From home brewing to big business
There are nine breweries in Loudoun County, seven of which opened in the last two-and-a-half years.
A rise in the demand for craft beer in the area has outpaced the current supply of some Loudoun breweries.
So what is a brewery to do if it's running at full capacity and can't afford to invest millions in hardware to expand its operations?
Sten Sellier asked himself that same question and decided two years ago to help breweries expand by brewing beer for them, without directly competing with them.
Local breweries or home brewers take their ingredients, formula and packaging material to Beltway Brewing Co. in Sterling. In return, Sellier provides a finished product ready to market and distribute.
The business concept came after Sellier's own struggles as a home brewer.
Sellier had been home-brewing for a number of years after graduating college in California in 2001, when he decided he wanted to expand his home operation.
He had developed recipes friends liked, and was prepared to sell the beer.
Sellier reached out to local breweries for help in scaling up his operations, but none were willing to lend a hand.
Either the size of his operation was too small or the breweries' owners were too busy and needed the space for brewing their own beer.
"It occurred to me, with all this growth in the industry, 'How is there not a brewery dedicated to just helping people with this issue?'" he asked.
After receiving help from the Loudoun Small Business Development Center and other entrepreneurs, he pulled together a business plan. He used the plan to win the Loudoun Small Business Development Center's Small Business Plan Competition two years ago.
Using the momentum and publicity he received from winning the competition, he then attempted to secure investments to raise capital.
Sellier says getting investors to buy into his brewery idea wasn't difficult once they agreed to meet with him. The plan was so unique, he said, and he could easily make the business case for it.
In the end, it took a year to get funding. Eleven months later, he signed a lease on the building he currently operates.
As Sellier puts it, he has three potential customers he will work with. The first is brewing partners like Adroit Theory, a small start-up operation in Purcellville. He's currently in talks with Lost Rhino of Ashburn. A potential third customer could be a restaurant looking to develop house beers.
"It's leveraging the fact that he has invested in this system already," said Mark Osborne, owner of Adroit Theory.
Adroit was Beltway's first paying partner brewery, and Sellier allowed Osborne on premise to brew his beer, with help from Sellier and Drew Perry, the brewmaster at Beltway.
Larger breweries like Lost Rhino are hoping to free up space in their brewery to try new flavors or simply produce more beer.
Restaurants are usually just looking for Sellier and Perry to bring a unique flavor only their bar can sell.
Just recently Sellier and Perry went to a beer bar with some of the owners of a local restaurant.
They sat, had some beers, "and talked about what we did and didn't like about them," says Sellier.
From that conversation, Sellier and Perry created a house brew that should be available in a few weeks at the restaurant.
The opening of new breweries in Loudoun can be attributed to any number of causes, but Sellier says he started his business here because of local business laws, tax laws and labor practices, as well as the help he received from local business development organizations.
"I kept coming back here because I had a lot of purposeful help," he says.
Legislation signed into law in July 2012, Senate Bill 604, could help as well.
The bill makes it possible for breweries to side-step previous legislation which didn't allow them to sell pints of beer on-site without also offering food, as the state requires with a restaurant.
Brian Jenkins, the director of business strategy and research at Visit Loudoun explains, "there are much larger profit margins in beer sales than food sales."
Sellier believes Senate Bill 604 made his business case more enticing, because nano-breweries can recoup some of their production costs by opening a tasting room and easily test out beers.
"If a beer takes off, people can scale up and distribute to stores," said Sellier.
He is planning a small tasting room of his own in the large industrial complex where Beltway resides off Davis Drive in Sterling.
In the future, Sellier hopes to build out a stable of services that will make it easier for potential breweries to get off the ground by hiring graphic designers to help with logos and expanding his support staff.
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