Hey everyone, just wanted to talk a little bit about my opening weekend and reflect a little on where I am now and what it took to get here. On Friday, July 19th 2013 Crooked Run Brewing opened its doors for the first time. We had Hopsail, a Belgian single, and Logan’s Song, an English pale ale, on tap. Within one minute of opening, we had our first customer, Chuck Triplett, a long-time beer enthusiast and collector who popped in for a visit. Over the weekend, there was a great crowd of people who came in to try the beer. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and I really enjoyed meeting and talking to people. A lot of the people who visited had been following my blog and Facebook for quite a while, and finally got a chance to try Crooked Run beer for the first time.
The story of Crooked Run Brewing began in November 2011. I was 24 years old, fresh out of college, and looking for work in the middle of a recession. I had been brewing beer ever since I turned 21 and had far-off dreams of opening a brewery one day, but I never thought that day might come for another ten years. Faced with such a lousy job market, I was forced to reconsider what my goals in life were. I happened to learn of a new bill currently in the state legislature that would make it easier to open a brewery. Since it seemed likely that the bill would pass, I began seriously considering the idea of opening a brewery now. I had also just entered and won my first competition, and I felt confident that I could make some good beer. One night I had brought a keg of my English mild to a party and met Uta Brown, owner of Crooked Run Orchard in Purcellville. Talking to Uta inspired me, and I broached the idea of a brewery that would use local produce for high quality ales. I started working on the concept of Crooked Run while grudgingly working at a certain big-name coffee chain (a job I swore I would never return to after college).
Over the next year I quietly researched, splitting my free time between writing my business plan and nailing down my recipes. I didn’t tell too many people what I was up to; after all, it all sounded a bit far-fetched, and I wanted to wait until I really had something to show people. My first major step was finding a location. Fortunately, the space at Harrison Street was available. I’ve lived in Loudoun County for practically my entire life and I knew how great a spot Market Station is. I met with the property owners and presented my business plan. It was a strenuous vetting process, but I managed to convince them.
With my location secured, I had to raise the start-up cash. To get Crooked Run off the ground, I turned to Kickstarter, a crowd-sourcing website used to raise funds for projects from donors who want to see your idea come to fruition. With some help from my friend Steve McNally, I put together a Kickstarter project and video to raise $10,000 in start-up cash. I was optimistic that I would meet that goal, but truthfully, I had no idea. I launched the project on February 5th, 2013. The first week went well and I was on target to reach the goal in thirty days, but I didn’t think I could sustain the donations. Fortunately, I had sent press releases to local papers and got some great media coverage. More people donated, and soon I had cleared the halfway point. Then, donations started flooding in from across the country. Before I knew it, I had passed the goal, and people continued to donate. By the end, I had surpassed my original goal by nearly two thousand dollars! It was an incredible experience and the amount of support I got from my backers was very touching. I got to meet some really great people as a result. I want to thank everyone who donated from the bottom of my heart.
At the same time, I was working on building my brewing system. I decided to build a one barrel (31.5 gallon) electric system based off the design at theelectricbrewery.com. I had a lot of help from my friend Michael Clay, a very skilled welder and artist who lives in Lovettsville. Mike did some serious welding to put together the system, which is built from used 55-gallon stainless steel food drums from the U.N. and massive iron frames. The system uses four 4500 watt electric heating elements to achieve highly efficient and precise temperatures.
In April, I started my lease and began the application for a brewery license and the build-out for the brewery. The license application takes nearly two months and requires federal, state, and local approval. My neighbor Tim McGinn did the contracting work for the brewery, putting in the brewing area, fermentation rooms, and bar. While Tim worked on the build-out, I was hard at work navigating the long permitting process and sourcing equipment.
Finally, on July 3rd I received my brewery license. I brewed my very first batch on the new system on July 9th. It was a barrel of Hopsail, our flagship beer. With two months of paying rent and no revenue, it was absolutely imperative that I open the following weekend with good beer. If a single thing went wrong, I would be in serious financial trouble. I held my breath and went for it, assembling and using a wide array of equipment that I only had theoretical knowledge of. Most of my equipment isn’t even very widely used, since the concept of a nanobrewery is so new. Some of it I invented myself. Fortunately, the system worked perfectly and I hit all my numbers, which was amazing since I had never even had a chance to test it before. I brewed my second batch the next day, and a week later I was kegging my first two batches of beer! It was like walking a tight-rope over a cliff, but to my astonishment, I reached the other side without even a wobble. Helping me along the way were my two assistant brewers, Lee Rogan and Wes Fox, two great guys and great brewers.
The night before I was set to open, I tapped my first kegs and poured a round of beer. It came out perfect, and I’ll never forget that feeling. All the work was going to be worth it when the doors opened tomorrow. Right now as I’m writing this, I feel truly blessed. This first weekend was an unforgettable experience, but there will be so many more. I really look forward to sharing some great beer with you all.
Special thanks to: Mike Clay, Uta Brown, Roger Knoell, Tony Pangilinan, Steve McNally, the Jarvises, Tim McGinn, Lee Rogan, Wes Fox, Trisha and Sean Adams, my Kickstarter backers, my incredibly supportive parents, my friends, my family, and all my supporters. I couldn’t have done it without you all!