by Rebecca Jackson
A Bedford, VA, brewery is creating a treasure of its own in a town long connected to the legendary fortune hunter Thomas J. Beale.
Two centuries ago, in 1818, 30 Virginia huntsmen, led by the charming and mysterious Beale, were on an expedition to the western plains of Texas. They discovered veins of gold and silver somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. The men abandoned their journey and spent years mining and transporting their booty home, burying it in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Buford’s Tavern in Bedford County. Legend says Beale created three ciphers pinpointing the treasure’s location and entrusted the ciphers to an innkeeper in nearby Lynchburg (then known as Lynch’s Ferry). Beale promised to send the key for decoding the ciphers, then departed once again for the untamed West. He was never heard from again, leaving in his wake a mystery that continues to this day.
A different kind of treasure seeker, New Jersey native and developer Dave McCormack, founded Beale’s Brewery and Barbecue last year in a defunct, early 20th century woolen mill in an old industrial neighborhood in Bedford, breathing new life and revenue into a once dead part of town.
It’s not McCormack’s first project. In the same neighborhood, he created the Bedford Lofts, upscale apartments in another industrial building, and is in the planning and permitting stages of converting the old Bedford Middle School into condominiums, a hotel and fitness center, the work scheduled to begin at the end of 2019.
The successful brewery endeavor in the 16,000-square foot building at 510 Grove St. now produces its flagship beer, the aptly named Beale’s Gold, a straightforward Helles lager that contains a modest 4.8 percent alcohol, not bitter or hoppy.
“We’ve done a great job in our first year,” said McCormack, a writer who holds a physics degree from Virginia Tech. “Because Bedford is situated where it is, in the middle of nowhere, ‘local’ ends up including Bedford County, Lynchburg, Amherst County and Roanoke. We’re also distributing to Richmond and Charlottesville.”
In addition to expanding its distribution range, Beale’s plans to do more events this year in the region to stay competitive, including Smith Mountain Lake, according to McCormack, whose company, Waukeshaw Development, purchased the Beale’s property in 2007. The brewery employs 25.
Beale’s is the first craft brewery in the town of Bedford, brought to life with the help of tax credits and a grant from Bedford’s Industrial Revitalization Fund sponsored by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. To date, Waukeshaw has overseen, or has underway, historic tax credit developments comprising more than 750,000 square feet, reflecting a total investment approaching $90 million.
The craft beer market has been highly competitive in Virginia, with hundreds of vestpocket breweries opening across the commonwealth in the past decade alone.
McCormack hired Bedford native James Frazier to be the master brewer. Frazier was an expert home brewer, with the added benefit of experience working in a large label manufacturing facility, knowledge useful when creating massive quantities of beer. McCormack hopes to reach 10,000 bottles a year within five years.
“We’ll continue to develop new beer styles, packaging and expand our distribution footprint,” said McCormack. “We’re conscious of brand and our style is different. We tend to be like the traditional German style, but we try to innovate.” A recent example is a dark, rich and intriguing brew with notes of coffee and bourbon.
McCormack and restaurateur Jared Srsic teamed up to weave the treasure story into the Beale’s menu, with Texas-style barbecue brisket, ribs, wings, bar snacks, bountiful sandwiches, giant pretzels, pickled eggs, beef jerky, jalapeno cashews and much more. Beale’s has become a popular gathering spot. Even though there is an industrial feel to the space due to the fact that it was once a factory, a practice that is becoming popular with craft breweries and eateries in Southwest and Central Virginia, it is warm and inviting. The 12,000-square-foot space includes a 30-barrel production brewery, a taproom and a kitchen with an indoor capacity of 86 people. The building is spacious and contains lots of natural light from original windows. Picnic tables and a copper-topped bar made from railroad ties add to the atmosphere. There’s also a cooler containing beer that can be purchased to go. The package is unusual and distinctive, called a brick and containing eight stubby, 11-ounce bottles instead of the usual 12-ounce bottles. A stuffed brown bear and a buffalo head pay homage to Beale. Outdoors, a canine-friendly patio has seating for 60 patrons in good weather.
“We are making beers that we hope will attract the folks on the fringe of the craft scene, but also one that the craft beer nerds will find delicious and refreshing,” said McCormack.