On a windy early evening in Waterford, while dark clouds fight with patches of sun over Loudoun’s picturesque wine country, there’s nothing but a feeling of tranquility and enticing aromas of smoked barbeque at Corcoran Vineyards, now also home to one of Virginia’s newest “nanobreweries.”
Corcoran Brewing Company at 14635 Corky Farm Lane in Waterford, began one year ago in September 2010, when vineyard owner Jim Corcoran and a longtime family friend, Kevin Bills, sat down at Magnolia’s in Purcellville and talked briefly about opening a brewery in Loudoun.
“Finally we said, let’s do it… spend the money and build the facility,” Corcoran says.
Within six months, newly-appointed brewmaster Kevin Bills was brewing up Corcoran-branded beers adjacent to the winery’s property, distinguishing Corcoran as the first known winery and brewery in the state of Virginia. With 360 hops plants growing throughout the vineyard, Corcoran and Bills plan to add an additional 360. The brewing company is also said to be the third largest hops producer in the state.
The grand opening of Corcoran Brewing Company on July 30 drew more than 900 Northern Virginians from as far as Arlington and many home brewers. They were sold out the first day. The next weekend the brewery opened up for tastings and the six label varieties, sold by the growler, were tapped out within 1.5 hours.
“After three weeks of being opened, we decided to expand,” Corcoran says. “We were overwhelmed by the response from the community and the response to the quality of the beer.”
After 10 years of home brewing, Bills finally has a real audience, enthusiastic helpers and volunteers, and the perfect playground in a red barn adjacent to Corcoran Vineyards. And people are loving it.
With the perfect combination of crafts: beer, wine, and barbeque, its no surprise when Corcoran says they are at capacity with the number of people coming every weekend. Starting in October of this year, the brewery will have an additional 500 square feet of work space, more high-tech equipment, and 10 total labels (they plan to rotate a total of six labels at a time). The goal is to eventually become 100 percent local with grains and ingredients (apart from the yeast) and perhaps open a brewpub some day.
“We are adding on to the barn already and getting a 3.5 barrel system to go in there,” Bills says. “Then we will produce more than enough for our tasting and growler room as well as a few restaurant accounts.”
Before the expansion, Bills expected production to be right around 100 barrels in the first year, but with the expansion, Corcoran’s capacity will be 275-375 barrels per year.
This fall, Bills plans to add a pumpkin ale (using local pumpkins and honey) and an alcoholic rootbeer to the strong list of brews. The current menu includes Wheatland, a malty American Hefeweizen; P’ville Pale, a golden hoppy pale ale; the popular LoCo I.P.A., a darker 90-minute Indian IPA; Catoctin Ale, a mild English-style amber ale; Corky’s Irish Red, made with imported U.K. Northdown hops; and Slainte Stout, a light stout with a smooth chocolate finish.
Part of Corcoran’s success has been his work ethic, smart business decisions and the way he works with his employees. You can tell immediately by the smiles that the employees enjoy their jobs, enjoy working for Corcoran and his wife Lori and love the company. With that kind of rapport, Corcoran, who is also chair of the Virginia Wine Council, has not only been able to grow a strong business, but has also helped successfully launch the brewing company and given two-month old Monks BBQ a platform for growth.
Hailing from Leesburg, Monk’s owner and operator Brian Jenkins decided to pursue his passion and hauled a giant Cadillac Cookers smoker to Waterford from just outside of Kansas City earlier this year. He now provides catering for parties and is a huge draw to weekend winery-goers and beer fans at Corcoran. Jenkins believes in “no shortcuts” using oak, maple, hickory and apple woods.
He’s hoping for some pear and peach wood and sugar maple. The menu includes pulled chicken and pork, chorizo “dogs” and beef brisket. The sauces are all Corcoran products, with a sweet apple wine, a merlot-based chipotle raspberry sauce (my favorite), a hearty Stout sauce and sides of hand-chopped coleslaw served Kansas City-style and spruced up baked beans.
“We are really out in the middle of nowhere,” Corcoran says. “But people will come all the way out here for wine, to see the brewery and have some barbecue.”
Corcoran and Lori have been harvesting vines since 2001, bottled their first vintage in 2002 and officially opened in 2004 as Waterford winery. After a one-year battle with an Ireland-based company with the same name, Corcoran sold the Waterford trademark and changed his vineyard’s name to “Corcoran Vineyards” which is what it is today. Lori, who is what Corcoran calls “a one-woman show” is the winemaker and manager, along with their four kids aged 10 years to 20 years. They now bottle up to 4,000 cases of wine each year and have won top awards at the Virginia State Fair and the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition.
For more information on hours and tours, go to corcoranvineyards.com and corcoranbrewing.com.