The local craft beer community laments the loss of another classic venue
On July 21st, Mad Fox Brewing Company in Falls Church will close, per an announcement from Chief Executive Officer and Executive Brewer Bill Madden. Madden cited the pressure from new breweries opening in Falls Church and the surrounding counties, as well as increased dining options in the area, for the brewpub’s demise.
It’s hard to overstate how important Madden has been to the region’s craft beer scene and so many of the community’s leaders. He started at Capitol City Brewing Company in 1995 after graduating from the Master Brewer Program at University of California – Davis. After a stint at Vintage 50 in Leesburg, Madden founded Mad Fox Brewing Company in 2010.
Wherever Bill Madden has been, he’s spread the gospel of Kölsch-style ale, a hybrid style brewed with ale yeast but lagered and aged. In 2001, his Capitol Kölsch, brewed at Capitol City’s Arlington location, won a Silver Medal at the Great American Beer Festival. One year later the same beer, brewed at the D.C. location, brought home the Gold.
If you’ve enjoyed Fairwinds Brewing Company’s Quayside Kolsch or Cedar Run’s version it’s thanks in no small part to Madden, who trained Charlie Buettner and Matt Ryan, both now at those respective breweries. Madden’s Orange Whip IPA introduced the area to Citra hops and helped pave our palates for the hazy, juicy IPAs many of us know and love.
Madden shared some words of wisdom about his Kolsch with the DC Beer Show earlier this year. He can be hard on himself, but his tenacity for beer improvement through recipe development started with an honest truth he had to face:
“I can remember some of my friends having brought back some Kolsch from Cologne… and we sat in their basement. I had a keg of my Kolsch and we compared it to the bottles and cans that they brought and I was completely off the mark.
“I learned the next day that Weyermann malts were available and I completely changed our recipe at Capitol City to using 100% German Pils malt, imported German wheat malt, and then we changed it all to hops that were just hop pellets from Germany. And lightened it up. And that’s the product that you have there and the recipe hasn’t changed much in probably about 20 plus years.
“That’s been my baby. It’s a small beer. It’s a beer by which a brewer stands naked because there’s nowhere to hide.”
Mad Fox has also been one of the few remaining practitioners of real ale. The brewpub often serves a pale ale or ESB served in the traditional British style, without the addition of hops, fruit, or candy that all too often mar cask offerings.
New breweries create more competition for Mad Fox Brewing
In an email exchange with DC Beer, Rick Garvin, a founding partner in the brewery, highlighted pressures on both the food and beer sides in the business’ demise.
“Falls Church has doubled the amount of retail/restaurant space in an 11,000 person city,” he wrote, “while sales are good on any given day, they are down so much from our profitable years that the brewpub business model is not sustainable. Leases that made sense from 2010 to 2014 do not make sense going into 2020… Mad Fox has been living with contracts signed in 2009.”
In addition, Garvin cited “changing legislation in Virginia” that he says favors package breweries and creates disadvantages for brewpubs like Mad Fox. Indeed, changing laws and other factors have led to a brewery boom in Loudoun, Fairfax, and Prince William Counties, and communities like Manassas. These breweries often have taprooms, allowing for on-premise beer consumption, paired with food trucks, and can sell beer to go in a variety of formats.
Falls Church itself now has Audacious Aleworks and Settle Down Easy Brewing Company, which compete with Mad Fox. Madden noted in his announcement that, “When we opened in 2010, there were 40 breweries in Virginia. Now there are close to 250.”
Local beer experts believe that while the incredible growth in new breweries has helped to demystify and popularize craft beer, it’s often at the expense of the traditional styles Mad Fox is best known for. In a tweet, Brookland Pint Beverage Director Jace Gonnerman said, “The closure of @MadFoxBrewing is an exclamation point on a beer scene that has been trending this way for awhile: hype over quality. Making really, really good beer in traditional styles is no longer enough.”
Another factor that may have contributed to Mad Fox’s closure is their ill-fated expansion into the Glover Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C. That location, originally slated to open in 2013, was plagued by delays that, according to the Washington Business Journal, tripled the company’s building costs. It eventually opened in 2015, but failed to turn a profit. Madden and Garvin closed it in 2018.
Mad Fox will be the second area craft beer business to close in the last three months due in part to the costs of a new 10-year lease. Columbia Heights’ Meridian Pint shut down in April, though it reopened not far from Mad Fox in the Dominion Hills neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia
Madden told the Falls Church News-Press that he doesn’t have any future plans at the moment but if he continues in craft beer it won’t likely be running a brewery day-to-day. “I’m getting on in age,” he told the local news website. “Slinging malt and cleaning out mash drums, it’s a lot.”
Mad Fox will celebrate its 9th anniversary on Saturday, July 13, with a party that promises to be special. Madden will be showcasing seven rare and vintage beer selections throughout the day, including 2018 Barrel-aged Batch 900 (9.6%), 2017 Slobberknocker (10.4%), 2016 Slobberknocker (10.4%), Barrel-aged 2017 Crazy Ivan Russian Imperial Stout (8.3%), 2015 Batch 500 (11.9%), and the pièce de résistance, a 2013 Batch 300 (8%).
Madden posted the closing announcement on the Mad Fox Facebook page on Tuesday, July 9.
Friends of Mad Fox Brewing Company
Re: Mad Fox Brewing Company Closure
July 9, 2019
Friends, Patrons and Supporters,
It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I inform you of the closure of Mad Fox Brewing Company. Our last day of business will be Sunday, July 21st.
The decision to close has been an extremely difficult one to make. We have witnessed restaurant competition in the 2.2 square mile Falls Church City become fierce since our opening in 2010 with multiple businesses opening in the last year alone. As much as we tried to compete, there are an overwhelming number of choices for the local population. Sales have been on a slow decline over the last several years and, unfortunately, staying open is no longer sustainable.
On the brewing side of our business we continue to see more breweries opening in Virginia with two new Taprooms setting up shop within a mile of Mad Fox in the last year. When we opened in 2010, there were 40 breweries in Virginia. Now there are close to 250. The Brewpub business model is a tough one to maintain compared to a Brewery Taproom with little overhead, lower rents and outsourced food trucks. Our draw from the surrounding areas has dwindled in what has become an extremely competitive craft beer market, which has resulted in this final decision
We attempted to work with our Bank and our Landlord for more favorable terms and while both were willing, we ultimately could not come to agreement that would allow Mad Fox to be break even or better.
We plan a closure date of Sunday, July 21st; however, we plan to continue with our 9 year Anniversary Party on Saturday, 13 July to honor you, our investors, our staff and the Falls Church Community. Words cannot express how proud I am of the Mad Fox legacy and the opportunity to be a member of such a wonderful community, if even for a short while. We opened the first brewpub in the City of Falls Church and have won numerous medals at the Great American Beer Festival as well as the Virginia Beer Cup. We have celebrated christenings, birthdays, weddings, retirements and many holiday gatherings. You, our guests, along with our spectacular Mad Fox team have enabled us to build tremendous notoriety over 9 years in business. I thank you for allowing Mad Fox to be a part of your lives. Thank you for your years of support and I hope to see you at the Pub in the coming weeks.
CEO and Executive Brewer, Mad Fox Brewing Company
Michael Stein and Richard Fawal contributed to this story.