York EDA to invest $43,000 in startup micro-brewery

A second micro-brewery is coming to York County.

A second micro-brewery is making its way to York County this summer and should get $43,000 from the county's Economic Development Authority.

The Virginia Beer Company applied for a grant from the EDA on Oct. 9 and the EDA gave its approval later that month. The two are working out a performance agreement, which will confirm how much the company will invest and how much tax revenue is expected. Once that is signed and the new micro-brewery submits the appropriate paperwork, the EDA will release the funds.

The company plans to have a beer tasting room, pints of beer to drink on site and packaged beer for customers to take home.

"We will have two brewing systems, one that is large and one that is small," said co-owner Chris Smith. "We will have a lot of different styles of beers at a time because people will come back if there is always something new to try."

The grant is part of the EDA's incentive program that provides investments in businesses that offer high tax impact, significant capital investments and high-paying jobs. The Virginia Beer Company is the fourth company that the EDA has approved investments for this year. James W. Noel, the county's economic development director, said the group looks at whether the amount of money invested will be returned in one to two tax years. In this case, the EDA would invest $43,000 and The Virginia Beer Company projects the total tax revenue it will provide the county to be $23,000 the first year and $33,000 the second year.

The $43,000 from the EDA is to help the company obtain new windows, remove an entrance and add an environmentally-friendly wastewater system. The company plans to invest $1.3 million to renovate a 1960s-era, 10,000-square-foot garage building at 401 2nd Street in Williamsburg — which lies inside York County — and to buy equipment, according to the company's application. The building has high ceilings, room for a beer garden outside and space for production and socializing.

"It has a great feature — a glass and aluminum roll-up door right on the front of the building," said co-owner Chris Smith. "We can roll up the door and have a beer garden. It will have a nice feel."

Smith, 29, and co-owner Robert Willey, 32, are College of William and Mary graduates. They like the Williamsburg and York County area because of the tourism draw, and they choose Virginia because state laws are now in their favor. In 2012, the state's General Assembly passed Senate Bill 604, which allows a licensed brewery to sell its beer for on-premise consumption. Previously Virginia breweries had to have a full restaurant or pub and could only sell their beer to go.

Smith and Willey have been talking about opening their own brewery since 2006 and moved back to the area in 2011. Starting up the brewery is their full-time job, and they have been using their savings to survive, Smith said.

"Rob and I are both fully committed to this," Smith said. "We don't have other jobs. What we found was to do this right you need to jump all the way in and it takes a lot more time than you would think."

They have hired brewmaster Jonathan Newman, who previously worked for SweetWater Brewing Company, which is based in Atlanta. Newman will focus on brewing the beers while the owners will focus on managing and selling their product, Smith said. They expect to add six additional part-time staff members.

Their new business also comes at an opportune time because the York County Planning Commission will give its recommendation Wednesday on whether to approve or deny ordinance amendments that will allow micro-breweries, micro-wineries and micro-cideries "as a matter of right" to operate in the economic opportunity, general business, limited industrial and general industrial zones. The property The Virginia Beer Company wants to lease is zoned general business, said the county's principal planner Tim Cross.

Without the amendment, anyone who wanted to operate such a facility would be limited to the county's two industrial districts unless they met the definition of a brewpub or applied for a special use permit, said Cross.

York County planners recommended the amendment because it would help York County tap into a growing market. In Virginia, craft beer production is a $623 million-a-year industry, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group of small brewers. After the Planning Commission gives its recommendation, the Board of Supervisors will vote on the amendment.

One micro-brewery currently operates in the industrial zone in York County —AleWerks Brewing Company, at 189-B Ewell Road in Williamsburg.

Somers can be reached by phone at 757-247-4758.

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