August 21, 2013

Iraq veterans find new freedom in opening craft beer brewery

By Michael Felberbaum / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Neil McCanon, an Iraq War veteran and head brewer at Young Veterans Brewing Co., adds water to the brew kettle as he prepares to brew Pineapple Grenade Hefeweizen at the Virginia Beach, Va., brewery.

The Associated Press

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Thomas Wilder, Young Veterans Brewing Co. president and an Iraq War veteran, pours a glass of Jet Noise IPA at the Virginia Beach, Va., brewery.

The Associated Press

But ultimately, they raised most of their needed capital of about $250,000 from investors and an online crowdsourcing campaign. McCanon honed his skills apprenticing at another local brewery and attended the Siebel Institute of Technology, America's oldest brewing school.

For the first time last year, the state toasted the success of its craft beer industry with events at restaurants, breweries and bars throughout Virginia. The centerpiece of this year's monthlong celebration is the Virginia Craft Brewers Festival, which features the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup. The event is scheduled for Saturday at Devils Backbone Brewery southwest of Charlottesville along the Blue Ridge Mountains.

A National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Beer Institute study shows that the beer industry overall generates nearly 52,000 jobs in Virginia and an estimated $2.2 billion in wages and benefits. The industry also contributed $1.3 billion in the form of business, personal and consumption taxes in 2012, the study showed.

Mike Hinkley, co-founder of Green Flash Brewing Co., a San Diego-based craft brewery, said he was also drawn to Virginia by its growing "craft beer culture." That decade-old company plans to open its second brewery in 2015 in Virginia Beach, drawn by similarities with San Diego in that both are military towns with thriving tourist industries and strong local cultures.

The Green Flash facility is expected to be able to produce 100,000 barrels annually, more than all of the craft breweries in Virginia combined in 2012.

But McCanon and Wilder believe there's still room for everyone in the market.

"There's plenty of market for us all," McCanon said. "Craft beer customers are not the most loyal to one brand, but they're loyal to craft beer."

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