Three Notch'd Brewing Company
Charlottesville Brew Tour
The ambitious team of entrepreneurs that operates Three Notch’d Brewing Company has imbued the venture with an earnest sense of destiny - enter the brewery’s humble tasting room in the heart of Charlottesville and be prepared to feel swept up in the significance of what promises to be a historic undertaking. “History is written by the victors,” muses Derek Naughton, one of three founding partners to the young venture and its ‘resident Irish guy.’ “Hopefully we’ll be victorious and get to write our own history.”
That history started in 2012 at a booth in a Charlottesville bar, where three friends – Naughton, George Kastendike, and Scott Roth – gathered for their weekly night of banter over craft beer. As the night went on and the beer tally mounted, one of the three wondered aloud how much beer they would need to brew and sell to friends in order to cover their weekly bar tab.
“The question was asked…kind of in jest,” says Roth, former owner-operator of McGrady’s Irish pub and now the managing partner of Three Notch’d. “But the idea snowballed.”
The three were soon experimenting with a 35-gallon homebrew system. “We didn’t have the brewing skills,” Roth admits. “We weren’t homebrewers; we were business guys. So we were lucky to find Dave.”
Roth met Dave Warwick at the Virginia Craft Beer Festival in 2012, and soon persuaded him to leave the brewmaster’s post at Rock Bottom Brewing Co.’s Arlington, VA franchise to come along for the ride. After completing Rock Bottom’s selective apprenticeship program, Warwick had already gained a reputation for two award-winning entries to the Great American Beer Festival. He moved to Charlottesville in May 2013 to join Roth in a DIY renovation of the old Monticello Dairy Building which would become the Three Notch’d production facility and tap room.
In the four short months since its grand opening celebration in August of 2013, the energetic team has made impressive strides toward securing its place in the history books. On the backs of a dedicated sales team and an innovative independent distribution system that allows the company exclusive control of its product from sourcing hops to placement in shops, the brand has already established a presence on taps in 55 bars and restaurants in Charlottesville alone. In many locations, like the Livery Stable on the Downtown Mall, Three Notch’d beers have attained a cult-like following.
“It’s been very humbling,” Roth admits. “You go in there and ask what’s on tap, and they tell you: ‘Three Notch’d!’”
Indeed, the the founders are conscious of the quality of “epicness” that an entrepreneurial craft brewery can inspire in its visitors, and every facet of their branding reflects a keen interest in tying their destiny to the historic undertakings of Central Virginia’s past. Three Notch’d takes its name from the centuries-old thoroughfare that passed by its door along the route of present-day Preston Ave, and its logo from the simple etching that signaled the path to travelers of olden days.
Many of the brewery’s unique offerings are named for people and events that earned a place in the history and folklore of Central Virginia - among other examples, 40 Mile IPA commemmorates Jack Jouett’s solitary ride on horseback to warn the rebellious Virginia Legislature of massing British forces, while Hydraulion Irish Red celebrates the University of Virginia’s first volunteer fire department and their legacy carried on by the Charlottesville community’s present-day first-responders. It is named for the horse-drawn, hand-pumped engine operated by volunteers in 1828.
“Leave Your Mark” is the inspiring slogan through which the team invites its followers to join the quest for awesomeness, but it’s much more than just marketing. The audacity of Jack Jouett and the Hydraulion volunteers is celebrated in every facet of the operation, not least in Warwick’s delightfully ambitious brewcraft. Besides the aforementioned flagship offerings, Warwick churns out a host of creative concoctions including the bold, eight-hop infused Killer Angel Double IPA, the crisp, carbonated Brother Barnabas Belgian Tripel, and genre-bending collaborations like Jack’s Java - a 5.5% ABV, 30 IBU espresso oatmeal stout made from a blend of coffee beans selected by Preston Ave. neighbor and local coffee guru Dave Fafara of Shenandoah Joe’s.
The latter is the first in a trend of limited releases that form the backbone of Dave Warwick’s collaborative style - and the brewery’s deep-seated mission for engaging the local community. In addition to its 20 barrel brewing/160 barrel fermentation system, the facility boasts a pilot brew system for small batches, and Dave regularly invites local bartenders, restauranteurs, and homebrewers to collaborate with him on limited releases. Reception from the fan base has been white hot, and new collaborations are being announced regularly.
A particularly intriguing upcoming release in the pilot series is a planned 15-barrel production of Mosaic IPA, James Hansen & Loren Moulds’ first-place award winning homebrew at the first annual Homebrew for Hunger. This event was sponsored by Three Notch’d and hosted by Fifth Season Gardening and Homebrew Supply, another neighbor just down the street on Preston Ave., and raised $5,800 for local food banks while galvanizing an energetic local homebrew community. It’s events like these that showcase the community spirit Three Notch’d is committed to maintaining as its brand catches on like wildfire. “It’s been an adventure,” Naughton says excitedly, “and we like to share that adventure with others.”
Even as the sky seems to be the limit, both on the demand for Three Notch’d beer and the ambitions of its team, the company’s growth strategy remains calculated. Roth is aware of the destructive potential of growing too fast. “Right now, expansion into Richmond would swallow us up,” he puts forward as an example, noting that the brand is managing its expansion so that they can stay committed to their intense focus on community engagement and partner relationships. While the capital city market is an enticing conquest, for now, the team is following Three Notch’d Road westward into the Shenandoah Valley, where its beers will hit taps in Staunton, Harrisonburg, and Waynesboro by the Spring of 2014.