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Best Beer: Best Breweries

Port City growler

Port City Growler / Photo by Jonathan Timmes

Best Breweries

By Stefanie Gans / Photography by Jonathan Timmes

Corcoran Brewing Company
14635 Corkys Farm Lane, Waterford; 540-882-9073; corcoranbrewing.com

With 360 plants, Kevin Bills was told the hop farm he started for Corcoran Brewing Company is the state’s third largest. “But if you blink, you’d miss it,” Bills, Corcoran’s brewer and co-owner, tells us.

The nanobrewery is just as small, housed in a converted barn that used to support a few farm animals and a peacock.

Over drinks at Purcellville’s Magnolias at the Mill, Jim Corcoran, owner of Corcoran Vineyards, met with Bills. “Ideas are born over too many beers, and you think you can do things too big. And we went way too small,” he jokes. “I’m still convinced we did not drink enough.”

Opened in July 2011, Corcoran Brewing already expanded from a half-barrel to a three-and-half barrel system. Even before it opened, Bills knew that the size wouldn’t suffice, although it took him by surprise. He says, “We just did not think people would drive out to an unpaved road in western Loudoun County to seek out beer. And they are.” 

Lost Rhino Brewing Company
21730 Red Rum Drive, Suite 142, Ashburn; 571-291-2083; lostrhino.com

“Old Dominion was the only game in town,” remembers Matthew Hagerman, a former brewer for the previously Virginia-based brewery. After Anheuser-Busch and Fordham Brewing Company bought Old Dominion, operations moved to Delaware, leaving Northern Virginia without a major brewery.

Within two years though, and after buying back some of Old Dominion’s equipment, Hagerman, along with Old Dominion alum Favio Garcia, opened Lost Rhino in an industrial park in Ashburn, just about a mile away from their old employer’s address.

Lost Rhino is on the move, too: The brewery seems to be in a continual state of construction. By mid-May, the newly-built kitchenette will serve sandwiches, wraps and other healthy fare compared to the normally fried food of brewpubs.

When the tasting room finishes, construction continues with the addition of six fermentation tanks (doubling current capacity) and canning lines.

By next year, Hagerman says Lost Rhino will work on expanding sales to all of Virginia and North Carolina. “It’s on the fly,” says Hagerman of his new, ever expanding brewery, “We are a moving target.”

Port City Brewing Company
3950 Wheeler Ave., Alexandria; 703-797-2739; portcitybrewing.com

The way it’s supposed to work,” Port City’s Bill Butcher explains about beginning-of-the-year beer sales, “is you have a busy holiday season and then January 1st hits and everybody goes to the gym and has New Year resolutions, and they stop drinking for the month of January.”

But for his brewery, Port City Brewing Company out of Alexandria, it didn’t go as planned. “The exact opposite has happened. We’ve been scrambling to catch up,” says Butcher of the unusually high demand during the off-peak month.

It’s not just Port City that needs to expand; Northern Virginia should play host to many more breweries and brewpubs. As the only area brewery with a 30-barrel system, Butcher often receives calls from potential brewery entrepreneurs, answering questions and showing his facility. He’s ready to get this area pumping with local beer, thinking that this market should house five or six breweries as big as his.

“We’ve got a lot of catching up to do with other great beer cities across the U.S.,” says Butcher. “We have the potential to become a great beer city, but we have a long way to go.”

 

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(May 2012)