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New ownership promises local focus at Lovettsville’s Mad Horse Brew Pub

Facebook/Mad Horse Brew Pub
When David Ratliff was stationed in Africa as a State Department Foreign Service staffer, the Alexandria­ native dreamed about bringing his young family home while also pursuing his long-term entrepreneurial dreams.

While home for a conference last December, he drove out to Lovettsville to check out the Mad Horse Brew Pub, which he learned was for sale.

“I knew I couldn’t start a brewpub from scratch. I needed something that was already up and running,” he says. “This place was perfect.”

Ratliff closed the deal in early June, becoming the owner of the brewpub located in the heart of Lovettsville. He also became a local resident with his young family, and loves the community as much as he does the new business.

“Everyone here is welcoming and friendly,” he says.

Ratliff, who started home brewing five years ago because he wasn’t satisfied with those available abroad, became a serious hobbyist. He envisioned his passion might one day evolve into a business where he could work for himself (though he still daily takes the MARC train into D.C. for his full-time State Department job).

Last week, Ratliff brought on a new general managing partner, Michael Stephenson, to manage the business as it transitions from an occasionally opened to full-­time brew pub pouring custom beers seven days a week.

Major changes are already in the works.
Mad Horse Brew Pub's David Ratliff, right, and Michael Stephenson. Photo By/John McNeilly

“First of all, we want to be fully integrated into the community,” says Ratliff, as Stephenson enthusiastically nods in agreement.

He says that means working closely with neighbors, community groups and becoming involved in town events, especially Oktoberfest. Both see the value and opportunity in becoming a neighborhood gathering place – yes, a place where everyone knows each other’s names – that also appeals to out­of­towners visiting local wineries and farm breweries.

Stephenson, who has a long history in sales and area wineries (both as a musician and in management), is striving to implement a customer­-centric atmosphere. He can already be seen regularly introducing himself to patrons, shaking hands, asking where customers are from, explaining beers and unabashedly asking for customers’ future business.

Ratliff and Stephenson both have military backgrounds. They’re veterans who’ve spent time in war zones. Both have had parachutes strapped to their backs. Veteran’s issues matter to them. Deeply. They plan to have future fundraisers, and are discussing hanging personal pictures from vets, as well as medals, on the brewpub’s walls to honor their service.

Ratliff, though, made clear he’s committed to dramatically improving the quality and variety of beers. He’s introduced several new ones, which are already receiving positive buzz. He minces no words that the beer will be the star attraction in his new venture.

Both hope that message will resonate far and wide with both locals and visitors alike.
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