In the surfing world, a “rhino chaser” is someone who sets out to find the biggest and best waves possible. For Matt Hagerman and Favio Garcia, their “rhino” was the perfect beer. Veterans of the brewery business, they set out on a nationwide journey to immerse themselves in the rich traditions and even richer flavors of American craft brewing. That adventure culminated in the 2011 launch of Lost Rhino Brewing Company in Ashburn, Va., and they’ve been riding a mammoth wave of success ever since.

We recently spoke with Chris Drummond, Lost Rhino’s vice president of operations, about the opening of its second location, the growing Virginia beer scene, booking live bands, and whale bones.

During the past few years, Loudoun County has seen a rise in craft breweries opening their doors, but you all were one of the first. How did Lost Rhino start out, and what brought you to this location in Ashburn?

Our story started back when the Old Dominion Brewing Co. left the area around 2008. Now, especially around here, there’s a new brewery popping up every 4-6 months it seems. But back when our owners, Matt and Favio started this place, they were really the only one, and people were really excited about still having a “hometown” brewery. The original plan was to just be a production brewery and to have stuff out in the marketplace. The tasting room was going to be a small thing that might be open on the weekends where people could come and sample beers, but the demand took over and evolved into something completely different. It’s been a huge part of our success.

It probably took about a year-and-a-half to actually get everything set up in this location. When we started out, it was literally like a kegerator, and that was it. We didn’t have a kitchen or anything like that, so people would come and just try little samples, and the guys would order pizzas, stuff like that. It’s changed a lot since then. I think it was actually in this office where they started. The rest was just warehouse space. It’s really evolved and grown.

The benefit of this location, and our main focus of course, is brewing the beer efficiently. There are only certain locations that are zoned to do that. To do it on the scale that we are, you need an industrial-type of space. That’s why it took a little longer to do the full build-out, because you need to put in all of the specialty electrical and plumbing to utilize this kind of space for brewing.

It’s a very specific process.

What are the relationships like between you and the new guys now that there’s a legitimate Loudoun County beer scene?

It’s great, honestly. I was just over at Old Ox for their second BLOX Party event a couple of weeks ago. We know those guys well. We’ve all brewed together at some point, probably. It’s a very tight-knit community. There’s actually a lot of guys in the area that used to work at Old Dominion, so there is that support structure. We all know what kinds of problems the other guys might be having or they know ours. We’re all doing the same gig so we try to help out and offer a lot of support.

The great thing about all these breweries popping up is that now people from outside the area are coming here. There’s always been a really strong wine scene, but now that beer is on the rise too, it’s gotten the attention of the Loudoun County officials. They’re working to help it keep growing by taking advantage of the tourism possibilities that are available through breweries. You can come up to Loudoun County for a day and hit up half a dozen great breweries, versus five years ago when there wasn’t much out here. It’s been great to see it grow so much in the last few years.

Along with the local scene, your brand in particular has grown significantly since the beginning. Your beers are available in tons of stores and restaurants around this area. Can you talk about the path to shelf space?

It didn’t take that long for our stuff to make it into the marketplace and in stores. It’s more common to start off in bars and restaurants. Matt and Favio had a ton of great connections from their time at Old Dominion who wanted to help out and carry the beer, so those relationships paid off immediately. Before this location even really got up and running, there were already some places where they had our beer available.

As far as canning, we’ve probably been doing that for about 2½-3 years now. Just last month, we passed 1 million cans. Once you’re able to successfully get those things into a package, the places like grocery stores or Total Wine come pretty quickly. That’s when you can really start focusing on getting the product out there and turning your stuff on to a bigger audience.

Right now we only focus on D.C. and Virginia. We’re starting to move into some markets further south. We came online in Richmond, Charlottesville, and Fredericksburg last year. and those have already been really successful for us. It takes a little while for your name to get out there, but once it does, it’s really cool to see it take off. That’s what’s happening now.

You recently hit another major milestone for the brand by opening the Lost Rhino Retreat in Brambleton. How is that going so far?

The Retreat’s been open about a month. That was an opportunity we found to really expand what we’re already doing here. We’re able to create more of a brew pub type of setting with a professional kitchen. Here, we just have a little galley kitchen so we can only do real simple food — great snacks for the beer. But the new location gives us the opportunity to do more, which is exciting. Even if it’s just something like wings and burgers, to be more like a restaurant was a really cool concept to us.

The support from that community has been great too. A lot of the people in Brambleton have been supporting us for a while by coming over here to Ashburn, but it’s also exposed us to a new audience. And it works both ways because whether they’ve heard of us out here or there, or if they just happened to stop by without any prior knowledge, just looking for a place to grab a drink, they’ll go there and enjoy that experience, then come over here and want to tour the brewery to check out where the beer is made. There are still so many people who are curious about craft beer and want to see how it’s made.

One of the other fun things we get to do at that location is, in addition to our beers, we feature other local craft breweries. We have a dedicated cider line there, which we’ve never been able to do before. We’ve also had guest taps from Ocelot Brewing Co. and Old Ox as well. It’s fun for us too because we can pick our favorite beers from all of these different breweries and turn people onto them. We really want to support our local scene, and that’s a great way to do it.

You’re known for having a really diverse roster of beers at any given time. What is the selection and brewing process like?

There are certain styles that are more popular than others, IPAs for example. Face Plant is by far our most popular beer. A lot of it is just whatever our brewers want to try out, whether that’s trying out an older recipe that hasn’t been mainstream in a long time and putting our own twist on it, or doing something completely new. It’s really up to however creative we want to be back there. A great thing for us is our co-founder, Favio, is always open to suggestions from the other brewers that we have on staff. A good beer is a good beer no matter whose idea it is. If it’s something they’ve tried brewing on a small scale test run or if the first batch gets tested here, we’re always willing to try it out.

American craft brewers tend to be up for anything, and some of them really get out there in terms of experimenting with different brews. That’s the great thing about it. You can either make a hybrid style, or revisit some of these older tastes that used to be really popular and just fell out of favor for whatever reason. Your options are really unlimited, and here, we have our own playground to try out whatever we want.

We’re always looking for new things to try. We’re really interested in the history of beer. In fact, our brewery scientist, Jasper Akerboom, can give you a thorough history of brews and where they come from. He’s helped us come up with a lot of our more interesting beers.

I assume that creative energy and love of history is what lead to something like Bone Dusters, right?

Absolutely! That’s a Jasper story. He used to work and conduct research at Janelia Farm (a research center in Ashburn), and is a microbiologist Ph.D. His specialty is the study of yeast cultures. When he came onboard with us here, he was doing some really interesting things with different yeast strains. He cultivated a strain here in Ashburn called Farmwell Yeast, and we use that to brew our all-Virginia beer called Native Son – every ingredient is sourced from Virginia.

To the best of our knowledge, it’s the first beer with all-VA ingredients.

But going back to Bone Dusters, Jasper’s ties to the scientific community connected him to a paleontologist at Paleo Quest who goes on different expeditions and dives to look for fossils. On one of his dives near the Great Dismal Swamp in Chesapeake, he found a fossilized whale vertebrae, so he asked Jasper, “Do you think you could get a viable yeast strain off of this.” And they were able to find one! Of course the yeast itself wasn’t millions of years old, but it was living in that ecosystem and attached itself to that whale bone. With something like that, you might be able to find and isolate a yeast strain, but the chances of it working out and actually tasting good in a beer are slim.

What Jasper did was take a small batch of our Face Plant IPA and fermented it with this yeast for a test batch, and it turned out great!

So we made a small batch, called it Bone Dusters Amber Ale, and it was picked up by Scientific American Journal and took off from there. I still see it popping up all over the place. It was just in Playboy not that long ago! The Onion A.V. Club reviewed it too. It introduced what we’re doing here to an incredibly large audience, and probably to some people who didn’t even have craft beer on their radar.

You also support the local music scene by hosting a wide range of artists. What do you look for in the musicians that you bring to play here at the brewery?

When I took over booking the bands, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of talent in this area. Before I moved back here, I had lived in Las Vegas for about seven years. I saw tons of talented people out there, from tribute bands to new artists, and you’d expect it in a place like that.

Finding that same level out here was exciting.

We had been using a lot of bluegrass bands in the beginning, which was great. It’s a very fun genre, but I wanted to expand beyond that and start incorporating more blues, folk, funk, rock, you name it. What I really look for is an act that brings that intangible energy. Sometimes we’ve had certain bands that create a perfect storm. They’re booked on a night when a lot of people have decided to come here to spend their evening, and then the band shows up and they’ve brought their own following and everyone just has a blast.

That’s the payoff for all the work that goes into this – seeing how much fun people have while they’re in here.

I love bringing in local artists because they’ll bring their audience with them. Even if it’s only five or ten people, they’ll let everyone else in here know that it’s okay to let your guard down and enjoy this performance. Then those people that were here tell their friends, and it spreads from there, helping get our name out and the artists’ names. You can’t find a better combination than great beer and live music.

It definitely seems like a fun business to be in. Why do you think craft brewing speaks to such a creative group of people?

I’d say the reason you’re seeing it across the country is because people have seen and tried the regular mass-produced beers. You can go literally anywhere and get the same thing. It’s been that way for years. Now, it’s so much fun because the beer lineup can be completely different anywhere you go.

It’s that spirit of adventure, of trying new things and supporting your own community, that is grabbing people’s attention.

Plus, it’s the people that make the scene. The people here, in Virginia and particularly Loudoun County, they want something that’s handcrafted that they can call their own. It’s a badge of honor. Especially around this time of year, we see people come in right before they leave on vacation, and they get growlers filled or they buy a case because they want to take our brand and our beers with them and share it with people. We’re their local spot, and thankfully, they appear to like what we’re doing.

I think brewing, in general, attracts creative people, from musicians to artists to writers. Probably 99 percent of the people that I’ve met in this business are extremely laid back and creative. We’re very fortunate in that regard. This renaissance that you’re seeing in craft brewing is unlike anything you’ll see on the more corporate side. You’re able to experiment and have fun. At the end of the day, you’re making beer with your friends. What’s cooler than that?

For more updates on Lost Rhino Brewing Company, be sure to visit their website, “like” their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to their YouTube channel.

Alex Aloise

Hi. I’m Alex. I write stuff. For two years I worked as a professional wrestling referee in Virginia (I’ve got the license to prove it). In that time I was “knocked out” by a lumberjack, signed autographs for approximately 4 children, had a locker room heart-to-heart with a Ugandan Giant and was paraded around on the shoulders of a little person named Shortsleeve. I currently work as an advertising copywriter and contributing writer for Inspired Magazine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *