More growth on tap for Virginia’s craft beer industry

economic-forecast-headerVirginia’s flourishing craft beer industry is delighting beer enthusiasts, capturing critical acclaim, boosting tourism and attracting events such as the National Beer Expo, which was held last month in Richmond. It also is contributing to new opportunities for Virginia farmers and creating jobs in rural areas.

“The regulations controlling the licensing of breweries in Virginia have changed recently to allow for a brewery to be located on a farm, provided certain conditions are met. This recent change has made the regulations controlling breweries more similar to the regulations that allow a farm winery,” said Chris Cook, assistant director of rural development for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Under new legislation, you can have a farm brewery if you grow your own agricultural product for the beer, such as hops or barley.” Similar legislation sparked the growth of Virginia’s farm wineries in the 1980s by creating an incentive for wineries to grow their own grapes.

There are 84 active craft breweries in Virginia, according to the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild. The industry has created more than 8,000 jobs and poured $623 million into the state’s economy.

Cook said only a few breweries are growing their own ingredients, but that the new legislation could encourage more of them to start growing hops and barley. He added that other farmers seeking to diversify their crops might consider growing hops and barley for the craft beer market. Many craft breweries are located in urban areas but purchase locally grown ingredients.

Currently most of the hops grown in Virginia are used by brewers. Barley growers are showing an interest in growing the malt-type barley used in craft beers, with production jumping in recent years. Local breweries also use a small portion of Virginia’s annual 14.8 million bushels of wheat in their beers.

Cook, who offers Virginia breweries, wineries and cideries business services, attributes the rapid emergence of craft beers in part to “the public wanting something different.” The craft beer movement, he noted “coincides with the emphasis on locally sourced foods and greater appreciation of local flavor.”

The State Fair of Virginia recently announced that Midnight Brewery in Goochland County will brew the fair’s official craft beer, Virginia Midway. The American-style wheat and pale malt beer is made with local clover honey.

August has been designated Virginia Craft Beer Month.

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