By KATHLEEN SHAW
Daily News-Record 1/10/20
Seven years ago, a childhood dream of three brothers from Rockingham County came to fruition as they opened Harrisonburg’s first locally operated brewery.
On Saturday, Brothers Craft Brewing is celebrating its anniversary from noon to 11 p.m. with new releases on tap, music and an open house.
Originally Three Brothers Brewing, the business was founded by siblings Adam, Jason and Tyler Shifflett. Production began in December 2012, and the first Brothers’ keg was sold to the general public in mid- January 2013. Since then, Brothers has continuously celebrated its anniversary on the second Saturday of the new year.
Jason Shifflett said the brothers bring varied skills to the table. They were able to realize a lifelong fantasy of running a business together once the eldest, Adam, left the Navy after serving for 10 years and began homebrewing. Given the time and interest, Jason Shifflett said, brewing just seemed to make sense for the three brothers, and they opened the first brewery in the area in 2013.
“At that time, it was kind of the very beginning of this craft beer wave. We’re about to hit seven years, so if you look back seven years ago, there’s probably one-tenth of the breweries there are now,” Jason Shifflett said. “A brewery that actually set up shop here, distributed, did the whole nine yards — we were kind of first.”
Since then, the business has rebranded as Brothers Craft, gone from three tanks to 15 and expanded its reach with occasional exports to South America and plans underway to begin distributing into Maryland.
Harrisonburg resident Tom McKenzie, a patron for nearly six years, said Brothers is a cut above the rest starting with the variety and quality of production, down to the business model.
“There’s no comparison. They’re better than anyone else around, and that includes Blue Mountain and Devil’s Backbone and some other better known breweries. They’re adventurous. They’ll try new things,” McKenzie said. “They support a lot of local communities. ... I’m drawn to them beyond the beer.”
McKenzie is not alone in valuing Harrisonburg’s first brewery beyond the product it sells. Taproom manager Josh Harold joined the staff in 2016 after health concerns
took him out of work from teaching at Spotswood Elementary School.
Having been a regular patron at Brothers since its soft opening in 2012, Harold said he was quick to apply for the position of taproom manager and part-time bartender because of the homey demeanor the brewery exhibited in all aspects of business.
“On that first night I walked in here, just the atmosphere and what comes out of the business model of the moniker, ‘Join the brotherhood,’ and family-run business; you feel like family when you come in. That really struck me,” Harold said.
Harold has since coordinated and added his signature to events at Brothers such as the Christmas in July Chalk Fest, which collects back-to-school supplies for United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County’s Stuff the Bus campaign each summer.
Brothers works alongside various regional nonprofits to give back to the community. On one Friday each month, Brothers hosts Cask for a Cause — a day that sells a unique blend brewed in partnership with a local nonprofit, and all the proceeds of the beer go to the organization. Every December, the taproom collaborates with Mercy House to collect gifts under a giving tree, and February brings about the Souper Bowl Food Drive to benefit Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.
Harold said many of the staffers and extended family have served as educators in the school systems, so the culture naturally gravitates to family-friendly involvements.
Saturday’s schedule includes a photo booth, a s’mores- making fire pit and live music throughout the day. First on the lineup is jazz and folk trio Delaplane from 1 to 3 p.m., followed by local singer-songwriter Amy Martin from 4 to 6 p.m.
Crozet-based Americana artist Pat Anderson is ending the night with his acoustic guitar and harmonica. Anderson has performed a medley of original and cover songs at Brothers Craft for years and said the space is consistently a well-attended cultivation of positive energy.
“The beer is really good. The atmosphere is really good. It’s a nice mix of folks. … It’s a fun place more than anything; people in and out,” Anderson said. “I’ve very rarely seen anyone in there who wasn’t in a good mood or whose mood wasn’t improved by being there.”
Previous anniversary beers include a molé stout and a rum barrel- aged Belgian Dubbel. This year, Brothers Craft Brewing is celebrating its seventh year with a soursop double Indian pale ale.
Jason Shifflett said the world of craft brewing extends into an affinity for nature and creativity, and his passion is in representing those qualities on the market and spreading the brotherhood.
“We really just get to be creative across the board too. You get to make a product, and it can be as elaborate as you want, use crazy ingredients or not or make it true to style,” Jason Shifflett said.
Some craft beer fans in the area say the risks Brothers’ brewers take often result in rewarding, distinct flavors that reclaim styles they otherwise might avoid.
Harrisonburg resident Lee Taylor began drinking craft beers 15 years ago and has been a patron of the brewery since the beginning. He said he has never missed a release of the Resolute barrel- aged imperial stout and ranks Brothers as the crown jewel of the local brew scene.
“In Harrisonburg, they’re unmatched. … Brothers doesn’t chase fads like many other brewers. Their core beers have a consistency that’s difficult to achieve in craft brewing,” Taylor said. “They aren’t afraid to experiment, though, and they’ve actually made me a fan of a few styles that I wasn’t fond of before.”
Mashita’s food truck will be slinging food outside for Saturday’s event, and the taproom will be serving ales and lagers, flagships, Indian pale ales and dark pours all day.
“Our level of community engagement and philanthropy and focusing on giving back has always made a standout in my mind. It’s one of the things that drew me to the business as a worker and then something I work hard on every year,” Harold said. “Their business model is giving back to the community as much if not more than it’s given to us.”