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Breweries seeking Virginia grain is more about ‘lip service’ than action

The new BadWolf Public House is about to get $10,000 in grant money from Virginia.

The recently-opened restaurant and soon-to-be brewery in Downtown Manassas won the Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Grant (AFID) with help from the city before opening in March. It stipulates the brewery — a joint venture between BadWolf Brewing Company and C.J. Finz restaurant in Manassas — will invest more than $200,000 into its new Battle Street location.

That money will be used to invest in new brewing equipment and to improve the building. The grant also stipulates thew brewery must create two new jobs, and, most importantly, purchase nearly $22,000 in grain, wheat, or barley from Virginia farmers.

BadWolf has until May 31, 2020, to make good on its promise to do this, or the state will ask for its money back.

These AFID grants are nothing new to Manassas. Last year, city gin and bourbon makers KO Distillery won a $25,000 state grant that would help it triple production of its product by using Virginia grain.

Statewide, the brewing and distilling industry agriculture is booming, having a $52 billion economic impact to the state economy.

“Breweries; this industry has been one fo the fastest growing industries in Virginia if you look at the beverage industry as a whole,” said Ben Rowe, with the Virginia Department of Agriculture Grain Producers Association.

But with so many brewers opening up and not using wheat, barley, or corn that is grown in the state, that was a problem for the agriculture department. The AFID grant was born, in part, to keep more money in the hands of local producers and “to support local efforts in attracting new and expanding agriculture and forestry processing/value-added facilities using Virginia-grown products.”

“If you have a brewery in a locality and they’re purchasing grain out of the state or out of the country, the only thing you’re profiting from is the sale of the beer at the breweries,” said Rowe.

But the type of grain a microbrewery wants can be much different than major beer makers like Anheuser-Busch.

Today at Virginia Tech, researchers are working to make a better strain of Virginia grain — one that tastes good when made into alcohol, and one that breweries want to buy.

“We’re working closely with the food science and technology dept here tech to assess flavor profiles and characteristics of what we’re testing and what we’re developing so we can make better recommendations about the end use of the products we’re looking at,” said Wade Thomason, a professor and grains specialist at Virginia Tech.

How much Virginia farmers are paid for their crop determines what they grow each year. Right now, there is no shortage of Virginia-sourced grains for breweries and distilleries who want to buy them, Thomason added.

“I think there is more lip service going on right now from people who say they want to purchase Virginia-grown grain versus those who really are doing it,” he said.

Thomason liked the process of shopping for Virginia grain to shopping for a new bike.

“If you want to buy a bicycle today, you can name five places where you can get a bicycle at a different price and a different brand. If you were very specific about one of those you may be down to one or two places, but you would still be able to call a business and find out if they have what you want,” he explained.

“We don’t have that sort of awareness or interconnectivity between growers, producers, or end users. It’s basically, right now, the onus is on the distiller to go find a farmer and make this happen.”

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