Virginia’s beer industry is booming. Some brewers wonder, though, if the state is doing enough to nurture homegrown brewers and the local farmers who want to supply them the grain.
Devils Backbone CEO Steve Crandall says he sold his brewery to Anheuser-Busch in 2016 to keep growing. The move enabled Devils Backbone to stay competitive with four big West Coast craft breweries that have expanded into Virginia. All four received taxpayer funded incentive packages from the state to make it happen.
Crandall says there are other ways to support the beer industry besides giving checks. “I think the state could seriously get behind efforts to improve the growth of hops and barley in the state. Those not only help the beer side but help the farmers. We’ve got some of the best farmers in the world here in Virginia and they’re growing a lot of barley but it’s feed grade barley. They’re not growing a lot of brewer’s grade barley.”
The good news is that after ten or twenty years of grain breeding and development, malting barley is finally starting to take off in Virginia. Wade Thomason, a professor and grain scientist at Virginia Tech, is at the forefront of the research and says entrepreneurial farmers have jumped on it. “There’s well over a thousand acres of malting barley being grown that was produced last year and will probably triple this year as far as the seed that’s in the ground now,” he says. “We’re poised to take advantage of this opportunity. We have most of the pieces in place to begin to supply the market.”
With Virginia’s beer industry contributing more than $9 billion annually to the state economy, Thomason agrees with Crandall this is where the state could step up efforts to strengthen relationships between brewers and farmers.