As I are engineer, my limited vocabulary will not genuinely convey how excited I am for this time of year. As this will be my 4th Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference, I am always psyched to experience new beers and old friends. What makes it that much more exhilarating is that is on our home turf!
This week, we not only have the honor to travel to Loudoun County in Northern Virginia for The Conference, but it is one where we get to show off what amazing progress this state has made in just a short amount of time. I would not have envisioned 4-plus years ago when we started this blog that we could have an area that was a diverse and passionate for craft beer in the Commonwealth, but since then the scene has exploded. It is a mix of urban re-use and rural farm breweries in this area which is a microcosm of Virginia as a whole. Where just a decade ago, there were just a few options for craft in Virginia, is now canvased with beer trails, guilds, and business development that was just an idea waiting for a spark. A lot of people have already talked about Virginia and the empirical data of the growth, I wanted to spend a few lines telling you how it feels personally to watch this expansion and how it continues to provide a sense of pride to a life long Virginian.
I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia, which is situated in the southeastern part of the state in the region called Hampton Roads. As a kid, we lived so close to the Anheuser Busch Brewery, that on certain summer humid days when the wind hits just right (and we get plenty of those) you could smell the bready-yeasty goodness that came from there. While I was still underage, it still was important to me as most of my friends parents worked for AB (including myself for a few years) as it was the largest employer in my area. But even as I moved on to college, and my palate became a little more refined, there were very little options for what we would call ‘local craft beer’ these days. Richmond had Legend Brewery and Charlottesville was just getting going with what became Starr Hill, Blue Mountain, and South Street, which all began in a little hole-in-the-wall brew pubs.
As the market for such beers increased, the craft movement was still not fully adapted by the Commonwealth. While a few more popped up around the state, it was seen as a niche market and not really seen as a destination that most local business development groups would promote. Almost 15 years ago when I left school, it was the Virginia Wine Trail that was being promoted more than everything, with a lot of breweries having to self promote. Virginia was getting a small spattering of national awards, but not enough to show that they could compete or even be in the discussion with the big boys from the West Coast.
You might have seen him at the end of the promotional video for Loudoun County’s bid for the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference, but in 2014 when Terry McAuliffe came into office, all of that changed. He noticed national trends and saw that the general re-use of land, whether it be coal mining areas, to tobacco field, to downtown warehouses all had potential for growth. Coupled with a genuine passion for craft beer and the states economic growth, set aside large incentives for not only upstarting breweries, but craft breweries to move to the east coast, and things took off.
Three whippersnappers started to see this as well. It was a random night in April where one of us had a crazy idea that he didn’t want to write about a 2-10 football team anymore, but start writing about the craft beer in the Commonwealth, something that had been discussed ad nauseam at the tailgates to those football games as we were getting ‘ready’ for our weekly beatdown. It was a simple endeavor. We would talk about the best beer we found around the state and write about it. Being a completely independent production, our aim was (and still is) to promote Virginia craft beer so that others would get out there and try them.
What we didn’t count on back then was the literal explosion of breweries and brewpubs that would happen over the course of our watch. While we aren’t able to get everywhere or try even a tenth of the beers out there (and, oh my, we have tried) it fills our of our hearts with pride to see the growth of the industry in our Commonwealth.
We could ramble on about the merits of all the places we are going and all the different beers that we will be trying, our greatest advice is this. Sit back, relax, and enjoy. Come in with an open mind. Meet people from all over the country. Listen to their stories. Every BBC is full of great moments and events, so do as much as you can. Who knows where life takes you and events like the BBC could be a once a year thing for some, or a once in a lifetime event for most.
As for us, we welcome you to our home. Come up to us and say hi. Have a beer with us (or three). But mainly, just have a great time.
The Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference will be held in Loudoun County, Virginia from August 9-11, and we’ll be covering it all from our social media platforms using the hashtag #BBC18. Welcome home, y’all!