Trying to find used equipment so they could expand was proving difficult for the owners of 1781 Brewing Co. in Spotsylvania County.
The rapid rise of craft breweries around the country meant much of the supply already had been snapped up, said cofounder Harry Pagan.
He and cofounder Branden Pallen finally found some stainless steel fermenting tanks stored in a barn in Tacoma, Wash. They were 25 years old, analog and covered in cobwebs. The owner just wanted to get rid of them, so the business partners shipped the equipment to the brewery.
“No one knew if it was going to work when it got here,” said Pagan, “but we were going to make it work.”
Luckily for them, they just had to clean the tanks and replace a few parts. Soon 1781 Brewing Co. was able to increase its production from 100 barrels of beer in 2017, its first year of operation, to 270 barrels in 2018.
That earned the brewery a spot on the Brewers Association’s recent list of the 50 Fastest Growing U.S. Craft Breweries in 2018. It came in 13th, and was the only Virginia craft brewery to make the trade group’s list.
The Brewers Association represents more than 4,800 small and independent craft breweries in 27 states. Those who made the Fastest Growing list had productions ranging from 50 barrels to more than 40,000, and grew from less than 70,000 barrels collectively in 2017 to more than 170,000 barrels in 2018. As a group, the brewing companies represent approximately 10 percent of total craft growth by volume for the year.
“Even as market competition continues to increase, these small and independent breweries and brewpubs demonstrate there are still growth opportunities across a diverse set of regions and business models,” said Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson in a news release.
Pagan said that 1781 Brewing Co. is on track to increase its production to about 700 barrels in 2019. Their goals for this year include experimenting with the addition of more fruits and vegetables to their beers, such as using raspberries to flavor the limited edition Raspberry Truffle Stout on tap at the brewery. They also want to make more barrel-aged beers and more beers made with wild fermentations.
The brewery’s staff has begun sourcing some of the produce from the Pagan family’s 170-acre farm at 11109 Plank Road, which is the home of both the brewery and Wilderness Run Vineyards. They plan to forage crab apples, blackberries, persimmons, honeysuckle and autumn olives.
Staff also recently planted basil, parsley, spearmint and other herbs in a plot near the brewery. Some of the yield will go into beer, some could go into the food that Pifer Bros. BBQ Company sells when it brings its food truck to the farm, and the rest will be available for customers to pick and purchase from a farmers market that’s expected to be ready to open May 4 next to the parking lot for the brewery and winery.
The market will also include supplies for home brewers, annuals and perennials that will be grown in a nursery on the farm and produce and meat from Chandler Farms in Hartwood and Schlund Family Farm in Locust Grove.
“It’s just a way for the farmers to sell directly to customers instead of wholesaling and losing half their profits,” Pagan said.
Pagan said that they’d eventually like to raise their own hops and barley for 1781’s beers so it’s truly a farm-to-glass operation. Eighty acres of the farm are already green with young barley plants, but they’re destined for feed, not beer. Pagan said they’re learning how to grow Thoroughbred barley, which is relatively easy to grow, before trying their hand at variety that can be malted for beer.
Virginia’s burgeoning craft beer industry has sparked such a demand for locally grown malting barley that Virginia Tech is working on developing varieties that can yield well, tolerate the state’s humid climate and provide the taste and quality brewers want. Pagan said they’ll probably start planting several varieties of malting barley in a couple years, but will still have to buy some of what it uses.
“We would have to grow 300 acres of barley, and we don’t have the land,” Pagan said. “It would be nice to grow a good portion of it.”
He said that they also plan to plant hops in a hop yard that they’ll create using timber from the farm. The plants will grow up trellises strung from the poles.
1781 Brewing Co. is one of nine craft breweries in the Fredericksburg area. All are still fairly small, and compete with larger breweries by selling a total experience, not just beer, said Pagan, who is president of the Fredericksburg Area Breweries. 1781 Brewing Co. and Wilderness Run Vineyards offer live music on weekends, and attract around 12,000 to 15,000 people a year.
“We’re almost in the hospitality business,” he said. “It’s like the return of the pub.”