Sailor turned Beer Man
Sailor turned Beer Man
One of the great things about the Old Town Crier over the past 31 years is the fascinating people we meet and then get to write about. Casey Jones is no exception. We ran into Casey sitting at the bar at Cedar Knoll Restaurant. We struck up an easy conversation and I told him about the Crier and he handed me his business card. Casey Jones is the CEO and founder of Fair Winds Brewing Company in Lorton, Virginia. I have been sailing for 30 years and am accustomed to the phrase “Fair Winds and Following Seas”. Curiosity got to me and I asked him if he was a sailor to which he replied, “Yes, and I used to teach sailing at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT.” The next phrase was, “Can I buy you a drink,” and the conversation took off.
Casey Jones grew up in north Philadelphia and upon graduation from high school enrolled in the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. He graduated in 1991 from the Academy and shipped out to Panama City, Florida where he worked in counter drugs. From there he was transferred to Coos Bay, Oregon. His job in the Coast Guard was a ship driver, or a black shoe…terms that I had never heard. “I went from white sandy beaches and spring break to lumber jacks and fishing trawlers,” he says. After Oregon, Jones returned to Washington, D.C. to serve at headquarters. From there he worked on his graduate degree in finance from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and then back to the Academy to teach.
While attending the Academy, Jones also took up the game of rugby, which I also played. “It was a great time,” he says. “After I left the Academy, I continued to play rugby with different clubs and then when I went back to teach, I coached the school’s rugby team.” His rugby career began as a scrum-half which is like the quarterback of the team, and after grad school he moved to Number 8. That is what I call full circle folks. “Coaching was fun,” he says, playing is one thing but with coaching you really have to learn the game…like you think you know a subject and then you find out you missed a lot.”
Jones started sailing when he was stationed in Panama City and continued where ever he went. “I sailed mainly small boats and got into racing a little. When he returned to the Academy as an instructor, he began teaching the cadets to sail on a fleet of 44-foot Yawls. “These boats were big enough and had enough sail area that we could teach all of the tricks of the trade.” He tells me, “At the end of the course we would take a two-week sail through New England waters.”
The idea of a brewery came to Jones during his cadet days at the Academy and he decided to write a business plan for a brew pub called Square Rigger Brew Pub. “In the early nineties the idea of brew pubs was popping up, Sierra Nevada and Anchor Steam were some of the first, and I decided that some day I was going to start a brew pub.”
When Jones left the Academy, he became a strategy consultant. “I had an academic understanding of business, but I had been in the military, so I really didn’t “understand business”, so I thought the best way to learn was to go into consulting and touch a variety of different parts of the business world. I did that for awhile and then moved to this area to run a couple of companies for a business called Corporate Executive Board that eventually got acquired by Gardner. After that I worked for Mike Milken and ran one of his businesses and I helped put a digital platform on top of it, so he could sell it.”
It was about this time that Jones wondered what the next chapter in his life was. He realized that craft beer was booming at that time. “The industry was growing 15, 20, 30 percent a year and I looked at Fairfax County and realized that it didn’t have a local beer. It had brew pubs but no production brewery. “So, I thought, this is a no brainer, you’ve got a well-heeled clientele with disposable income, so why not build a business,” he said, “so I got out my old business plan, dusted it off and made a few adjustments.”
He did change the plan from a brew pub to a production facility. “In the early 90’s brew pubs were unique because there were not many craft beers, but today there are many craft beers, so a brew pub is not as attractive,” he explains. “The production brewery is what I wanted to do, I want to sell beer to people where ever they can see me, whatever bar, whatever restaurant, whatever supermarket they buy beer. You know, he says, 80% of beer sold in Virginia is sold in cans and bottles.”
Fair Winds Brewery does serve their own products on site in their 2,000 square foot Tap Room which helps generate additional revenue. Fair Winds has three beers that they produce all year long that are called their annuals and are in every market, Howling Gale IPA, Siren’s Lure and Quayside Kolsch. As you can see, nautical terminology is used when possible. The Tap Room has at least 13 beers on tap at all times and cans available. Fair Winds cans are also available at your favorite supermarket as well as on tap at Nationals Park.
As Jones tells me, the original name of the beer was going to be Top Sail Beer after his sailing days on the Eagle, the only square rigger owned by the U.S. Military. However, there was a brewery in Oregon named Full Sail Brewery and they objected to everybody that has sail, beer or brewery in their name, and within an hour of registering his trademark Jones got a call from Oregon saying, “we are going to fight you on this!” “I am not going to waste money fighting a trademark dispute,” Jones says, so I said the old sailor’s departure…I wish you fair winds and following seas and named the brewery Fair Winds.”
Clearly in the three and a half years since Fair Winds opened, they have made headway and are on tap at many restaurants in Alexandria. I asked Jones what the future held, and he immediately answered, “we want to be one of the biggest producers in the Del-Marva region.” With Casey Jones at the helm of this brewery, I think the chances are very good he will achieve that goal.