Blane Perry is not the kind of guy to admit defeat easily, if ever. He brings the same passion and intensity to both the operating and brewing sides of Sinistral. Recently, a local award-winning homebrewer asserted that he tasted the off-flavor diacetyl in Sinistral’s Fish Taco Lager, and Blane was having none of it. Enlisting the help of a nearby brewery, he had Fish Taco chemically tested to be able to proudly report back that there were in fact no chance of such buttery or caramel corn flavors. At the same time, when his peers reported back that “something different is in there,” Blane took the pursuit of his craft seriously enough to tweak the rice component of his recipe.
Even though customers are more forgiving than brewing professionals (the admittedly diacetyl-forward “Boo Boo Pale Ale” is still Sinistral’s top-rated beer on Untappd) he was afraid that Fish Taco might have a little too much sweetness and slickness. “You want it crisp, you want it clean,” he commented in the aftermath of Sinistral’s first anniversary. Stacey Perry, Blane’s wife and the head of most operations at the brewery, agreed. “For a lot of folks, it was the first time they’d been to a brewery and we needed something for people who’d normally order a Bud Light,” she said. “And then, they’d order another,” Blane added.
Over the past year, it has been the Perrys’ ability, alongside their staff and regular customers, to incubate a sense of community through Sinistral in Manassas that has led to their success – which was far from ever guaranteed. They’ve survived a nation-wide equipment scandal, the challenges of renting three separate properties to form the “campus” on which Sinistral sits, and a suburban town that didn’t really know what to make of craft beer at first but was equally desperate in wanting businesses to succeed. The struggles at Sinistral are still constant as they are in any business, but Stacey, Blane, and Celeste Easlick, the assistant brewer, expressed just as much relief and optimism when they sat down to chat with us. What follows is a lightly edited dialog, one year later, on one of the more heartwarming stories in the Virginia craft beer scene.
Persistent Perseverance at Sinistral Brewing: An anniversary conversation
VBR: It’s been a little while since we’ve stopped by. So how exactly has Sinistral hung in there?
Blane: Location, location, location is Rule #1. After that, make good juice, man. If not, you’re not gonna make it.
Stacey: Your heart better be in this. There’s never a weekend where the owners aren’t here.
Celeste: We can get through it, because our hearts have been so invested.
Blane: Friendships change with business. It puts stress on all of us. We still haven’t recovered from our capital loss. We’re still a month-to-month brewery.
Stacey: People say, “ya’ll are packed!” That money goes to paying our bills.
Blane: In a perfect world we’d still be hanging out. It’s dive in, because this is all we’ve got.
VBR: Just how much work has it been?
Celeste: It’s been so hard. When we first started it was 20 hours a day, but we loved it so much and we had to keep going. All the beers are my babies!
Stacey: This is way more work that I thought. It’s all consuming. I can’t turn it off.
Blane: I don’t want to turn it off.
Stacey: This is obviously my priority, but so is paying my mortgage. Balancing expectations has been a learning opportunity. I love this kind of stuff, even if I’m picking beans off the floor.
Celeste: Being here as much time as it requires is hard with three kids at home. Home has always been hard to manage. At the same time, we’ve coming from working 20 hours a day to something better.
Blane: We used to take turns sleeping on the cot.
Celeste: We’ve finally gotten to the point we can get somebody else in here to help us.
Blane: Celeste could walk in anywhere and be their brewer. She can make even more unique beers than we make.
VBR: What else have you learned over your first year?
Stacey: The city has spent a lot of time and money to revitalize.
Blane: We’re all trying to create a community environment, and change the perception of Manassas. We all want to bring people back into Old Town Manassas.
Celeste: It’s like Cheers. You’re always gonna walk in, you might know somebody. It’s more than the beer.
Stacey (pointing to the sign in the bar): It really is like the Cheers of Manassas!
Blane: We have 250-300 core regulars every weekend. We get to see all our friends.
Stacey: People keep showing up every weekend. The ones on brewery tours also end up coming back.
Celeste: People come here because they’re comfortable.
Blane: Our regulars talk our place up. They sell our beer better than we do! That’s the power of community!
VBR: You’ve talked more about your favorite bands than any big plans. So what comes next?
Blane: All I do is make beer and keg beer. I can’t be more thankful. What makes us most happy is to see people come in and have a good time.
Stacey: It’s way more than just good beer.
Blane: I want to just lay back and watch the magic happen. I’ve given Stacey control over what happens in the taproom. David Hughes is also learning how to be a brewer. We want to teach him everything. One of the great things about losing that money… It caused us as owners to pull our pants up and find our perfect employees right among our first customers. You’re sitting in front of people that believe in you. Beer’s a truth serum.