Citing “macroeconomic factors facing the brewing industry and the commercial real estate market here in Loudoun County,” Sterling, Virginia’s Beltway Brewing Company ceased production, and their taproom will remain open until the end of January. Then they will close, and the brewery is for sale via New Mill Capital, the same firm that handled 3 Stars’ closing last year. Beltway is the first brewery closure of 2023; the last brewery closure of 2022 was also in Sterling, as Rocket Frog shut down in December. Beltway opened in 2011 and moved into its current space, with a 30 barrel DME system, in 2013.
We talked to founder Sten Sellier about the closure. The brewery’s ten-year lease is up, and the building at 22620 Davis Drive has a new owner. Beltway could have entered into negotiations for a short-term lease, but then the “macroeconomic factors facing the brewing industry” came into play. Over the next 24 months, many northern Virginia breweries will be facing lease renewal, which will lead to some hard decisions, including mergers and closures.
With a 30 barrel system, Beltway was “built for distribution, not just taproom sales,” notes Sellier. During the pandemic “the larger craft breweries, the regional craft breweries, and the macros [think Bud, Miller, and Coors, plus seltzer and canned cocktails] squeezed mid-sized breweries like us pretty hard” with regards to distribution and off-premise sales, says Sellier. As the pandemic waned “the opportunities present in the pre-covid environment never came back for breweries of our size.”
Beltway’s business model was built on such opportunities. Sellier founded the company when, as a homebrewer, he wanted to scale up to production, but found his commercial options lacking. The majority of Beltway’s operations were in contract brewing, and the breweries that Beltway helped to establish were also getting squeezed in distribution. The contract market for Beltway was built on off-premise retail sales, too, so their contract partners found the same inhospitable craft landscape that Beltway’s brand did. Mike Stein reports that the facility went from brewing 6,900 barrels of beer in 2017 to 1,770 barrels in 2021. Demand for facilities like Beltway’s diminished.
“‘You need a killer taproom that stays busy or a great distribution footprint and a grip on costs and overhead,” says Sellier when asked about what it takes to survive, citing both Solace and Starr Hill as good models in Virginia. He hopes the space will remain a brewery and “not a data center.” Sellier is in talks with a few interested parties who could negotiate with the new landlord, but if not the brewery and its equipment will go to auction later on this winter. Don’t worry about the staff, all have other jobs lined up. Head brewer Ryan Stanley moved over to Beltway’s former contract partner Lost Rhino, as did another brewer. Kenny Allen returned to Old Ox; he was their head brewer prior to landing at Beltway.
No doubt you’ve had beer brewed at Beltway over the years; they’ve done contract brewing for local stalwarts like Aslin, Denizens, Crooked Run, and Lost Rhino, as well as nationally renowned brands like Grimm. “We just wanted to say thank you for the years when we were able to work together. You were a huge part of our story,” the latter brewery wrote on Instagram. “Nothing but love for you and Beltway, Sten. You helped us (and no doubt so many others) get off the ground. We are so sorry to hear this news,” added Denizens.
You need a killer taproom that stays busy or a great distribution footprint and a grip on costs and overheadSten Sellier
We reached out to Denizens’ co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer Julie Verratti for more information. “In 2014 Beltway Brewing brewed our first batches of Southside IPA and Lowest Lord ESB. If it weren’t for them we wouldn’t have been able to open with our own beers on the menu. Our brewery was still going through the buildout process so we worked with Beltway to help us launch. A few years in they made another batch of Southside for us when we needed to plus up inventory before we opened our production facility in Riverdale Park. In other words, Beltway helped us launch and expand and the service they provided was top notch. Their closing is going to cause a big gap in the DC area beer scene,” she wrote.
We asked Sellier about some of his favorite Beltway brews over the years, contract and branded. “Shout out to Side Hustle,” he says, “a craft brand being sold in the United Arab Emirates. Craft beer made in Virginia for export to the Middle East, it’s pretty cool.” Other partners include Charlottesville’s Random Row Brewing, Ale Station in Winchester, and 1781 Brewing Company in Spotsylvania. As for Beltway branded beers, “Changing Lanes Double IPA, for sure,” says Sellier, as well as Lockerism, a double dry-hopped hazy IPA brewed with the Laughlin Family Foundation, the charity of Washington Capitals announcer Craig Laughlin. “We’ve also got a rye barrel-aged sour,” Sellier adds. “Think Flanders-style red, we’re really happy with it.” The two barrel batch will be on tap for Beltway’s going away party on Saturday, January 28th. “We want to invite every Beltway fan out to enjoy 2 final special releases of a barrel aged red sour and a barrel aged imperial stout, our 20+ beers on tap, and pick up a case of Beltway’s best brews before they are gone forever,” reads a press release from Beltway, posted in full below.
It’s time to say goodbye.
When you decide to start a brewery, you always know that one day you’ll brew your last batch, but you never expect it to be the one you just brewed.
Unfortunately for Beltway Brewing, that time has come.
While I could regale you with Monday morning quarterbacking of all the things we should have or could have done differently over the past decade, the reality is that closing our doors is less the result of missed opportunities and more about the macroeconomic factors facing the brewing industry and the commercial real estate market here in Loudoun county.
I am incredibly proud and thankful to my team for their iron-willed fortitude and dedication in facing the many challenges all businesses faced over the past few years. Unfortunately, recent hurdles were greater than our ability to overcome them.
With that said, although our production has now ceased, we will keep our taproom open as long as we can to share what remains of our last brews with all of you.
Through at least January, our taproom will continue to be open during our regular hours.
We are scheduling a “Celebration of a Decade of Beltway Brewing” on Saturday, January 28th.
We want to invite every Beltway fan out to enjoy 2 final special releases of a barrel aged red sour and a barrel aged imperial stout, our 20+ beers on tap, and pick up a case of Beltway’s best brews before they are gone forever.
We look forward to seeing you all over the coming weeks and waxing nostalgic with you over a glass of your favorite brews.
Come thirsty, leave happy, and bring the memories with you from your friends at Beltway Brewing.