Coming up on its 20-year-anniversary, Legend Brewing Co. is the granddaddy of the local brewing movement. Style asked Legend brewmaster and vice president John Wampler for his thoughts on the state of the industry.
Style: What is your take on the recent explosion of craft breweries?
Wampler: You hear both sides of the story — "How can we support this many new breweries popping up?" — especially in the Richmond area. Over the entire country, the explosion in breweries and planned breweries is pretty staggering. The craft market share continues to rise, but not at the rate that we'd like to see it support all these breweries. I would think that all brewers at this point ... must feel at least a little bit nervous about the amount of shelf space versus the amount of options.
Legend has grown slowly and steadily over the years, and only recently began shipping beer to North Carolina, Maryland and Washington. What advice do you have for other brewers regarding expansion?
Some breweries have had problems where they get some funding and want to explode into eight states at once. A year later they're pulling out because they can't provide the product, can't keep the shelves or draft lines full. If I had to choose between the two, I guess a slower and methodical creeping approach is probably the best way to do it. Just stay close to home before you're reaching across state lines and into other territories.
What advice do you have for this new batch of brewers?
Keep everything as clean as possible, during production and before promotion. Before you know it ... you've got bad beer on your shelf, and that's probably the worst thing that could happen. On the other hand, it sucks to promise beer and not be able to come up with it, not be able to get it out the door fast enough. It's a double-edged sword, managing quality and production simultaneously.
In preparation for its 20th anniversary next year, Legend Brewing Co. is launching a limited release Urban Legend beer series. It celebrates four Richmond urban legends, leading up to a yet-to-be-determined celebratory beer and party. The series includes:
Guardian Dog Doppelbock
Release: Last month (Feb. 18)
The Legend: This strong, malty dark lager honors Hollywood Cemetery's Guardian Dog, the iron statue of a pooch that stands guard over the grave of a female child. The dog supposedly comes to life to protect his mistress.
Lost City Saison
Release: April 22
The Legend: During World War II, a replica of Richmond was constructed outside the city in case Hitler decided to blitz the city to stock up on Lucky Strikes. The replica was lighted up at night to confuse enemy planes and will be honored by this light ale.
Release: July 8
The Legend: This malty amber lager pays homage to Locomotive 231, which was buried in a tunnel collapse under Church Hill in 1925.
Imperial Vampire Red Ale
Release: Oct. 7
The Legend: As the urban myth has it, one man escaped from the cave-in as a deformed and blood-covered creature. The "Richmond Vampire" supposedly haunts Hollywood Cemetery and lives in the mausoleum bearing the name W. W. Pool. Wampler says the beer is malty, heavy on caramel and balanced with hops.