County brewing a “wet” economy
Travis Hill, deputy secretary of agriculture and forestry for Virginia, began by giving background on how legislation and the local food movement have aided craft breweries.
Just two years ago Senate Bill 604 struck down the requirements for breweries to sell food with beer.
By making it legal to pour only pints of beer, which have a higher profit margin than prepared food, craft breweries became a more viable business.
The other legislation, Senate Bill 430, made it possible for breweries to operate on farms.
"At its root, [beer] is an agricultural product," said Hill.
The panel was rounded out by County Supervisors Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge) and Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin), CEO of Visit Loudoun Beth Erickson and Diane BeChamps, vice president of strategy and marketing at the Virginia Tourism Corp.
The event was sponsored by John Marshall Bank.
Higgins spoke about the great economic engine that wine and beer can be for the county and the state at large, citing statistics from Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC) that craft brewing creates 10 to 50 jobs per craft brewery.
Higgins also mentioned the county must figure out how to grow its rural economy. The easiest way to stop the creep of suburban sprawl is to develop a strong business strategy based on our rural economy.
"If the best use of the space is houses, then we're going to have houses," said Higgins.
He and Clarke also said they wanted to iron out the county's zoning as it pertained to farm breweries.
"There seems to be some additional education that needs to occur between us on the board and staff," said Clarke.
The issue of unpaved roads was brought up by Clarke as breweries in western Loudoun, therefore travel in western Loudoun may proliferate.
"We have the most unpaved roads in any jurisdiction here in Loudoun County," said Clarke.
How the county strikes the right balance between unpaved and paved roads will surely be a question going forward.
BeChamps mentioned there are 82 breweries in the state and by the end of the year there will be as many as 10 breweries in the county, or more than 12 percent of all breweries Virginia.
If anyone was confused as to why the event was held at 8 Chains North, a winery, owner Ben Renshaw cleared things up.
"Why are we hosting a beer event at a winery? It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine," Renshaw said.
He further explained that he wanted to be engaged in the discussion about breweries, because they will affect all things tourism.
Erickson drove home the point by citing some preliminary findings from a Virginia beer drinker survey.
Clarke closed out by mentioning that more will be known about how the state defines the farm brewery bill and how the county writes its own local pieces of legislation when the board reconvenes in September.