sells worldwide on Amazon, as well as at wine shops, boutiques, and wine festivals throughout Virginia. “It makes me proud that this product goes out into the wide world from right here in tiny Cape Charles,” says Jenny. “But what I really love the most is getting a review or feedback from someone who can now enjoy a glass of wine with a loved one that perhaps couldn’t have happened before. I get letters all the time,” Jenny says with a smile, “saying please don’t ever stop making this.”

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Port City Brewing Company

The SBDC: A lifeline to international trade

Port City started with 4 employees in 2011 and now has 54, and international sales, a new endeavor for the company, brought $50,000 in sales in 2018.

After successfully working for a number of years with the Alexandria SBDC on their domestic business, Port City Brewing Company wanted to test the waters of international trade last year and quickly discovered a need for more expert advice. Fortunately the Virginia SBDC International Business Development Program was there to throw out a lifeline. “When we first started looking at exporting to the United Kingdom, we thought we’d go it alone and figure all this out on our own,” Bill Butcher says. “Working with Aaron Miller at the SBDC really helped us navigate a new facet of our business we really were not familiar with.”

Bill and Karen decided to open the Alexandria brewery eight years ago. “I spent 20 years in the wine business,” Bill explains. “For many of those years, I worked for the Mondavi family of Napa Valley, as the high-end brand manager for the Mid-Atlantic.” Bill’s area of expertise was in brand building, sales, and distribution. “Over those years I always enjoyed good quality beer and watched as the craft-beer industry grew and became more sophisticated,” he adds.

In Alexandria, Bill found an area in need of more options for quality craft beer. “Karen found that the Metro DC area was the only top 25 Metro area in the country that did not have a craft-beer brewery that packaged their beer,” Bill notes. They decided to remedy that situation and opened their own brewery.

It has been a time of rapid growth for this brewery and others across the nation. Bill points out, “When we opened in 2011, there were 40 breweries in Virginia; now there are 240. Nationally, there were 2,600 breweries in 2011; today there’s over 7,000.”

Port City has also experienced rapid growth. “We started with four people,” Bill says. “Today we have 54 employees. We’ve been hiring a lot of people since we opened.” Last year, Port City produced 16,000 barrels with distribution in nine states with the bulk of sales in the Washington D.C. area. It seemed like a good time to look for new markets overseas.

“Preparing for export was a big undertaking for our company,” Port City’s Manager of Marketing and Beer Strategy Chris Van Orden says. “The guidance from Aaron and his Virginia SBDC team has proved invaluable.” “Chris is our point person with the SBDC,” Bill adds. “He has attended embassy events arranged by the SBDC to introduce us to contacts in the UK. It’s been a tremendous help to open the door and make connections to develop our business.” Those connections have already produced results.

“We are now active in the UK market, and we’re working with a French importer,” Bill notes. “We’ve also been able to ship some beer to Canada. There’s a lot of interest developing in those markets. This year, our international sales will be about $50,000. We expect to grow our UK business by about 15% a year over the next several years.”

Bill is pleased with the help he has received from the SBDC and plans to stay connected. “The SBDC has been an effective way for us to learn about new market opportunities,” he concludes. “As more arise, we definitely want to take advantage of their services.”

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Beltway Brewing Company

Brewing Success

Sten has continued to work with Loudoun SBDC’s staff and volunteer professional counselors through one-one-one counseling addressing business plan revision, financing and regulatory issues.

Loudoun SBDC first met Sten Sellier, owner of Beltway Brewing Company, in the fall of 2011. At that time, Sten was working on an idea to open a brewery that would be dedicated exclusively to contract brewing, but he was struggling with his business plan. He noticed a flyer in the Loudoun County Clerk’s Office about an upcoming Loudoun SBDC Business Plan Competition. Sten knew the competition was the deadline he needed to get SOMETHING done to obtain validation for his idea.

Sten received validation. He won 1st place in the Local Business Model portion of the competition. In addition to a cash prize and business services package, he also met many community leaders and received all the publicity that went along with winning the competition.

Beltway Brewing Company went on to open in September, 2013, and has not looked back since! As of February 4, 2014, it has brewed 9 different beers, has 5 repeat clients, and has several more client brews scheduled for the coming weeks. That is “proof” of concept.

Sten has continued to work with Loudoun SBDC’s staff and volunteer professional counselors through one-one-one counseling addressing business plan revision, financing and regulatory issues. In Sten’s words, “I owe a great deal of thanks to Loudoun SBDC.” And Loudoun SBDC owes a great deal of thanks to Sten and Beltway Brewing Company for adding jobs and economic impact to Loudoun County.

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Sugar Hill Brewing Company

Opportunity is Always Brewing

Since September 2016, Sugar Hill has secured $463,000 in loans and created 20 jobs in a town that has less than 1,000 residents. “We don’t necessarily pursue our passion. We look at what’s needed and let that become our passion,” Greg Bailey said.

Greg and Jennifer Bailey think starting a new business is a lot like brewing a great beer. Both require hard work, patience, and dedication—traits the Baileys are known to possess. Sugar Hill Brewing Company is the third business the couple has started in the small town of St. Paul.

Five years ago, Greg and Jennifer bought a store in St. Paul and opened Bailey Hardware. They saw another opportunity when Spearhead ATV Trail opened in town. They converted rental property to create overnight accommodations and opened St. Paul Suites and Cottages.

“We don’t necessarily pursue our passion,” Greg says. “We look at what’s needed and let that become our passion.” Sugar Hill Brewing Company opened in September 2016, in a converted hardware store the couple owned in town. “We never planned to own a restaurant, and we knew nothing about brewing beer,” Jennifer adds. “We just knew the time was right and so we took action.”

The Baileys had a lot of help from Mt. Empire SBDC Director Tim Blankenbecler. He directed them to the Ninth District Development Funds, where they obtained a loan of $413,000. The town of St. Paul shared its confidence by adding a $50,000 loan to the project.

“The Bailey’s family-friendly brewpub has proven very popular with folks both near and far,” Blankenbecler says. “Patrons can step into the Asheville-esque atmosphere to enjoy a meal and satisfying brew.”

Since opening for business, the Baileys have hired more than 20 local people, including a head brewer and head cook. “All the right people were sent to us at just the time,” Jennifer says. “All we had to do is look for the opportunity, forget the fear, and do what we intuitively knew would work.”

With a boutique hotel under construction in town, the future looks bright for the Bailey’s newest business venture. “You have to re-imagine the future,” Jennifer says. “With the Western Front Hotel coming in, we knew this brewery would be a part of it. We’re excited that other people are catching the vision and seeing a different way to go forward.”

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Pale Fire Brewing Company

Brewing up business: Pale Fire Brewery a Success

Pale Fire raised an initial investment of $900,000 and recently obtained a bank loan for distribution across Virginia. They employ 5 full-time and 9 part-time workers.

Tim Brady has been brewing beer professionally for years. With both the passion and the expertise to harness the rising tide of interest in craft beer, starting Pale Fire Brewing Co. was the logical next step for the James Madison University graduate. “I’m very drawn to the creative element in brewing beer,” says Tim. “It’s such a great mix of both creativity and chemistry.”

With its high concentration of locally grown and owned businesses, Harrisonburg was the perfect place for Pale Fire to call home. “People here are especially supportive of local businesses,” says Tim, a longtime enthusiast and proponent of the town, “so it’s just an ideal place for us to be.”

A year after opening, Pale Fire quickly proved that its beers were bigger than mere local acclaim. The brewery won not one but two medals at the 2016 World Beer Cup, a highly prestigious global beer competition, held every two years.

The SBDC played a vital role in helping Tim make his brewery a reality. He worked closely with the Shenandoah Valley SBDC Director Joyce Krech to perfect a business plan. Joyce arranged sample investor presentations, which Tim says were invaluable in fine-tuning his pitch. “I would get so much good feedback from these trial runs,” he says. “I was well prepared for questions from actual investors just based on having those practice opportunities.”

Tim quickly raised the capital needed to open his brewery in downtown Harrisonburg. In fact, Tim so impressed his investors that he raised the entire $900,000. With his recipes in hand, Tim began production in 2015. By 2017, the brewery had three full-time and eight part- time employees. Business was so successful that Pale Fire wanted to bottle the beer to distribute across Virginia.

Tim returned to the SBDC and met with Capital Access Advisor Bill Groseclose. Bill helped him prepare a proposal that landed a loan by a local bank. It funded a new in-house bottling line, consolidated existing debts, and improved cash flow for the business.

As craft beer continues to enjoy intense popularity, Tim is reminded of the creative spark that drew him to brewing in the first place. “Craft beer is popular right now and that’s great, but that also means there’s lots of competition, which can be a challenge,” he says. “But our team is what sets us apart. We have the experience and we have a true passion for what we do.”

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