Veterans tap into craft brewing industry, D.C. Beer Festival
The DMV has one of the best local craft brewery scenes in the country – and thanks to the annual D.C. Beer Festival — those living in the area were able to sample beers from over 80 different local craft breweries.
Two craft breweries – Heritage Brewing Company and Fair Winds Brewing Company – were able to showcase their beers at the April 16 festival, too. But, a military connection separates these two businesses from the rest. They are veteran-owned.
The two Virginia-based breweries, with Fair Winds in Lorton and Heritage in Manassas, aren’t the only veteran-owned craft breweries in the area. In fact, with the continued growth of the craft beer industry, more veterans are joining the trend. Full Tilt Brewing Company in Baltimore and Young Veterans Brewing Company in Virginia Beach are finding great success as well.
Fair Winds founder and 12-year Coast Guard veteran, Casey Jones, said the influx of veterans into the industry has to do with the parallels between the two professions.
“To some degree, I think it’s the work style. In brewing, you’re doing something different every day, and people who have spent time in the military, they joined for the same reason,” Jones said. “They don’t want to ride a desk and they wanted adventure. Veterans are also interested in a mission-based organization – doing something more than just striving for profit. You really get that in craft brewing and that draws a lot of vets in.”
But, according to Casey, it also has a lot to do with a genuine interest in the product.
“Let’s face it, another thing in the military is we tend to enjoy a beverage or two. We have a lot of power consumers,” Jones said. “And where you have a lot of power consumers, you tend to have folks who want to work there and get closer to the product. The people want to make it instead of just enjoy it.”
Such was the case for Heritage Brewing Company ‘s D.C. and Virginia Sales Executive, John Lee. Lee, a five-year Army infantry veteran, joined the three-yearold company a little over a year ago after visiting the brewery a few times.
The brewery was co-founded by Marine veteran, Sean Arroyo, and his brother, Ryan, who is also a veteran.
“I was really inspired by (its) mission and I asked if I could come on board. (Working here) has been fantastic. I think a large part about what I miss about the military is a sense of community,” Lee said. “Working with such a strong veteran presence at Heritage and working with bosses who understand what (the military) is like because they were there has been really amazing.”
Fair Winds Brewing Company has been a dream for Casey since the mid-1980s when he created a business plan for his one-day business. But, it wasn’t until 2013 when Casey finally got the business off the ground. Since then, the brewery has grown to be a 13,000 square-foot facility home to a 30-barrel system for making beer. A 2,000 squarefoot taproom is also on site.
This was Fair Winds first showcase at the D.C. Beer Festival now that the company has expanded its distribution to the nation’s capital. The festival, which drew thousands of craft beer enthusiasts, was a “hugely valuable opportunity” to the growing, young company because of the large, usually knowledgeable, population it reaches.
Attendees were able to sample two of the company’s most popular beers – the Quayside Kolsch, a light-bodied, German-style golden ale, and Siren’s Lure, a farmhouse ale and a 2015 Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal winner.
With 84 different breweries stationed around Nationals Park, both Heritage Brewing Company and Fair Winds Brewing Company gained priceless exposure.
“Beer festival season is obviously the most important in the calendar for us because it’s the only time where we can hit hundreds or thousands of people by only sending out two to four folks,” Jones said. “To reach the same number of people by sampling bar after bar after bar would take us months on end to do.”
“I can’t emphasize the importance of festivals in general, and the D.C. Beer Festival is just huge. There is pretty much nothing in the local area that does the numbers that it does in a concentrated period of time. So it was just huge for us.”
Lee, and the other members of the Heritage Brewing Company team, enjoyed interacting with the crowd, too. Attendees were able to sample the company’s two most popular beers – an IPA India pale ale called Freedom Isn’t Free and a honey ginger wheat ale called American Expedition.
Lee said the two are personal favorites as well, but said he tends to drink “whatever he is in the mood for.” American Expedition is his “adventure beer” while Freedom Isn’t Free is his go-to IPA, especially if he’s enjoying a burger, too.
“I love this city and I love all the people in it. I really like getting time to spend with the people in D.C. and show them what our beers are about while getting to talk to people and meet new people,” Lee said. “I also really like getting to spend time with a lot of these other great breweries. It’s a great showcase of local talent.”
While both breweries may technically be in competition with one another, the companies continue to grow their beer selections and fan base – especially among the military community and the military bases where their beers are sold. One thing both Casey and Lee agree upon is veterans are tapping into the untapped possibilities of the craft brewing industry and finding a new community.
“In the veteran community we have a lot of really great values that have been instilled in us by our military service like work ethic and a very strong sense of community and togetherness. That transfers really well to the brewing world because it’s a bunch of passionate people doing something they really care about,” Lee said. “I think that is why veteran breweries are really taking off because the veteran community is such a great resource for amazing talent. When you dip into that pool, you come away with some really amazing things.”
Fair Winds Brewing Company employees serve beer to attendees of D.C. Beer Festival April 16.
John Lee, a five-year Army veteran and Virginia and D.C. sales executive for Heritage Brewing Company, serves a D.C. Beer Festival attendee a sample of one of the company’s beers.