Väsen Brewing Co. is big. It takes up most of the back end of the HandCraft Building in Scott’s Addition, a cavernous space still under construction.
Steel framing is slowly getting covered by drywall, pipes stick out of dirt trenches and there’s a whole lot of gravel around. Part of the concrete flooring is in, but it’s still important to watch your step.
The plan is to produce 2,750 barrels of beer in the first year and swell to around 17,000, co-founder Tony Giordano says. He wants to try out different varieties to see which ones sell the best. Just because a brewer likes it, he says, doesn’t mean customers will.
On this cold day, it’s hard to imagine the space full of beer drinkers. But opening day is closer than it looks, Giordano says: “I think it’s a real possibility that we can be making beer here in about three months and opening in about five [months].”
Giordano, an Army veteran and a University of Colorado graduate, began working at Boulder Beer Co. with a plan to learn as much as he could about the business and then start his own brewery with his cousin Joey Darragh.
They grew up in Northern Virginia, and both were introduced to the burgeoning craft beer and home-brewing scene out West. While Giordano was in Boulder, Darragh was living in California where he worked as an engineer for Apple and Tesla Motors.
Two years ago, the bearded cousins moved to Richmond and immediately fell in love with the HandCraft Building.
“We wanted to take what we’d learned on the West Coast and bring it back here,” Giordano says. “Opening this kind of brewery in Boulder — we probably would have been successful, but it would have been just another brewery.”
They also were ready to come home — although not back to the Washington area. “We wanted more of a laid-back scene,” he says.
And that’s helped drive the message behind the brand as well.
Giordano and Darragh look at it as a lifestyle brand. The word “väsen” means inner spirit, or essence, in Swedish. Before moving to Richmond, the two traveled to Europe to learn as much as they could about brewing and beer styles. Their last stop was in Sweden, and when they heard the word’s translation they knew they had the name for their business.
“We want our brewery to be a place where people can be themselves,” Darragh says.
They also want to pair the company with such groups as the American Alpine Club and Blue Sky Fund. They plan to sponsor athletes, too — in fact, Väsen’s first event will be with the Richmond Kickers.
Although they see their beer as something that can ride along in a kayak on the river or get thrown in a backpack for a hike, along with the nonprofit Blue Sky Fund, Väsen’s also working with One Percent for the Planet.
“The environment is really important to us,” Darragh says. “It goes beyond the outdoor athletic community.”
Until then, they’re focused on developing different recipes with head brewery scientist Jonathan Warner. He’s isolated several yeast strains from local trees and fruits to use in the fermenting process. This is the kind of research and development that will set Väsen apart from other breweries, the cousins say, as they play around with traditional styles and infuse them with American beer-making techniques.
“We’ve created this whole other thing,” Giordano says. “It’ll be interesting to see how Richmond takes it. It’s not going to taste like anything they’ve ever had before.”