Dog Money Restaurant and Brewery in Leesburg is one of 21 breweries in Loudoun, the most of any county in Virginia.
Featuring 16 Loudoun breweries, the “FeBREWary Finale” beer tasting event is expected to bring hundreds to Vanish Brewery in Lucketts on Feb. 25. A capstone of the county’s month-long celebration of its craft beer producers, the event is all the more impressive considering the industry barely existed in Virginia five years ago.
Craft beer companies was already popular on the west coast of the United States a decade ago, and more recently lawmakers in the Virginia General Assembly saw the potential for similar development locally. In 2012, then-Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law a series of bills that reduced regulations on craft breweries and allowed them to more easily dispense their product to customers.
Loudoun had begun its own preparations ahead of the legislature, planning to capitalize on the new potential for the industry if the bills were passed. These preparations gave Loudoun a head start on the rest of the Commonwealth, and less than five years later, the county hosts 21 breweries, the most of any locality in Virginia. Overall, the Virginia Manufacturing Association estimates the Commonwealth’s craft beer industry has created 8,900 jobs and has a $1 billion annual economic impact.
From the initial planning through today, the key to this growth locally has been to create a simple, streamlined and predictable method for establishing breweries, said Kellie Hinkle of the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development. The DED has worked with the county government to create specific permitted by right uses designed for breweries. That means if an applicant wants to put a new brewery in a by right zone, they don’t have to seek legislative changes to the zoning, which typically requires pricey land use attorneys. If located in a by right zone, the businesses just needs to obtain the appropriate county permitting and they are allowed to commence operations, typically in just a few weeks.
This was more straightforward in the western part of the county, where breweries were permitted under agricultural commercial uses. Demand for breweries also grew in the more suburban eastern portion of the county, even though breweries initially zoned for by right use in suburban areas could only have 20 percent of their floor space be used for tasting rooms. Seeing the growing popularity of these business, Loudoun created a specific ordinance that allows breweries in manufacturing zoning districts to expand their tasting rooms to 49 percent of their floor space, allowing them to draw in more customers.
Along with the government assistance, Loudoun has worked on production support as well. Loudoun had already established itself as a sought after winery destination, and the county recently supported a new hops production facility at Vanish for use by brewers. All this has created an environment that’s helped brewers bring a wide range of styles and offerings that Loudoun representatives say can appeal to everybody.
“Every weekend, depending on whatever mood you’re in, you can get to a winery or brewery in Loudoun that fits that mood,” Hinkle said.
While the breweries have defined their own styles, Hinkle said collaborations, like the eFeBREWary Finale, have also helped make craft brewing so viable.
“I think it’s so representative of the business culture in Loudoun,” Hinke said. “I think it’s the perfect example of the cooperation and the collaboration of craft beer in Loudoun and how that flows through all industries.”
Building off these collaborations and the economic framework, Loudoun is fully embracing its growing reputation on the craft beer scene. Visit Loudoun helped create the LoCo Ale Trail, which designed a full-color map to help beer lovers traverse the county’s breweries. It also worked with radio station DC 101 for the FeBREWary event, and organizers are hopeful this is just the latest showcase for the growing industry, said Jen Sigal of Visit Loudoun.
“With our help marketing it, it also helps drive the traffic to ensure that they’re successful,” Sigal said. “It’s really the collaboration between the county, the tourism office and the breweries themselves to make it a successful environment.”