Aslin Beer Co. enjoyed something of a breakout year in 2016 as far as local craft breweries go. Their brewing of very “in” styles like juicy, hazy IPAs, Berlinerweiss and gose, and assorted stouts regularly drew crowds to their Herndon tap room for growler and crowler hours and generally made them the darling of the DMV threads in BeerAdvocate’s Mid-Atlantic forum, where the week’s lineup was discussed frequently and ardently. As demand grew, so did the Aslin team’s plans for the futures. Simultaneously, it seems, those crowds may have hastened the need for the brewery to find a new space.
On December 28, Aslin Beer Co. announced via Facebook “As the new year is quickly approaching, we wanted to let you know that Aslin Beer Co. will be leaving the Town of Herndon in 2017.” The full message is below:
Cheers to a new year!
As the new year is quickly approaching, we wanted to let you know that Aslin Beer Co. will be leaving the Town of Herndon in 2017. This was not an easy decision to make but it's necessary in order to grow our business and fulfill our mission to create amazing beer and a great place to enjoy it.
We have not yet decided on our new location but are in the process of scoping out options and hope to confirm our new spot soon.
Until our new location is up and running, we will continue to operate as To-Go only to make our beer more easily accessible to more people. Beer will be limited through the next two weeks, but as of the second week of January it will released on a weekly basis. We will updated operating hours through the next few weeks.
2017 Mug Club members – you will be receiving a separate email shortly regarding how this affects your membership.
For this week, starting December 28, we will be making announcements each day for releases and hours.
From everyone at Aslin Beer Co. – thank you for your continued support. Feel free to stop by and chat or shoot us an email if you have any questions.
Andrew, Kai, & Richard
The announcement, predictably, has drawn a lot of comments and attention from beer fans. Everything from pleas for Aslin to come to their town to criticizing the Town of Herndon to expressions of continued devotion to the beers, no matter the location of the brewery, followed Aslin’s post.
Aslin Beer Company has been a valued business in the Town of Herndon Government and we have been impressed with their growth and success. In fact, it is that incredible success that has resulted in their need to consider new space, as they are outgrowing their current location much more quickly than anticipated. As the entity responsible for enforcement of the Uniform Statewide Fire Code and Fairfax County fire regulations the Fairfax County Fire Marshall sets occupancy requirements for all Town and County businesses. The Fire Marshall’s occupancy determination overrides the Town Zoning Code and is the final determination regarding occupancy, which is set at the time of initial occupancy for the businsess [sic]. It is not possible for the Town to override the Fire Marshall’s ruling at any time.
I was thrilled to meet Drew, Kai and Richard back when they first approached me about opening Aslin Brewery in the town, and spoke with them on the phone today. Aslin Beer Company is exactly the kind of business Herndon would like to continue to attract. I'd love to keep them in Herndon should a larger space within the town limits accommodate their needs. I understand that they met today about a possible additional taproom location within the Town of Herndon. Should they pursue that opportunity I will continue to work with them to ensure a smooth process as they work toward opening day. I also understand they may ultimately relocate outside of the Town limits. Either way, I are committed to their success while they remain here and wish them continued prosperity, hopefully in Herndon.
It sounds like the Fairfax County Fire Marshall’s assessment of the brewery’s occupancy and the town’s were not in agreement. As the Mayor noted, the town’s decision is overridden here. We’ll keep an eye on this issue as more details emerge.
Even had there not been a late-breaking occupancy issue, Aslin was not likely to be at this location for the long- or even medium-term. Last month, DCBeer interviewed Andrew Kelley, one of Aslin’s co-founders, to learn more about the new brewhouse that the brewery had mentioned via social media. He noted that, “There is no more room for expansion at our current location. We are constantly evaluation what that means for future business (i.e. new location, taking over neighboring units, etc.).”
It now seems that this evaluation’s timeframe will need to be accelerated.
Meanwhile, Herndon and its residents are not content to see Aslin hop off into the sunset. Mayor Merkel replied to a critical comment on post, “I've always had a good relationship with Aslin and am hopeful this can be worked out.” A local homebrewer and member of The Wort Hogs is also urging members and residents of the town to send correspondence to their elected officials in support of Aslin.
As all of this is going on, Aslin is undertaking the aforementioned brewhouse upgrade. A lightly edited transcript of DCBeer’s interview with Andrew Kelley follows below.
DCBeer: Your previous system was famously (in the beer scene) small. What did you upgrade to, and did it include fermenter expansions too?
Andrew Kelley: You all will see that the four new 20 HectoLitre (17 barrel) fermenters are in place. We will begin production into them the week of 12/5. The new brew house is scheduled to be installed around the Christmas holiday. The old 4 BBL fermenters will be replaced in a February/March timeframe. The 4 BBLs are still a double batch brew day. The new 20HL fermenters will be [a quadruple brew day] to fill half. The new installs when running with the new brewhouse will increase production volume 4.25 times. They are manufactured in China and are glycol chilled. The new brew house is constructed by BDB Systems and is a fully automated pneumatic 10 HectoLitre (8.5 barrel) brewhouse.
What does the new brewhouse bring your annual potential max barrelage up to? I assume you're not aiming for max production on that, so what is your estimated increase annual production?
2,800 BBLs. We anticipate doing around 2000 BBLs in the first year.
You've been on the forefront of the crowler game in the area. How is that working out, and are you pleased to see other breweries going with crowlers over growlers? Are you pre-filling crowlers at all, and have you found crowlers to be pretty stable as a packaging medium?
Adding crowlers really helped increase our take-out sales. Crowlers were the best packaging option for us at the time due to the format, being able to come as close to a canning line that we could have at the time. The downside is that it is highly manual and leaves a lot of room for human error. We feel crowlers are more effective at holding carbonation and keeping the beer fresh, so naturally it’s nice to see other breweries make the change too. We do pre-fill crowlers when we are doing beer releases. This allows us to quickly get through the lines during release days.
Crowler hours for Aslin often sees beers sell out, which is a problem a lot of breweries would like to have. How do you handle customers who get upset when they can't get beer because it has all been sold? Do you think the new brewhouse will alleviate this problem or will it maybe create longer lines?
To be honest, there really isn't a “best practice” on telling customers that they will not be able to get any takeout beer. We started using a ticket system to allow us to quickly communicate to customers who will be receiving beer and won't. This set expectations up front on how many people would be receiving crowlers to go.
Is the increased capacity going to take you out of the "nano" phase? Does this mean we might see more Aslin distributed in the future? And if so, do you have any strategies for what that rollout might look like from the 10,000 foot level?
We were never technically a nano brewery due to the amount of beer we were actually making. We do not plan on distributing much with this expansion. We are currently looking at our next expansion as being one that will allow us to distribute.
Black IPA as a style kind of came and went. From a business standpoint are you thinking about what's next should the same thing happen to NE IPA?
No, we see the NE IPA as being a style similar to the West Coast IPA style. Both will be around for a while, as both of them offer different flavor characteristics to the consumers.
Related: people line up for your hoppy beers, which often sell out at the brewery. Has that also happened with other styles? How do you think about diversifying your portfolio to market other beers, and how will the expansion help with that, if at all?
We have a good following for our kettle-sour beers and stouts. We are starting a barrel-aging and sour program that we hope will have the same response. Our motto at Aslin is to make beer that we like and that is how we determine our portfolio.
Best wishes to the Aslin team as they navigate both the new brewhouse and the search for a solution on a new home. We’ll keep you updated as we hear more.