In the Loop with Hawksbill Brewing
By Bob Tagert
Last month we attended a dinner sponsored by our friends at Shadow Mountain Escape near Luray, Virginia. The dinner was designed to bring business people together who have helped with the success of the Blue Ridge Whisky Wine Loop and we were honored to be included. It was a nice gesture by owners Ralph and Karen Riddle and in the process we had the opportunity to meet Alexandrian Jim Turner who is founder of Hawksbill Brewing Company in Luray. The interaction was good, the conversation stimulating and Jim Turner’s story of Hawksbill is told here.
Turner grew up in a Navy family that moved to different duty stations when he was growing up and eventually ended up at a large Navy base in Memphis, Tennessee. Upon graduation from high school turner enlisted in the Air Force and ultimately ended up in Berlin, Germany where he worked as a Russian Linguist. “Yeah, he tells me, the Berlin Wall was still up and I was aware that it was a huge flash point…I touched it, I drew on it and signed my name on it. I have a piece of it. It was a good place to be back then.”
After the Air Force Turner went for his undergrad degree in Tampa. After graduating, he went job hunting and placement through the USAF. “They sent me to Anheuser Busch where they had an opening in the quality control sector of the plant. Twenty seven years old and working for a beer company. What’s not to like about that?”, he exclaims.
Eventually he decided to enroll in Southern Cal and get his MBA. Upon graduating, he became a management consultant to the federal government advising on facilities and real estate. “I consult with the IRS, the Army, the Veterans Administration as well as all of the services,” he tells me.
While stationed in Germany, Turner got to try a lot of beers. ”It is the national drink,” he said with a grin. “I was exposed to different styles and favors.” This experience proved very useful when home brewing was becoming the rage. “My friends dabbled in home brewing and I began to expand my tastes,” he tells me. And soon Turner was making his own home brew.
Fast forward a few years and Jim and his wife Mary bought a second home in Luray that soon became a summer destination. All the while he continued with his home brewing and experimenting. “What if I did this to that and tried different favors,” he thought. A friend gave him some local honey so he made a Porter with honey.
On one of their trips to Luray, Turner met David Sours, a local farmer who brought his produce to the local farmers market. “We built a friendship around our common interests,” he tells me. “I suggested that we try growing hops on his farm.” Soon they were either number one or two in the state with total acreage devoted to hops. David Sours was a Virginia Tech graduate and had a friend who was an Ag Extension Agent who came and talked to them about their venture. “We grew 20 acres of hops and sold all of it to local breweries…this opened my eyes,” he says. “David and I changed our focus to brewing our own beer.”
There was already a Home Brewery Club in Luray to which they belonged. They invited local distiller, Rick Wasmund from Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville to talk with them. “Rick brought a 50 pound bag of his malt that he uses and divided it among the members. Rick gave us some good ideas,” said Turner. “We all went home and made some very smoky Ales and Porters.”
In 2016 Turner and Sours formed their new business…Hawksbill Brewing Company and opened for business in 2017. “Ours was the only game in a small town and we catered to the local community as well as the tourist traffic that passes through Luray,” he says, “We grow our own ingredients that flavor our brews – blackberries, blueberries, and even a persimmon beer; we would like to try a pawpaw beer but the fruit is very fragile.”
As with all businesses, COVID had a crippling effect on Hawksbill. They had to cut costs and struggle through the pandemic. “We bought a canning machine so that we could package our products and have them ready to go.“ Then the PPP loan program came along and helped the company bridge the gap. “After COVID, we recovered quickly,” Turner tells me.
Today the Tap Room at 22 Zerkel Street accounts for 80 percent of their sales while to-go packages account for 20 percent on a regular basis. “Special events – weddings, family gatherings, etc. give us a little extra when we can get them,” Turner says. The brewery hopes to get their beers into the Mimslyn Inn, a major attraction of Luray, Virginia. “The chef is a good customer at the tap room, so there is always hope,” says Turner.
When I asked about distribution in Alexandria, Turner explains that the current demand is not worth it to a distributor. Their production will have to increase as well. “We have some spots that will carry our product,” Turner says, “it is just getting all of the numbers to add up.”
If you are out enjoying the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley and you find yourself near Luray, Virginia, stop in to the Hawksbill Brewing Company’s Pub in the heart of Luray. Bring home a couple of four-packs. It is pretty good beer.
Hawksbill Brewing Company
22 Zerkel Street