What spurred you to go into brewing and to locate downtown?
I fell in love with craft beer after one of my friend’s dads put me onto the good stuff. Began as a homebrewer and as my quality became on a level with commercial products, I dove in from there. I was living in Belmont at the time that Champion was founded and selfishly wanted a great brewery option close to home and knew that downtown would support it.
Do you have a collaborative process to keep ahead of the competition in terms of product? Is there a more research-based approach or is it inspiration?
We definitely have a collaborative process. It’s equal parts inspiration and research-based. Sometimes the research is as simple as drinking a new beer and being inspired to make a version of our own. We get recipes and ideas from across the spectrum of the brewing team and we also love working with other brewers, chefs and other organizations to come up with cool new ideas.
You’ve expanded in downtown Charlottesville and in Richmond. Why choose urban locations rather than going outside of towns with more available space and, presumably, fewer restrictions?
Our brand started with our location in Belmont, and we expanded to Woolen Mills. There are others that excel with their outdoor environments and farm breweries, but we like to be in urban areas where we’re walkable from other businesses and residential districts.
It seems like the industry of craft brewing, as well as wineries and distilleries, is booming. How much expansion can the market for craft beer, in particular, and alcohol, in general, sustain? Have we saturated the market yet?
As for how much growth the market can sustain, some would tell you that we’re done and some would tell you the sky is the limit. I think there’s very limited growth in the distributed marketplace, but anywhere that a small brewery can serve its own neighborhood, the small towns of Europe show that there’s plenty of room.
How does your success/experience in the brewing industry translate to your service on the planning commission? Do you think you may have different insight, coming from a business/industrial background?
I would like to think that my business experience can inform the planning commission. As part of growing and borrowing, I’ve become pretty familiar with the process of getting a special-use permit and how zoning can affect business and neighborhood development.
Is there any advice you wished you had heard prior to going into the business that you would give entrepreneurs debating a dive into brewing?
I joke about the advice that David King [of King Family Vineyards] sometimes offered folks in the wine business: ... ‘Don’t do it!’ I received some advice to that effect but blew past it as a 26-year old. What I would advise is that in no way, shape or form is a brewery a get-rich plan or anything less than a long-term commitment that takes a lot of work. The joy that comes with building a staff and a community is one unlike any other feeling.