SAVOR (an American Craft Beer and Food Experience) returns to Washington, DC on June 1-2. The lineup is strong. Rather than profiling each brewery, which is frankly a time suck for me and your friendly staff, I reached out to a number of breweries in attendance that are interesting to me for one reason or another for interviews to get to know them better. Look out for our annual Top 25 list as well as a top 10 beer and food pairings list closer to the main event. Purchase tickets for SAVOR here.
We kick things off in the interview series with Lorton, VA’s Fair Winds Brewing Company. Big thanks to Casey Jones, Founder and CEO, for taking the time to answer our questions via email. What follows below is a transcript loosely edited for length and clarity.
DCBeer: What do you see as the value of participating in SAVOR?
Casey Jones: SAVOR is an event that focuses on how craft beer and food can be paired together. It allows us to show how beer can be married with food to enhance the overall dining experience. It also draws a crowd well beyond just the geographic area, allowing us to reach potential customers we might otherwise not meet.
In a nutshell, what's your brewery's philosophy about beer and business?
We believe that while beer is fun, it is still a business. In order for us to continue to have fun doing what we love, we have to earn that in the market by producing beers that customers are willing to purchase.
What beers are you bringing to SAVOR, why, and what do you think/want those beers to say about your brewery to consumers?
Our philosophy with SAVOR is to choose beers that we think really highlight the ability of craft beer to compliment and enhance the culinary experience and that show the breadth of pairing options, Therefore we are bringing our Dank & Stormy, our Imperial IPA, and Siren's Lure, our hop-forward saison. These beers will hopefully show attendees that Fair Winds Brewing Company is a hop-forward brewery that focuses on producing balanced, flavorful beers.
Fair Winds is on the BA's list of top 50 fastest growing breweries. (Congratulations on that!) To what do you attribute that fast expansion? Is it part of your business plan to expand quickly, and how do you "right-size" your brewery scale?
We were thrilled to be recognized by the BA as one of the 50 fastest growing breweries in 2017 because it recognizes our amazing team and their relentless focus on quality. It also recognizes our awesome partners who help us deliver and sell our products in the marketplace. Lastly, it shows how well-received these products are by the DC and Virginia craft beer drinkers. At the core, Fair Winds is about people and product. While we have aggressive ambitions, our goal is to grow at a rate that allows us to maintain the focus on quality people and product.
Why is Siren's Lure so damn good?
We are glad you enjoy Siren's Lure, we also enjoy that beer. We think the reason it won the GABF Gold Medal in 2015, and why it is one of our most popular beers, is that it is unique… a dry-hopped saison. It brings together the classic profile of a french saison with a unique finish brought about by the hop selection. The Zythos and Galaxy hop additions in the boil enhance the fruitiness provided by the French farmhouse yeast and it is dry-hopped with Galaxy and Hallertau Blanc hops to enhance the tart, dry finish.
Northern Virginia's beer scene has really been growing by leaps and bounds. Why do you think that is? What are some of your favorite spots in our market?
Northern Virginia has a high population density with disposable income that allows them to enjoy things like great craft beer. So wherever you have such a great customer base, you have the opportunity for a vibrant industry to emerge. The challenge with owning a brewery is that you don't get as much time to get out and explore others as you would like. The other challenge is that when you do get to another brewery, you tend to focus on what you can learn from them. Therefore, I enjoy going to any of the local breweries when I can find the time to get out because our community is so welcoming and willing to share that I always come away having learned something that can assist us in our effort to constantly improve.
Thinking about either your local market or the nation overall, what do you think the key strengths and weaknesses are of independent or craft beer? What can and should we be doing better as an industry?
One of the greatest strength of independent craft brewers is innovation and community engagement. Our colleagues are not bound by old rules as they explore new recipes and beer styles. We have also proven very adept at engaging the local communities we serve and banding together as a community to grow the craft segment of the overall beer market.
One area of improvement for us as an industry (or subset of an industry) is quality. The Brewers Association has done a good job identifying this need and putting out resources to help us small breweries put in place quality programs and processes.
Somewhat related to the above: what advice do you have for new breweries out there? What advice do you have for veteran breweries?
The advice I have for any person planning a brewery that stops by our taproom is the same – there are many different craft brewery business models, choose one and stick to it. Make your strategy clear to your team and when faced with market opportunities (new products, new formats, new geographies) measure them against the model and ensure they are consistent with it (if you made your reputation on limited releases from your taproom, you have to realize that putting those beers into distribution will reduce their scarcity and therefore their value).
I don't feel like we have been in business long enough to either be considered a veteran brewery, nor to give advice to veteran breweries. I will point out two recent veteran brewery failures and something I think we can/should all learn from them. These breweries are Smuttynose and Green Flash. Both breweries had about 20 years in the market before they collapsed (both liquidated). The lesson is that all business plans are built on assumptions, yet in most cases, these assumptions aren't articulated very well, and therefore aren't challenged to determine if they will hold up. The owners of Smuttynose were quoted saying that their business plan was built on 20 years of uninterrupted growth. If any of us said that out loud to our colleagues or business advisers, we would hopefully get feedback like "are you serious?" "is that even possible?" So take the time to make these assumptions clear, find a group you trust outside of the brewery to test these assumptions, and open your ears and listen to their feedback. While you may not like what they tell you, it beats watching the thing you poured your soul into collapse.
Just for dry-hops and giggles, look into your crystal ball and predict what the big craft beer trend is this time next year.
We don't feel like we are really good at making predictions and spotting new trends. What we do know will be valued next year, as it is today, is producing high-quality, shelf-stable beers. Given that, you can predict where Fair Winds Brewing Company will be focusing our efforts.
Thanks again, Casey, looking forward to continuing to see Fair Winds in the DC metro area and at SAVOR!