One of Loudoun’s busiest breweries has started making something new: small batches of their own brands of beer.
Beltway Brewing Company’s new Falling Water limited-release series of hazy IPAs, brewed from the brewery’s mix of scientific rigor and love for beer, and with labels designed by the founder’s 12-year-old daughter, marks a shift for the brewery.
Beltway has always brewed beers under its own label when there was free space in their tanks, or for a special occasion—for example, PPE IPA, their collaboration with Water’s End Brewery in early 2020 to raise money for protective equipment for healthcare providers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, or Batting 1000, the brewery’s baseball-themed red ale celebrating their 1,000th brew in 2019.
That beer ended up being so popular they kept making it regularly, renaming it District of Champions after the Washington Nationals won the World Series later that year. That same year, the brewery signed a contract with a distribution company that for the first time put Beltway beers in stores around the region.
But the brewery’s main business since its creation in 2013 has always been in consulting and brewing for other breweries, as one of the first dedicated contract breweries. That work ranges from helping brewers develop recipes to making beer for breweries that are just getting started, or don’t have enough—or any—brewing space. And plenty of people have had beer from Beltway’s tanks likely without realizing it, labeled as Lost Rhino, Adroit Theory and Dirt Farm, or New York’s Grimm Artisanal Ales, New Jersey’s Hoboken Brewing Co. and Copenhagen-based Mikkeller.
“A lot of times, we’re hidden behind other people’s brands, and don’t get to express our creative side or our technical capability with our name on it,” said Beltway head brewer Ryan Stanley.
Like many businesses, craft brewers felt the ground shift beneath their feet when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But Beltway had already detected a sea change—in 2018 and 2019, said founder Sten Sellier, the growing craft beer market started to level out. That was when they started distributing more of their own brands, like District of Champions, The Circle IPA and Changing Lanes DIPA.
And in March 2020, as the pandemic was arriving in the US, a previously-planned canning machine was also arriving at Beltway, along with Stanley who had been hired to install it. As soon as it arrived, selling packaged beer became the only way many breweries could do business as the pandemic closed tasting rooms.
Then, almost a year ago, Beltway brought on new production manager Kenny Allen, an alum of Old Dominion Brewing, a now-defunct Loudoun brewery that predated much of Virginia’s craft beer explosion and laid the groundwork for Loudoun’s booming brewing scene, and where some of today’s most experienced brewers got their start. Allen has also worked in food science for companies like Nestlé, and other breweries like Old Ox Brewery and Chantilly’s Mustang Salley Brewing, and was introduced to Beltway through a fellow Old Dominion Alum, longtime brewer, and Lost Rhino and Dynasty Brewing co-founder Favio Garcia.
The brewery also bought a small two-barrel brewing system from a brewery closing in Richmond, a far cry from the huge tanks on the main brewing floor. A beer barrel contains 248 pints.
“We were trying to come up with ways to bring more traffic to the taproom and really showcase what we can do, without having to make 30, 60, 90-barrel batches, which is what our system is built for,” said Beltway founder Sten Sellier.
All that opened the door to Falling Water: a series of waterfall-themed, hazy, juicy IPAs. New Falling Water beers come out about every four to six weeks, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. Stanley said the target is to create an IPA that leaves a person wanting a second.
“I think we’re doing a really good job of making an approachable but unique product,” he said.
It’s a chance for Beltway’s brewers to experiment, apply their experience and expertise, and show off what they can do all with their own name on display.
“I think that’s what makes brewing at Beltway pretty cool is we see variety inherently, and now we get to focus on doing some of our own beers,” Stanley said.
Allen came up with the Falling Water name the same way he often comes up with new solutions—waking up in the middle of the night with an idea.
“At one in the morning I woke up and my eyes popped up, and I said, you know, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t identify with a waterfall. Everybody’s had a great experience with a waterfall in their life,” said Allen, an avid whitewater kayaker. That, combined with his love for architecture—Fallingwater is the name of a famous Frank Lloyd Wright design—made the name a natural fit.
Their experience brewing Falling Water IPAs informs their work on other, larger releases.
“The Falling Water series is a little bit of a halo series, because all the things that we’re learning from this are bleeding into our Circle beers, when we figure out a new technique on our small system,” Allen said.
Stanley and Allen have also figured out other techniques and efficiencies, like how to add their own smaller batches to the end of canning runs for larger brews, leading to less beer lost in the process. It’s typical iteration and ingenuity from a brewery used not only to working out other brewers’ hurdles, but the exacting rigor to precisely craft or duplicate beer recipes and flavors and get the same result every time.
“We do a lot of reading to make sure that what we’re putting in the tanks, and what we’re expecting to come out—we’re not winging it,” Stanley said. “There’s a lot of research that goes into what we’re doing.
Or, as Sellier put it: “We are big-time nerds.”
The beer also helps Beltway balance out the shift in the contract brewing market. Although they were first in the door, and still have loyal clients, today they also have plenty of competition—mostly, Sellier said, low-cost competitors.
“Our competition ends up being a lot of these neighborhood brewers that have excess capacity which will contract brew essentially at cost, and there’s a lot of desperate brewers out there who are going to brew unfortunately at the lowest possible price,” Sellier said. “And that’s not us.”
But the real creative genius at Beltway might just be Sellier’s 12-year-old daughter Camille. She creates the art for every Falling Water label, along with other beers like Beltway’s Summer Lady wheat ale.
“I’m incredibly proud, and she’s having fun with it, and it’s just been amazing,” Sellier said. “…Each one, we keep saying, ‘this is our new favorite.’”
Learn more at BeltwayBrewCo.com.