Matt Hagerman and Favio Garcia are two men on a mission. Despite having sewn many seeds, the two brewthusiasts are just beginning to reap all they’ve sowed. The former shift brewers have secured a location, equipment and materials for a production brewery and brewpub just over a mile down the road from the former Old Dominion brewpub in Ashburn, VA. Unfortunate beer trekkers have already been spotted at the yet-to-be-opened Lost Rhino, only to return home empty-growlered. Perhaps needless to say, the demand is there.
When I paid Hagerman and Garcia a visit they had just poured the concrete leading to a beautifully symmetrical drain, clearly pleasing both men. They were conversing with other Lost Rhino team members about which color to pick for the brewhouse. It’s funny to see such attention to detail placed in a brewhouse (think of Conan dying silk in India for the curtains of his new show in an American Express commercial): Favio gets excited when he receives a specific clamp from a welder who travels nationally to fix and improve Gordon Biersch tanks. But what else would you expect from a brewer who notices a difference between pellets and whole flowers in his IPA?
If brew masters could compare to masterful chefs, Hagerman and Garcia would be closer to the likes of Mark Bittman than Dave Thomas (may he rest in peace). One of their dream brews is an all Virginia beer. In turning this dream into a reality, part of their brewery prep involved trips to local farms, seeking Virginia farmers for locally grown barley and hops. This is no easy task; consider the local farmer’s yield—which pales in comparison to the global market (they will receive roughly 20 lbs of Virginia-grown hops this year).
Local is obviously a point of pride for both Virginia gentlemen. Garcia points to the legendary Chico, CA brewers when asked about his influences, “Sierra, because of its consistency.” Garcia likes the idea of a hopback in the Lost Rhino brewery. As he says, “I can taste the difference in those IPAs that are too bitter and not floral enough.” With the forthcoming Pale Ale, Pilsner and seasonal releases, you can rest assured Lost Rhino’s beers will be well balanced. Garcia and Hagerman also pointed to two of Bill Madden’s beers at Mad Fox: the kolsch and the oatmeal stout on cask. Garcia and Hagerman particularly like the strong-flavored but low-in-alcohol beers as they can be seen as part of a growing trend in the American craft beer landscape.
Both have seen the surge of craft beer in the past, so what’s different now? “People seem to want to be more educated this time,” says Hagerman, comparatively to the 90s. He also mentioned that craft beer and food seem to be charting the same trajectory, steps which the wine industry ascended over the last decade.
In the 90s, Garcia worked for Bill Stewart’s, Bardo Rodeo (which later became Dr. Dremos) brewpub, “before Sierra Nevada was famous.” At the end of the season the bar’s distributor had lots of Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale left, “so we just bought it at cost.”
A lot has changed since the days of Bardo and as Greg Kitsock pointed out, Celebration Ale can now be purchased at your local CVS. Still, for those who remember Bardo’s Great American Beer Festival wins in 1996 and 1997 the heyday of craft beer in Northern Virginia doesn’t seem so much like a revival as it does a continuation of history. Another former Bardo brewer, now making suds in Northern Virginia, is Port City’s Jonathan Reeves.
Both brewers brewed “Marion Berry Lambic” with a process that was endearingly referred to as “Bill Stewart’s Bubba Sour mash.” When water temperature was reached, the brewers would mash in and just leave it sit. Although without the intentional addition of wild yeasts (fruit would be blended later on in the process), one cannot say this was a traditional Lambic. Still, you have to give credit where it’s due, if nothing else the process was unique and creative. Bardo obviously fostered a strong sense of community. This is the kind of atmosphere Garcia and Hagerman hope to bring to their brewpub and production brewery. We wish them luck on their endeavor but highly doubt they will need it.