When Anheuser-Busch officials opened a brewery in Williamsburg in 1972, little did they know that it would be the start of a Virginia beer industry.
Anheuser-Busch was followed by Chesapeake Bay Brewing Co. in Virginia Beach in 1984, the state's first microbrewery, and the Adolph Coors Co.-Shenandoah Valley packaging and distribution center in Elkton, which opened in April. Now, the state's first restaurant with mini-brewery is slated to start brewing beer this month.
A microbrewery brews less than 10,000 barrels a year, distribution usually is regional and the beer is made in small batches, according to Michael Hollingsworth, owner of Chesapeake Bay Brewing Co., who is planning an expansion that might take his facility out of that category.
Chesapeake Bay Brewing turns out 5,000 barrels of beer each year in 64-barrel batches and distributes it to Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. By way of comparison, the Anheuser-Busch plant produces 8,032,375 barrels per year, 11 percent of the company's total production.
Chesapeake Bay Brewing has eight employes, Anheuser-Busch has 1,100 full-time employes in Williamsburg.
Hollingsworth is planning a $200,000 expansion that would add eight 64-barrel tanks to the seven-tank brewery and increase production to 15,000 barrels a year. Even after the expansion, the beer will be made in 64-barrel batches, Hollingsworth said. But the distribution area will be increased. Hollingsworth will start shipping beer to Colorado and a broker in Chicago.
The expansion will also cut the eight-week fermentation time in half.
Chesapeake Bay Brewing turns out Chesbay beer, a golden pilsner, a dark Oktoberfest beer, Skipjack Doppel Bock and Virginia Native, an unfiltered beer similar to Skipjack. Bock beer has twice the alcohol of regular beers, Hollingsworth explained.
Skipjack won the gold medal in its category at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver in June, he said.
Hollingsworth employs a brewmaster from Germany, Wolfgang Roth.
Coors' Shenandoah Valley plant is the company's only facility outside Colorado, according to spokeswoman Janet Wendelkin. The firm ships its beer to Elkton, where it is put into cans, bottles and kegs for East Coast distribution, she said.
The plant, which opened in April, employs 220 people and will be responsible for 2.5 million barrels of beer a year -- 8 percent of Coors' production, Wendelkin said.
The facility, now in the second construction phase, will increase its blending capacity. Eventually, the plant will be responsible for 10 million barrels of beer, she said.
The Blue Ridge Restaurant and Brewing Co. in Charlottesville will be running a test batch of beer this month, said owner Paul Summers. The mini-brewery has its state brewing license, but final approval from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Virginia's regulators won't come until after the test batch, he said.
Summers and his brother, Bok, are working with a consulting brewmaster from Milwaukee to produce beer to be sold only at the restaurant. They will produce a lager, ale, stout and specialty seasonal beers, he said.
The restaurant and five-barrel brewhouse cost more than $200,000 and Summers said he hopes to brew 35 to 40 barrels of beer per month.
Summers and Hollingsworth attribute the growth in small breweries in the last 10 years to the changing tastes of consumers.
"People are becoming more quality conscious in clothes, wine, beer," Summers said. "People are turning away from mass-produced items."
Summers said he thinks wine has had its heyday and beer will be the next beverage of choice. "People are gearing food toward beer," he said.
Hollingsworth said people "continue to upgrade themselves. They have more money to spend and they want finer things."
Hollingsworth said of his beers, "We are on a gourmet level.'