New business on tap at Smith Mountain Lake


Sunken City Brewing Company, Franklin County’s first microbrewery, is expected to create 20-25 jobs within five years

Franklin County officials and business leaders today broke ground on Sunken City Brewing Company, the county’s first microbrewery. The $2.3 million, 8,800-square-foot project, to feature a production brewery, tasting room and outdoor beer garden, is expected to create 20-25 new jobs within five years, growing at three to five positions per year.

Sunken City, named after the villages that were flooded when the lake was dammed, will be located along Route 122 at Westlake Towne Center near Smith Mountain Lake.

“Franklin County is delighted to welcome a new business that diversifies our economy and provides a destination for residents and visitors at the lake,” said Bob Camicia, a member of the county’s Board of Supervisors. “Microbreweries are among the fastest-growing types of business in Virginia, and we look forward to increasing the diversity of our businesses in the county while providing a unique experience at the lake.”

Sunken City’s founder, Jerome Parnell III, owns the trademark and franchise rights to the lake area’s signature beer, Dam Lager™, which has become popular among locals and tourists.  The brewery plans to start making Dam Lager and other beer styles in January and the tasting room will be open to the public by the spring.

“Sunken City Brewing Company was inspired by towns that gave way to water that created Smith Mountain Lake, so it’s only fitting that we locate our new brewery near the lake,” Parnell said. “Our company’s theme is based on the flooded villages, roads, bridges and other structures, including a once-incorporated town, that existed in the late 1880s, as well as the planning of a city called Monroe.  The history beneath the depths is creepy and ghostlike, as much as it is comical. The brewery will tell a story entrenched in both history and lore.”

History aside, brewing beer is big business. There are more than 40 breweries in Virginia, a 25 percent increase in the past two years. August is Virginia Craft Brew Month and the Travel Channel recently named Virginia a top-seven beer destination.

“Sunken City has recognized that the Roanoke Region offers beer makers a host of advantages, starting with an abundant supply of quality water and available treatment capacity without any surcharges and liberal limits on effluents, thereby limiting or eliminating the need for pre-treatment, which can add to the costs of doing business,” said Ann Blair Miller, director of project management for the Roanoke Regional Partnership. “As Sunken City grows, it’s also important to be within a day’s truck drive of two-thirds of the U.S. population. And our region’s outdoor-oriented culture typically draws fans of microbrews.”

“We welcome the addition to an exciting new type of business to the Smith Mountain Lake community,” added Ron Willard Sr., president of The Willard Companies, developer of Westlake Towne Center. “Sunken City is a great example of Westlake’s continued development as a destination where everything is at the center of it all.”

The brewery will feature a 25-barrel, four-vessel brewing system capable of supplying beer to multiple states. Once brewing begins in January, the brewery will produce an initial volume of 1,000 barrels of beer; 65 percent in packaging, and 35 percent in kegs and retail sales. Next, the company plans to expand to 2,500 barrels by the end of the second year and 4,600 barrels by year three, distributing outside the state. The plant will have a long-term capacity of 35,000 barrels per year.

The company’s brewmaster, Jeremy Kirby, is relocating from The Gottberg Brewery in Nebraska. He has experience working in and managing breweries in Nebraska and Colorado. Kirby was trained in Berlin, Germany, at the prestigious VLB (Versuchs und Lehranstalt fur Brauerei), regarded as one of the best brewing schools in the world.

The brewery has purchased an automated canning line, capable of packaging 92 cases of beer per hour.  Currently, craft beer in cans are in high demand, as less than 10 percent of breweries around the country are managing canning lines.

“Cans keep beer fresher, block out sunlight, and can be easily and more economically transported, and are perfect for outdoor excursions,” Parnell said. “We think the Smith Mountain Lake area and Southwest Virginia is particularly well suited for cans.”

The brewery will feature three styles of production beer: its signature beer, Dam Lager™, a Vienna-style lager, an India Pale Ale (IPA), and a third beer now in development. Sunken City also will produce two seasonal beers in the fall and winter.

The tasting room is expected to have all three production beers on tap in addition to two to three smaller-batch beers rotating every month or two, so visitors can enjoy variety throughout the year.

Also brewing: A merchandise area selling hats, T-shirts, glassware, barware, and packaged beer to go. The brewery will provide tours on given days and will host events throughout the year.

“We believe the combination of a growing demand for craft brews, the region’s low cost of doing business, and growth at Smith Mountain Lake positions us nicely for future success,” Parnell said.

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