Viewpoints: Craft beer grows in popularity in Virginia

Craig Nargi hadn’t planned on brewing his own craft beer. He’d started innocently, trying to find a market for the hops he was growing at Hermitage Hill Farm in Augusta County.

He had tried offering the hops for sale to craft breweries, with no luck, largely because of the uncertainties associated with the growing schedule, and when the hops would be available for harvest.

The answer he got back from a contact with the USDA was unexpected: You need to make your own beer.

“Don’t worry about selling them, and then when they do come in, that determines when the beer is going to be made, and that harvest ale will be produced on that particular day,” Nargi recalled the advice he was offered, in an interview on this week’s Viewpoints on WVPT.

Nargi followed the advice, and took the steps to build a business around the beer that he began brewing on his farm.

StableCraft Brewing Co. opened in April, and the business has grown by leaps and bounds in its first six months.

“The growth pattern has been faster than we had anticipated,” said Nargi, who had originally projected to create eight jobs, six full time, but has seen the staff at StableCraft grow to 17, with 12 full-time employees, and an additional five coming on in the next few months as the business adds a bottling operation that should have beer on store shelves early next year.

StableCraft Brewing Co. is one of 12 craft breweries on the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail, an initiative of several local tourism entities that launched in May.

Sheryl Wagner, the director of tourism in the City of Staunton, helped spearhead the development of the trail, which markets the member craft breweries statewide and nationally, and maintains a website that allows visitors to plot their travels up and down the Valley, and learn more about the unique brews offered at each location.

“And they’re all really different,” Wagner said on Viewpoints. “We have farm breweries, we have downtown breweries, in Harrisonburg and Staunton. Their production, how much beer they make – are they really just a small-batch brewery, or larger production like Devil’s Backbone? We’re really lucky to have such a vast variety of different breweries on our trail.”

What the Shenandoah Beerwerks marketing effort keys on is selling the experience of drinking locally crafted Shenandoah Valley brews.

“The Shenandoah Valley is so beautiful with hiking, outdoor recreation. That’s what we’re really trying to marry with our breweries,” Wagner said.

That’s what Nargi is selling at StableCraft: good beer in a beautiful setting.

“People are coming out and getting the experience on the farm. They’re seeing the hops grow, they get to see the horses. There’s so much to offer, and you’re in the middle of farm country. It’s the real deal,” said Nargi, who is still blown away by the quick growth of his craft brewery.

“We didn’t foresee that, but we’re taking advantage of the popularity. We’re taking advantage of the respect of the beer,” Nargi said. “It wasn’t us. We didn’t do it by ourselves, by any stretch of the imagination. Staunton is responsible for that. Harrisonburg is responsible for that. Nelson County. There’s a lot of pioneers out there that got it all started, and they got beat up in the process to get us to where we are today, and we’re thankful for that.”

Story by Chris Graham

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