“Of course a macrobeer can’t compete with a craft brew!” I couldn’t agree more. What is surprising, however, is that I agree with Heineken CEO Jean-Francois Van Boxmeer, in a quote from this past August on beveragedaily.com. He went on: “Craft beers have been taking the lion’s share of beer market growth over the last decade—practically exclusively.” That has indeed been the trend in the David and Goliath story of Craft vs. Big Beer.
After Prohibition, the United States beer industry was totally sacked. Up to that point in U.S. zymurgic history, the overwhelming majority of beer was produced by local or regional brewers, and most folks enjoyed what was made in their own area. In 1887, there were over 2,000 breweries nationally, most quenching the thirst of those in watershed. When Prohibition ended in 1933, the number or breweries briefly spiked, then atrophied as larger brewers started buying out their competitors or pushing them to unprofitable corners of the market. In the late 1970s, only 44 craft breweries remained, and it appeared that the U.S. was headed for a beer market with five main players, each peddling bland lagers that were nearly indistinguishable from one another. And then, something interesting happened: The economics of taste began to transform the market. Flavorful ales started gushing out of craft breweries over the next 35 years, infuriating Big Beer and getting Americans equally fired up about craft beer. The trend has most definitely pervaded our area, as we have 60 craft breweries in our state, and now three within walking distance for most townies.
Last year, Charlottesville welcomed the finely crafted ales of Champion Brewing Co., and this September, we welcome Three Notch’d Brewing Co. Named after the famed route linking Richmond and Charlottesville, Three Notch’d focuses on craft ales that take their names from the pages of C’ville history—like the 40-mile IPA and the Hydraulion Red. Owner Scott Roth and brewmaster Dave Warwick fit the craft mold of intrepid beer lovers—advocates for taste and small players in the ever-growing beer market.
I stopped by the brewery to talk beer over a pint of their Trader Crystal-Hopped Saison.
How did you get into brewing? Was there a beer that gave you a Eureka moment?
Dave: There definitely was. “Honey Bear Brown” at North Country Brewing Co. in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. I was celebrating finishing my very last final exam of my college career on a beautiful May afternoon in the backyard of their brewpub. A combination of my experience in the beer industry, the malt complexity and smoothness of Sean McIntyre’s brown ale, along with my brand new college degree, led to the epiphany that brewing was the next endeavor I wanted to pursue.
What’s in your fridge right now?
Dave: All local. I’ve been so excited to get to know the Charlottesville area’s brew scene since I moved here in May, that’s all I’ve been drinking lately. Currently, 8-Point IPA from Devils Backbone, Legend’s Brown Ale, and Blue Mountain’s Kolsch.
Scott: Same here. Currently I have a six-pack of Devils Backbone Vienna Lager and of course a growler of Hydraulion Irish Red.
Tell us about your homebrewer’s pilot system.
Scott: The pilot system is something we really wanted to focus on during this project. We admittedly went a little overboard, but hats off to the Fermentation Trap (a locally owned homebrew shop) for working with us on such a great system. The two goals for this 55-gallon system are simple. First, we want to make unique beers that we can offer in the tasting room and receive feedback on. Second, we want to use the system to engage our local homebrew community. We will be starting a regular rotation of home brewers coming in to work with Dave, and at the completion of their recipe, we will feature it in our taproom. It’s a great way for local beer fans to showcase their talents and also learn more about the production side from a professional like Dave. If you’re interested in brewing with him, please reach out to us via our website or Facebook page.
How have you tried to structure your business to overcome some of the disadvantages of being a smaller brewery?
Scott: We really wanted to focus on Charlottesville first. Our taproom and production facility are in the heart of the city and we think the visibility and the fact that we are just here for the beer will make local restaurants all the more excited about carrying Three Notch’d. In addition, we’ve started out with a distributor that only carries our brand. There is a lot of rising competition and this strategy allows Central Virginia Distributing to put its full attention towards developing our story and hopefully getting us on taps all over town. Obviously we hope to outgrow Charlottesville, and when that time comes then we will need the size and strength of one or more of the other fine distributors in the state to help us out.
Any advice to aspiring brewers?
Scott: If you get the chance to be a part of a business like ours, take it. Coming to work is exciting and every day something different is going on. If you can’t make it a profession, homebrew. It’s relatively inexpensive, and who knows? Someday soon you might be brewing with Dave Warwick and have one of your recipes featured in the Three Notch’d taproom!
Micah LeMon, formerly the bar manager at Blue Light Grill, is the current bar manager at Pasture.
Try it out
Three Notch’d is located at 946 Grady Ave. and is open Tuesday-Thursday 4-10pm, Friday 3-11pm, Saturday noon-11pm, and Sunday noon-8pm.