By Robey Martin
It was less of a conversation and more like an ambush. I first spoke to the founders of Väsen Brewing Company at a Fan house-turned-makeshift brewery over a year ago. The setting resembled a fraternity house, except with whiteboards filled with multiple beer formulas. And there was gear, lots of it. Both scientific and outdoor equipment everywhere.
At the table – which looked like it had recently been used for a poker game – sat Joey Darragh, Nathan “Nate” Winters, Jon Warner, and brewer Tony Giordano.
“The whole operation started with just Tony and myself. We needed a place to live, and a place to brew,” recalls Darragh.
After snatching up their Fan home, the duo, who are cousins, converted the property’s detached garage into a brewery, and the basement served as a beer cellar. And their living room – that made for the perfect lab.
Prior to the moving in together, Darragh logged in time as an engineer at Apple and Tesla Motors, while Giordano, after multiple tours of duty as an Army Ranger, learned the trade at Boulder Beer Company. Once the two were together again, their brewery adventure soon took the name, Väsen, which is Swedish for “your inner essence” or “spirit animal.” And adventure ensued.
Winters, who joined as the team’s director of marketing, was quick to add an outdoors element. From the beginning, he was adamant that the new business become involved in everything active and outdoors – from sponsoring club soccer teams to the Richmond Kickers to anything happening on Brown’s Island.
Eventually the new business owners began to search for more space, and their attention turned to Scott’s Addition. At that time, only Ardent Craft Ales and Isley Brewing were operational, and the corridor had yet to turn into the hotbed for craft producers that it is today. The Väsen team, like many brewers, was quickly drawn to the tall ceilings and big rooms found in Scott’s Addition, and they inked a 10-year lease.
Originally built by Binswanger Glass in 1946, the building they chose is more likely to be known to many Richmonders as Handcraft Cleaners, an industrial laundry facility that recently relocated to the West End. “It’s gorgeous, the natural light that comes in,” explains Giordano about Väsen’s future home, a space he aims to have open by early summer. “It took us seven months to get everything right.” He says their goal is to crank out 16,000 barrels of beer per year once launched.
“We have talked to the other brewers in the area … everyone seems awesome. They have all opened their doors to us,” reports Giordano, pointing to their DME system that came as a recommendation from nearby Ardent.
In addition to dialing in their equipment, Giordano and team are dedicating a large chunk of square footage to barrel storage for their sour ales. “Farmhouse beers are going to be the biggest thing we are going to push out from that system,” says Giordano, who is working with Virginia wineries to repurpose giant wooden vats, known as foeders, for their barrel-aging program.
Once up and running, Väsen will become the eighth alcohol-focused business – with more to come – in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood. Current businesses operating in the corridor include The Veil Brewing Company, Buskey Cider, Black Heath Meadery, Reservoir Distillery, Blue Bee Cider, Ardent Craft Ales, and Isley Brewing Company.