Loose Show Brewery is a small, family-owned brewery based in Amhurst, Virginia. The brewery’s brand can be summed up as a clean, community oriented brewery where families can gather to sip on creative and quality craft brews (including a homemade rootbeer). Owner Derin Foor takes pride in his establishment. He handles all the brewing (about 42 varieties thus far) and his wife and a few employees help run taproom.
When discussing how Loose Shoe began, Foor laughs a bit telling the story of the Mr. Beer Kit that his sister purchased for him years back and the bad batches that resulted. To hear Foor talk, brewing is one of his passions and he loves to see the community come together or music, trivia, and a drink or two in the taproom. While brewing started as an enjoyable past time, he is also upfront about the time and labor that go into making successful beer and running a taphouse. Acknowledging the difficulties of starting to brew upsets the common narrative of craft beer, which according to Dr. Beckham, often glosses over the challenges of brewing and instead blends leisure and entrepreneurship.
Foor is upfront about his view of the motivations of the craft beer industry. He describes it as part community, part profit and does not hold an ill will against craft microbreweries that have been bought out by corporations, such as the selling of Devils Backbone in Nelson County to Anheuser-Busch, the makers of Budweiser. “How do you blame them?” he asked, acknowledging that the money behind the corporate scene can be beneficial, “It’s good for them, good for employees who have better insurance and benefits.” Do not mistake Foor as a supporter of corporate beer; he also critcized the way that large corporations and distributors can manipulate public purchasing habits by buying particular shelf space in stores, placing their products front and center and pushing smaller craft, micro, and nano-breweries into the far corner. Savvy consumers or craft-beer enthusiasts may know to look beyond the products in the spotlight, but for most just swinging through to pick up a six pack, the mainstream or “crafty-beer” is visible, convenient, and tasty-enough.
Foor also notes that there are challenges that local legislation imposes. Virginia law mandates that in order for establishments to serve food in addition to alcohol, it must make up 25% of the gross sales; as much as he would like to offer some food, he does not want to run a restaurant. Instead, Foor encourages patrons to bring food into the taproom or picnic on the patio. His take is that both maximizing and managing taxes is easier to do when businesses can be easily sorted, restaurant v. brewery v. winery.
In contrast to Loose Shoe who wants to draw people who are in or visiting Amherst and the surrounding area, the Virginia Distillery Co is a large scale business focused on intentional branding and selling quality whiskey to a local, national, and eventually international basis. It is hard to miss walking into the visitor center that Virginia Distillery Co is marketing to an audience with time and money to spare touring a distillery and sipping on moderately priced whiskey (750 mL for over $50).
Similar to “founding father” stories of craft beer, Virginia Distillery has it’s own founding father story, although one that readily acknowledges the strong economic foundation on which the company was built. The tale goes that Dr. George Moore immigrated to America from Ireland seeking new opportunities in the 1970’s. After building up a successful life in the US, he pursued his dream of bringing single-malt whiskey to his home in America. Although the story in the museum at the Virginia Distillery glosses over the capital investment required to begin crafting and selling whiskey, including the time that it takes to have any ready to bottle (at least 7 years), our tour guide highlighted that the Moore family had a significant financial foundation that afforded them the ability not only to build the distillery but also to import whiskey in from the UK until the Virginia Single Malt Whiskey is ready to be sold. It is a tale of entrepreneurship and passion supported by a subplot of previous capital success.
It is easy to be critical of the faults of the capitalist system, the repeated exploitation of workers, the waste that accompanies an economic system based on constant and increasing consumption of products, and the maintenance of a hierarchical social structure that assigns disproportionate worth to individuals based money at their disposal. However, when studying companies and individuals that exist within this system, it is important to consider that they were created to work within the capitalist system.
To what extent can we criticize someone for trying to thrive within the limits of a system in place? I think we need to recognize when it is reasonable to fault the system versus casting blame upon entities working within the system. When the company or individual causes harm, then it seems common sense they should be held responsible. However, when the actions of the company do not cause harm in themselves, yet perpetuate a system which can cause harm, who is responsible? My gut reaction is to argue that it is questionable to cast blame on companies that act ethically within any faulty system (since capitalism is certainly not the only model that has damaging repercussions on individuals and society). One reason that we hold people responsible for their actions is to reduce harm. However, there are other ways to promote a healthier society. We can advocate for those who work change the norm in productive and healthy ways.
With a company like the Virginia Distillery Co, part of their brand is as a sustainable and community mindful company. During the tour, they mentioned these efforts several times including that their excess grain mash goes to local farms, the surrounding forest helps reduce the impact of CO2 released during fermentation, and the recycling of water at multiple points in the production. What was not part of the tour was what waste products are not, or cannot, be repurposed. The tour guide was also not certain if the waste grain was sold or donated to local farms, though she did mention that if the grain was sold it was due to legal concerns, namely the ability for someone to press charges against the distillery. It is worth considering the extent to which environmental and sustainable practices are done because the company sees value in the practice itself, or wants to be able to market themselves as an environmentally conscious company.