With Growing Craft Beer Industry, Fairfax County Hopes To Catch Up To Loudoun
When Casey Jones began work on his business plan for a new brewery in Lorton, Virginia, in 2013, no true craft beer production facility existed in Fairfax County, the most populous in Virginia, while neighboring Loudoun County had more than 20.
Seven new breweries, including Jones' Fair Winds Brewing Co., have opened in Fairfax County since 2015, and recent zoning changes should make room for many more.
"We thought, 'it's one of the most affluent counties in the United States, it has an amazing set of demographics that would love craft beer, and it's amazing we don't have a craft beer brand in the market,'" said Jones, a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard. "So we set about doing that."
Previously, beer-making entrepreneurs looking to set up shop in Fairfax County had to find a building in a district zoned for heavy industrial use. Not only were these districts few and far between, but finding the right type of vacant building to accommodate a brewery proved challenging.
About three years ago, the county began receiving several inquiries from brewers looking to open new facilities, Fairfax County Deputy Zoning Administrator Andrew Hushour said.
"There were a finite amount of heavy industrial spaces, and they were trying to get into all of these other zoning districts and we couldn't accommodate them," Hushour said. "We realized these are good businesses, they're trending right now and we want to accommodate them."
This spring, the county adopted new zoning rules recognizing breweries, distilleries and wineries as a distinct land use category and allowing them to open in more commercial and mixed-use areas. Since making the change, Hushour said he has had several brewers express interest in opening new facilities. He sees two in the works that could open in the next year, and expects at least two more to open annually in the county going forward.
Scott Hoffman, who opened Ono Brewing Co. in Chantilly in September, said he had looked to open in a downtown location like Fairfax City during his planning process, but could not find any properties with heavy industrial zoning. Now that the zoning change has been made, he expects to see more breweries open in the county's more walkable urban locations.
"It opens up the rest of the county to put breweries anywhere," Hoffman said.
Hoffman, who was stationed in Hawaii and Florida during his four years of active service in the U.S. Army, moved to Fairfax County in 2011. He had never thought about opening a brewery before, but became frustrated with how far he would have to drive to try locally made craft beer.
"We kept asking, 'why do we keep having to drive to Loudoun County to go to breweries?'" Hoffman said. "I was searching around and thinking, 'Why aren't there more breweries in Fairfax?' ... We were like, 'Let's just do it.'"
Ono Brewing Co. makes eight different kinds of beer and features a tropical-themed tasting room inspired by Hoffman's time stationed in Hawaii.
Breweries have increasingly been opening as anchors of mixed-use developments and communities around the country. In September, two new breweries announced plans to open in Montgomery County, Maryland.
The roster of breweries that have opened in Fairfax County since 2015 includes Fair Winds, Ono, Mustang Sally in Chantilly, Lake Anne Brew House in Reston, Aslin Beer Co. in Herndon and Caboose Brewing in Vienna. Those followed Lorton's Forge Brew Works, which opened in 2013. The county also has some smaller brewpubs that make beer such as Sweetwater Tavern in Centreville and Gordon Biersch in Tysons.
Fairfax County Economic Development Authority CEO Jerry Gordon said the county welcomes the business and activity created by these new breweries and hopes to see more continue to open.
"The county is trying to diversify the economy and create a great array of things to do and enjoy," Gordon said. "Not only for county employees and residents, but for people coming from the outside to go from one of these to another. People will come in, they'll try the breweries, go get lunch, see a movie and go shopping, so it all works together."
Jones said his business has been growing rapidly since he opened Fair Winds in 2015. He currently has the capacity to brew about 8,000 barrels of beer annually, and said he has the infrastructure in place to more than triple that production, which could make Fair Winds a regionally distributed beer. Jones has enjoyed watching other breweries pop up and hopes to see even more open to draw people to the county for beer tours.
"That's the one thing we need is a higher concentration than seven breweries distributed across a large area," Jones said. "We'd like to get a few more so we could have a Fairfax County beer trail."
Jones praised the county's efforts on changing the zoning rules to allow more breweries to open, but he said more can be done to help these types of businesses. For example, he said the county could change its property tax code to be easier on manufacturers, and it could help with initial infrastructure investments for breweries. He said neighboring Loudoun County has for years had more brewery-friendly rules around zoning and property taxes, which has allowed its craft beer industry to thrive.
"Loudoun was ahead of us," Jones said. "But I think Fairfax is catching up to its peers to be able to take advantage of that great population."