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Brewing up a Southside first
SoVaNow.com / January 08, 2014
Craft brewers are popping up all over the country, offering a wide selection of specialty beers made from local products. There’s even a beer trail in Virginia, the Brew Ridge Trail, with six independent breweries spaced along a meandering scenic route through Nelson and Albemarle counties and into Charlottesville.
Previously bereft of this “next best thing” in the beer-making business, Southside Virginia is poised to soon get a craft brewery of its very own.
Charles Taylor, working with Kahill’s owner Tom Flowers, plans to open Mecklenburg County’s first craft beer brewery later this spring downstairs from Kahill’s Restaurant & Bar at 1791 N Mecklenburg Avenue in South Hill.
For now, they’re not disclosing the name of the brewery, only that it will pay homage to Southside Virginia’s heritage as tobacco country.
Flowers said when he built his new restaurant ten years ago, he envisioned having a craft beer brewery in the basement. The idea was put on hold until he met Taylor, son-in-law of the late “Gig” Butts of South Hill. Taylor spent more than 20 years as a manager in the retail food and beverage industry (with a brief foray into the insurance business), and he is an avid home-brewer. Because of his hobby as well as his job, Taylor watched as craft beers emerged as a huge market opportunity.
He’ll tell you that today there are more breweries in the United States than at any point in the country’s history, and most of them brew craft beer. He and Flowers asked each other: why Southside Virginia should be the only area in Virginia to not produce the taste of a fine craft beer?
The idea to start a craft brewery in South Hill took hold for Taylor, he said, “once I realized that making beer was a lot like cooking” — something he loves. “It’s about combining different ingredients to make something that tastes good.” It helped that a number of his friends, who had enjoyed his home-brews over the years, offered words of enthusiasm and encouragement.
Casting aside his day job as a manager with the Kroger grocery chain, Taylor immersed himself in learning all he could about craft beers: “Opening a craft brewery is not like having a weekend home brew hobby. It is big business.”
Taylor spent the last several months traveling around tasting beers, meeting with brew masters, engineers, contractors, and government officials to learn the ins and outs of licensing, opening and operating a craft brewery.
He has a business partner whose focus is on the money, and Flowers is there to handle the needed modifications to Kahill’s downstairs. The two already envision a room for brewing, a tap and tasting room, and a beer garden outside. Taylor is even planting his own hops behind the restaurant.
From a product standpoint, he knows now that his product cannot copy something already existing. “If there’s one thing craft beer lovers value, it is uniqueness, something that sets you apart. But, it still must be good and it must be fresh.
The “freshness” factor is another reason Taylor sees Southside Virginia as a perfect spot for a craft brewery.
“I need barley, wheat, and hops, and would like to buy these locally.” He would also like to grow locally many of the herbs and spices that go into beers to give them their special flavors.
More significantly, Taylor says the explosion of craft breweries and home brewers has caused a shortage on supplies, particularly hops.
“We have a lot of farmers here looking for their next cash crop. He adds, “You can grow 2,000 pounds of hops on less than one-half of an acre.”
Initially, Taylor and Flowers realize they will have to purchase most of their ingredients from areas outside Mecklenburg County, but over the next several years, Taylor sees more and more of his ingredients coming from local farmers.
Even as they work through the morass of licensing and government regulations, Taylor says he is not surprised by the popularity of craft breweries, “All the groundwork is worth it when we can provide people with good beer, and help the local economy” with tax revenues from sales, jobs for workers, and crops to grow for farmers.
For now, the risk that Taylor is embracing — opening the first craft brewery in this area — is all-consuming, but the promise it holds is enough to keep him motivated. The numbers point in his favor.
In 2013, American craft brewers accounted for about 6 percent of the beer produced in the United States, according to a recent report by the U.S. beer industry. And their sales continue to grow, up 15 percent since 2012.
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