Will Poole (left) and Justin McCracken are brewers at Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery, a farm brewery in Goochland County.

Craft Beers Increasingly Made with Virginia Ingredients

By Kathy Dixon, Virginia Farm Bureau

The glass is at least half-full for the state’s farm-to-brew sector. And that means opportunities for Virginia’s farmers. Some already have responded to a growing demand for everything from blackberries to hops and wheat.

With more than 175 craft breweries and 14 cideries, not to mention 47 distilleries and 282 wineries, Virginia’s drink industry is overflowing.

‘Smart, Resilient and Adaptable’

“Craft beverage makers invest a substantial amount of time and energy into the quality of their product,” explained Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Dr. Basil Gooden. “That means using the best and freshest ingredients available throughout their supply chain, which typically come from local growers.”

He added that Virginia farmers “are smart, resilient and adaptable, so a lot of them have already started thinking about the high demand market for high-quality, locally grown ingredients” for craft beverages. “We’ve got some of the best grain producers in the nation growing breeds of barley specifically for beer making.”

‘Virginia has some of the best grain producers in the nation growing breeds of barley specifically for beer making.’ (Click to Tweet)

Cultivating a Taste for Terroir

Gooden noted that the connection between farmers and brewers “has encouraged consumers to search out local products made with local ingredients. Virginia craft brewers, especially those located on a farm, have really started to hone in on the terroir of their region and are developing distinctly Virginian beverages.”

And Virginia is now home to the largest hops processing facility on the East Coast. Lucketts Mill HopWorks in Loudoun County is the first commercial-scale processing operation in the mid-Atlantic region. It operates in collaboration with Black Hops Farm, which grows hops for James River Distillery and for breweries and restaurants.

Lucketts Mill received a $40,000 grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund in 2014 to help them establish the facility. The AFID grant is an economic development tool that helps agribusinesses that source local ingredients to locate or expand in Virginia. Gooden’s office has used AFID grants to help breweries, cideries, distilleries, wineries, malters and hop processors.

Gooden predicted that Virginia’s craft beverage industry and its use of local ingredients will continue to expand. “One of the Virginia craft beer industry’s greatest strengths is its instinct to be collaborative while being competitive. There are not many industries that operate that way.”

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Breweries get help from VA FAIRS

Some of Virginia’s farm breweries have gone from dream to business reality with assistance from the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture Innovation and Rural Sustainability.

The nonprofit foundation is based at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation and has a mission to assist Virginia-based rural agricultural enterprises.

Craig Nargi, owner of Stable Craft Brewing in Augusta County, said he got a planning grant through VA FAIRS that helped him create a business plan and “fail on paper” instead of in real life. Once the plan was tweaked, VA FAIRS helped Nargi apply for and obtain a U.S. Department of Agriculture value-added grant.

“Because of the planning and their help, we probably avoided three years’ worth of setbacks,” he said.

Lisa Pumphrey, co-owner of Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery in Goochland County, was able to secure USDA value-added grants with the help of VA FAIRS as well.

The foundation has helped more than a half-dozen breweries, wineries and distilleries, said Chris Cook, VA FAIRS executive director. He expects that number to increase over the next few years.

The foundation recently published From Barley to Beer: A Guide for On Farm Brewing.