Big Lick Brewing Company, in Roanoke, started as a nano brewery producing 112 barrels each year to a brewhouse expected to reach 1,000 barrels in 2018. As seen in this photograph, the tasting room is greatly enhanced as well.


By David Hunter

In April, The Brewers Association released its inaugural list of the 50 fastest growing small and independent craft brewing companies of 2017 and three breweries on that list are from right here in Virginia: Vanish Farmwoods Brewery from Leesburg, VA coming in at #25; Big Lick Brewing Company from Roanoke, VA at #45; and Fair Winds Brewing Company from Lorton, VA at #47. To be considered, breweries must have had data from the last three years and opened by 12/31/2015 or earlier.

I reached out to Jonathan Staples (owner) with Vanish, Bryan Summerson (owner) from Big Lick and Casey Jones (owner) from Fair Winds and asked them to reflect on their growth over the last few years, and this is what they had to say…


Jonathan Stapes

Vanish Farmwoods Brewery #25

“Our first goal was to make the best beer we could, showcasing the work of our brewer, Larry Pomerantz, and his team. Our location, on a 61-acre farm, has four bars spread among three tasting rooms, two stages, and over three acres of outdoor picnic areas.  Vanish is a place for families, we have massive playgrounds, arcade games, space to run, and as many food options as we can manage (last weekend we had pizza, BBQ, hamburgers, and a Mexican food truck.   Of course, none of this would matter if we were not creating beer that our guests liked as much as we do.”

“Our growth will always be limited by the fact that we purposely have very little distribution, over 90% of what we produce is consumed on-site. We don’t want to be in gas stations or in bars that we wouldn’t go to ourselves, so a lot of the conventional measures of a brewery’s growth don’t matter to us. A metric we do care about is that we now have 62 employees at the farm, and as we grow that number will increase.”

“Having 18 different beers on tap, constantly pushing and experimenting so that it is never boring, our beer list is different every week. Creating a place where the entire family has something to do and having so many different places onsite that you can choose your experience, ranging from a packed stage area to a quiet space under a tree.”

“For beer, we’re adding an aging facility at the farm that will focus on sours, and we’ll be expanding our to-go options by adding the capacity to do more canning runs.  On the facility, we are expanding the playground, adding another outdoor bar, and opening our new winery/cidery in May.”


Bryan Summerson

Big Lick Brewing Company #45

“We started out as a 2-bbl nano brewery.  We had real jobs, myself teaching.  We were open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday for a total of 17 hours/week.  The whole space totaled 1,500 sq. ft., with a capacity of 45 people.  We’ve never distributed.  We were extremely busy/well received from day 1.  Had a three-year plan to see how it went, and at the end we’d either expand or go back to our day jobs. Well, it went really well.  We were approached about the space we’re in now and immediately took it.”

“The new space is over 11,000 sq. ft., with 6,000 of it being outdoor beer garden.  We moved up to a 15-bbl brewhouse from Deutsche Beverage.  We are now open every day except Monday and Tuesday.  See our website for pictures, as it is quite something.  I now have a dozen taproom staff, a taproom manager and two brewing assistants.  At the original space it was pretty much two partners and our wives doing everything.”

“In 2015 & 2016 we brewed around 112 bbls each year.  In 2017, after being open in the new space for only three months, it rose to close to 500 bbls.  We are on pace to do 1,000 this year.  At this point we still only serve out of our taproom but are getting ready to start distributing to tap accounts by the end of May.”

“I attribute our growth to the fact that we create a very good product.  We also started out brewing different beers, rarely the same one twice.  Four years ago, when we opened, all of the breweries in our area had four or five core beers with a rotating seasonal.  People love our variety.  We also are located in downtown Roanoke, which has become a bustling/thriving area with lots of young professionals.  We try to get involved in the community as much as possible too.”


Casey Jones

Fair Winds Brewing Company #47

“We built Fair Winds Brewing Company to provide fresh, local, flavorful craft beers to our neighbors and friends in Fairfax County and throughout the Commonwealth and the District of Columbia. We don’t believe in one-size-fits-all; instead we believe that craft beer, like food, should complement the moment and add to the overall experience.”

“Our fastest growth in 2017 was in barrel-age produced (which is what the BA used to calculate the top 50 fastest growing breweries). We produce beer to meet demand in the market, so our growth in production was motivated by a growth in sales. While we saw growth in both taproom and distribution sales, our greatest growth in 2017 came from distribution sales. We have been slow to hire to ensure that the new positions we create are supported by sales and that we can ensure that once we create them they will stay. We are up to 16 employees (vs. the 5 when we started in 2015).”

“Our growth has been motivated by three key factors; Partners, People and Process. Our greatest sales growth in 2017 came through distribution sales. Our distribution and retail partners were key for helping us deliver our draft and packaged beers to consumers in both on premise (restaurants and bars) and off-premise locations.”

“We were rated one of the 50 fastest growing breweries in beer volume 2017-2018. This was enabled by people. Our dedicated and hard-working Brew Crew met the massive increase in production while only adding one PT member to the team. Also, our Brand Ambassadors managed to significantly increase the number of retail partners that carried our beers in the market. Finally, our service-oriented Thirstmates worked to engage more customers in our taproom and educate them on the Fair Winds beers.”

“In order to achieve high amounts of growth without a significant increase in the size of the team, you need to have strong processes in place. For Fair Winds these processes include a very strong focus on QA/QC to ensure we provide shelf stable beers to our distribution and retail partners.”

“Our focus for 2018 is around adding new SKUs of packaged beers. The first was released this spring, Hells Navigator a VA Beer Cup Gold and Silver medal winning Maibock. We plan to release three more in 2018.”


David Hunter is founder of Fans of Virginia Craft Breweries. Find him on Facebook, Twiter: FansofVACB and Instagram: fansofvacb