The Owners of Pale Fire Brewing Company Talk Beer, Business and the Beauty Behind the Industry
Story by Abby Short
Photos by Leanne Shenk
A fire roars while customers get cozy on black, leather couches. Books by authors such as Nora Roberts and John Grisham are perched on shelves lining the back wall. “Blood on the Tracks,” a Bob Dylan record, sits on a turntable.
But this isn’t a chic cafe. The people aren’t sipping on coffee or tea; they’re drinking glasses of crisp, cold beer.
Pale Fire Brewing Company co-founders Tim Brady and Jamie Long hoped their brewery and taproom could provide customers with a comfortable, inviting experience where they could kick back as if they were relaxing in their own living rooms.
“I love interacting with people and my favorite thing about beer is that it is a positive social lubricant,” Brady said. “A lot of great interactions with people happen over a beer. A lot of great ideas are exchanged over a beer. You meet a lot of new people over a beer.”
Neither man is new to the brewing industry. For years, Brady, who also serves as Pale Fire’s general manager, brewed and distributed for Calhoun’s Restaurant and Brewing Company, which was previously located in Harrisonburg on Court Square. Long, who also serves as head brewer for the company, worked for breweries such as Starr Hill Brewery in Crozet, Virginia, and Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales in Frederick, Maryland, before coming to Pale Fire. He also had a stint at Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint as well as the manager at Billy Jack’s Wing and Draft Shack as their beer buyer.
“We always kind of talked about opening a brewery, and then honestly the opportunity came up a little earlier than we expected, but it’s not going to happen twice necessarily,” Brady said.
That opportunity came in 2012 when Virginia passed Senate Bill 604, which allows licensed brewers to sell their beer for on-site consumption. Before the law was passed, brewers needed to have a restaurant to have a taproom. “This allows us to do what we really want to do… Without having to make a bunch of nachos,” Brady said. “I do love nachos, just for the record.” Not having a restaurant attached to their taproom also eliminates the need for kitchen equipment and extra staff, which significantly decreases their labor and overhead.
“We don’t have to invest in all sorts of flat tops, burners, fryers; all that stuff,” Long said. “Our investment, initially, is in our production equipment and in the future. That’s where all our capital will be going for expansion, so it’s a little bit simpler.” Harrisonburg offers an ideal setting for the brewery. Not only is it where the co-founders worked and established themselves for years, but they also attended James Madison University. They grew a network and built connections with other businesses in Harrisonburg. Although the local breweries compete in sales, they have a certain camaraderie that cannot be found in other industries.
“Three Brothers Brewing brought us a pizza on our first brew day and came over to check the place out, and we traded war stories,” Brady said. The inspiration behind the name “Pale Fire,” the founders said, is a reference to a book, which is in turn referencing William Shakespeare. “There’s a lot of art behind brewing, and artists are inspired by other artists,” Brady said. The artists at Pale Fire also have to double as scientists when they are crafting their masterpieces. Beer is only made with four ingredients: malt (which is typically malted barley), water, hops and yeast. However, there is a very tedious and precarious process that goes into transforming the raw ingredients to beer. Providing a recipe probably would not be sufficient to replicating a specific brew. There’s a certain technique involved.
“I like playing around with the chemistry,” Long said. “Little tweaks to the temperature or pH can result in an entirely different beer.”
While Long prefers hoppier styles, Brady likes the lighter Pale Fire beer, Saving Grace, which features notes of white pear, lemon and pineapple.
“After you’ve been here like 12 to 14 hours working, cleaning, doing all that stuff; it just goes down very easy,” Brady said. Pale Fire is equipped to produce 3,000 barrels of beer each year, or 6,000 kegs. And that’s just the beginning; there is still a lot of room for growth. Once the business expands to the point where they can buy enough equipment to be at full capacity, the brewers at Pale Fire could be making up to 10,000 barrels of beer each year.
In the long term, the owners of Pale Fire would like to see their business expand, not just financially, but also because they’d like their beer to reach more people. They have their sights set on distributing their beer to more locations across Virginia, the District of Columbia and parts of Maryland. “We don’t want to be the next Budweiser, but grow enough to where we’re comfortable reaching out to where our families are, too,” Long said.
Another goal that Brady would like to focus on is growing the brand and image of the business, while still maintaining a balance between work and leisure. “I kind of have this dream of 10 years from now, getting an email and somebody being like, ‘Hey I was in Singapore in a hostel and I found a book stamped with a Pale Fire Little Free Library,’” Brady said. “We’ll see if it happens, I might have to give it 20 years.” So why would someone want to go into the brewing industry? According to Long, the answer is easy: the beer.
“It’s an honest industry. It’s an honest business. We’re not making a bunch of chemicals or something that’s going to hurt people,” Long said. “We’re here to make something that’s 100 percent natural, 100 percent handcrafted and something that people can enjoy.”