Photo: Courtesy of Denizens Brewing

Brewing Up Business

The craft beer market has grown into a $23.5 billion industry, and the Washington metro area is growing right alongside it.

In 2016, more than 5,300 breweries were in operation around the U.S., and represented approximately 12 percent of market share by volume for the overall beer industry, according to recent data released by the Brewers Association. Overall, craft brewers’ production accounted for nearly 24.6 million barrels, and increased 10 percent in sales and 6 percent in volume over the previous year.

In our region – be it Virginia, Maryland or DC – there’s been an influx of microbreweries, brewpubs and regional craft breweries, and each is attracting customers through innovation and unique offerings. Take Right Proper Brewing, a small brewery company brewing beer in two DC neighborhoods.

“We have both a brewpub in the Shaw neighborhood (The Shaw Brewpub and Kitchen) and a production brewery with a tasting room in the Brookland neighborhood (Brookland Production House and Tasting Room),” says Nathan Zeender, the company’s head brewer. “We have a different set of beers at each location, so there is good reason to visit both. We brew a wide range of styles, with a strong focus on beer fermented with our house wild yeast and lactobacillus cultures.”

The production house is equipped with a shiny new 15-barrel brewhouse, six 30-barrel stainless steel fermentation tanks and three 45-hectoliter French oak foudres. One of the ways Right Proper separates itself from other breweries is by hosting events such as beer yoga, and by showcasing its three huge French oak fermenters used to ferment some of its beers. Zeender says that since the company operates both a brewpub and production brewery, it uses two different models – direct sales and wholesale distribution.

“We brew highly drinkable beers with good personalities,” he continues. “Small-scale, locally supported brewing seems to be driving the industry these days. We continue to see healthy growth in the DC metro area that is supporting an ever-increasing trend toward small breweries.”

Jeff Ramirez, co-owner of Denizens Brewing Co. in Silver Spring, Maryland, which launched in 2014, says the genesis of the business was to bring the camaraderie of the brewery taproom to the DMV. The brewery offers 200 seats, a dog-friendly beer garden and a two-level taproom.

“In the beginning, we tested out further into Maryland and DC, but we learned that it’s better to focus on a more local feel,” Ramirez says. “I feel there’s a big hops focus among the brewers around here, but we focus on doing a variety of beers that are true to tradition.”

At any given time, Denizens has 10 taps open, filled with diverse beer offerings, including at least three seasonal beers and mixed-culture beers. Overall, it has 65 beers and counting.

“We have an events manager that plans fun things to bring people in, and our bottom floor has outdoor seating and a private alleyway, so people can hold events,” Ramirez says. “We try to focus on having fresh, local food.”

Sean Arroyo, CEO of Heritage Brewing Co. in Manassas, Virginia, says the microbrewery is veteran-owned and operated, and looks to provide the same level of attention to detail and passion that its founders brought to serving our country. Established in 2013, the company opened a brewpub in Clarendon this past April, following the success of its microbrewery operation.

“It’s always been a part of our business plan to open a brewpub, and we just wanted to make sure we had the right location picked out and had the right team to do it,” Arroyo says. “For us, we have found that and are making great, on-style, approachable beers.”

When Heritage opened just four years ago, Arroyo says there were less than 50 breweries in the state of Virginia, and only four in Northern Virginia. Now, there are nearly 200 in the state and 40 in the NoVA area.

“It’s really been an explosion, as people enjoy going to the breweries and trying craft beer,” he says. “We have noticed a trend of going backwards a bit in terms of craft, with people drinking more of the lighter beers and lagers, but we always make sure to have what people are looking for.”

Heritage Brewing was one of the first breweries in the area to can its beer, and has helped lead the way for the canning explosion that most customers crave.

“Our brewpub is an all-encompassing experience,” Arroyo says. “We do fresh coffee in the morning and then serve world-class beer throughout the day. We also do a hot barrel series at our brewery, with hundreds of barrels brewing at any one time.”

The secret to success, he says, is to follow consumer trends and listen to your patrons.

“We try and create products that represent them and the needs of the marketplace. The brewpub is a great expansion of who we are. Part of that is that we think of what we are putting in a consumer’s body, producing a better product that not only tastes great, but also is made in a responsible and sustainable way.”

Another brewery finding success in Northern Virginia is Old Ox, a family owned and operated commercial brewery in Loudoun County, which just celebrated three years in business.

“Our business model includes the tasting room and distribution in both draft and package formats,” says Chris Burns, president of Old Ox. “We brew beer we want people to enjoy every day. But we also have fun with our specialty beers by exploring the more creative side of craft beer. For example, we have a series we call Funky Face, which is a collection of tart and sour ales. Our Cooper’s Cloak series features barrel-aged brews. In our tasting room, we always have something on tap that is a bit extraordinary.”

When Old Ox opened, the owners wanted the tasting room to be a place where friends and families gather to connect with each other and celebrate special occasions. The brewery also hosts events in the tasting room that support other local businesses and raise money for good causes.

“What we hear from our tasting room customers is that the feeling they get when they walk through the door at Old Ox is unique,” Burns says. “They feel welcome and part of the Old Ox community, whether they are a regular or from out of town. Our accounts appreciate the time we spend with them and the help we give them in promoting sales in their businesses.”

According to Burns, the craft beer business in Northern Virginia and DC is still growing, and he doesn’t see an end in sight.

“We see new breweries in the pipeline and established breweries expanding their footprints,” he says. “There’s a lot of discussion around how hyperlocal the craft beer business has become. Both residents and visitors to this area want to drink what is produced within just a few miles of where they are located. We also see more and more accounts responding to this demand by offering more tap handles and shelf space to local beer.”

Learn more about these local breweries and brewpubs at their websites.

Right Proper Production House: 920 Girard St. NE, DC;

Denizens Brewing Co.: 1115 East-West Hwy. Silver Spring, MD;

Heritage Brewing: 9436 Center Point Ln. Manassas, VA;

Old Ox: 44652 Guilford Dr. #114, Ashburn, VA;

Right Proper Brewpub and Kitchen: 624 T St. NW, DC;