VIRGINIA BEACH -- Ask brewmaster Wolfgang Roth to compare his prized Gold Cup beer to the big-name suds, and Roth is prudently diplomatic.

"You know, Budweiser is a very excellent beer," Roth, a 32-year-old native of Germany, said of industry giant Anheuser-Busch Co.'s top brand. "It's just an entirely different beer" from those produced at Roth's microbrewery.

"{Ours is} a very, very flavorful beer," he said. "There's going to be no doubt, if you compare our beer against a mass-produced beer, there's going to be so much more flavor inside that bottle."

Here, under the roar of military jets flying into the Oceana Naval Air Station, the $500,000 remodeling and expansion of Virginia Brewing Co. has tapped what Roth and company president Chris Welles hope will lead to 6,000 barrels of Gold Cup, Dark Horse and several specialty beers this year.

At that level of production, Virginia Brewing would begin to turn the corner on profitability, said Welles, 28, who came aboard last December from a sales job with Anheuser-Busch.

"What we sold last month, that's the magic number," said Welles, though he declined to specify too many figures about the privately-held company's output.

About two years ago, a dozen investors -- mostly Washington, D.C.-area business managers -- bought the struggling Chesapeake Bay Brewing Co. and its Chesbay beer for about $450,000. It was the fourth change of ownership since the brewery was founded in 1983.

The business was renamed and the corporate headquarters was set up at Clark's Gap in Loudoun County, but the brewery remained here, where Roth has worked since coming to the United States 6 1/2 years ago.

Virginia Brewing is one of four microbreweries -- those with fewer than 15,000 barrels produced each year -- operating in Virginia, said Steve O'Brien, a spokesman for the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The state also has two brew-pubs with even smaller volumes in Charlottesville and Virginia Beach.

Such small businesses face a constant struggle for sales in a market dominated by national giants with thousands of dollars to spend on advertising. St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch, for example, produces 8.7 million barrels a year at its Williamsburg plant alone, which employs 11,350 workers. Capacity is expected to grow to 9.4 million barrels next year.

Roth, who has eight employees and advertises on a few metropolitan Washington radio stations instead of during nationally-televised football games, makes his beer competitive by stressing its differences.

Welles, like Roth, avoids direct comparisons with the big-name beers. "I don't think we're going to sit in judgment and say ours is better," he said. "I don't think you can compare them. It's apples and oranges."

Tom Fox of Howard Distributing Co. in Richmond said the appeal of Virginia Brewing's Gold Cup and heavier Dark Horse beers is in "upscale places that concentrate on import sales."

Accordingly, Virginia Brewing is targeting imported beer drinkers as customers. Among the places supplied with special beers produced by the company are the trendy Clyde's of Georgetown, Union Street Public House and Hard Times restaurants in the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia.

Despite efforts to spread out, the huge volume associated with becoming a regional brewery is not a goal, Welles and Roth said.

"We don't want to get too big and lose sight of the fact that we are a microbrewery putting out a very special product," Welles said.

"We're not trying to get people to drink a lot of it," Roth said. "We'd rather get the guys that say, 'I drink less, but I drink better.' "