I caught up with the peripatetic Rayner (Ray) Johnson, Friday afternoon, at Port City Brewing, a production-brewery located in a light-industry-zoned area in a neighborhood at the southwestern corner of the city of Alexandria, Virginia.
We were both there, along with many others, to congratulate owner Bill Butcher, head brewer Jonathan Reeves, and the entire brewery staff of Port City. The brewery had just won Small Brewery of the Year, the previous Saturday, at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), in Denver, Colorado.*
Bill Butcher sat down with us for a few minutes. He was soaking in the good feelings. He told his brewery staff to do the same, even though they, of course, needed no prompting. "But temper this," he said he had admonished them, "with the memory of the feelings we had last year when we won nothing" (after having won four medals in 2013, and one in 2012, the year the brewery opened).
The [U.S.] Brewers Association has determined that there are now four thousand breweries in the U.S., with nearly two opening every day. The competition will only become fiercer, Butcher added, making national victories —especially for smaller breweries like his — much more difficult to attain in the future.
As the Port City taproom began to fill with well-wishers, Ray Johnson was up and schmoozing, busy passing out complimentary copies of the November/December issue of Virginia Craft Beer magazine, for which he is the Distribution Manager for Northern Virginia. I know this because he gave me his business card.
In 2014, Johnson visited every brewery in Virginia, and had a beer at each. There were eighty-two breweries in the Commonwealth last year, give or take. This year, there are one-hundred twenty-five.
Johnson —who is better known as the long-time organizer of the annual Blue & Gray Breweriana Show, in Fredericksburg, Virginia— maintains a database of each brewery visit, and a spreadsheet of those he has yet to visit. He has a watch-list of one-hundred fifty breweries currently in planning, and, of those, forty that are scheduled to open by early 2016. It's as up-to-date as he can keep it, he told me. The rapid growth of brewery openings makes the task, well, a labor of love.
Writing in the current issue of Virginia Craft Beer Magazine (October/November 2015), Johnson put some order into it all, creating six 'brewery trails': highway-arranged brewery-jaunts in the state.
- I-95 Trail (Alexandria to Petersburg)
- I-64 East Trail (Toano to Smithfield)
- I-64 West Trail (Richmond to Danville)
- I-66 Trail (Arlington to Sperryville)
- Route 7 Trail (Capital Beltway to Bluemont)
- I-81 Trail (Winchester to Bristol: the longest of the 'trails', running over 314 miles, north to south.)
There are four, more formal, brewery trails in Virginia, independent of Johnson's research, each with its own website:
- Blue Ridge Beerway
Eight breweries in and around Roanoke, near I-81.
- Brew Ridge Trail
Six breweries in Nelson and Albemarle Counties, Virginia. (The original such 'trail' in Virginia.)
- LoCo Ale Trail
Fifteen breweries in Loudoun County, Virginia (some of which also produce lagers).
- Richmond Breweries United
Thirteen breweries in the greater Richmond area.
- Kory Mohr of Virginia Beer Trail reminded me of two more 'formal' Virginia beer 'trails'. I've added them to this post, to make four. See Comments, below.
- More photos from the celebration at Port City: here.
- * Winning at the GABF is considered by many brewers and consumers as de facto recognition as being the best in the U.S. Host organization, the [U.S.] Brewers Association, defines 'Small Brewery' as one producing between 1,000 and 15,000 barrels of beer per year. In 2015, five-hundred eighteen breweries competed in the category.
- A barrel is not a keg. In fact it's not even a physical thing. Instead it's a unit of measurement, equal to 31 U.S. gallons, which is the equivalent of 13.7 cases of 24-bottles of 12-ounce beer (or two 15.5-gallon kegs).
- The Virginia Beer Trail maintains another comprehensive directory of Virginia breweries.
- YFGF maintains a listing of breweries in Virginia, and in Maryland and the District of Columbia, which have Twitter accounts.
- For more from YFGF: