Eight years ago, Matt Hagerman both revived and jumpstarted the craft brewing movement in Loudoun, opening Lost Rhino Brewing Company in a nondescript industrial space in Ashburn.
In 2011, Lost Rhino was Loudoun’s only craft brewery. Today, there are more than 30 across county and all can trace their roots in some fashion to Loudoun’s first production brewery—Old Dominion Brewing Company, which operated for two decades in the Beaumeade Corporate Park, just three miles from Lost Rhino’s tasting room.
Hagerman lived that story.
To celebrate the past and the future, Lost Rhino plans a full day of activities on Saturday, June 22, with the release of its 2019 anniversary beer, Ocho Rhino, music by Mercy Creek from 2 to 5 p.m., Al’s Food Truck from 7 to 10 p.m. and an eight-hour braised rib food special.
He grew up in Winchester and went to Virginia Tech for his mechanical engineering degree. One day, he joined a tour of Old Dominion’s plant.
“I was that guy at the end of the tour who was like, ‘hey man, can you get me a job?” Hagerman said. “I know [owner] Jerry [Bailey] was probably pretty annoyed at the time, but he was gracious enough to bring me back to his office, give me some contacts.”
At the time, there were three or four other breweries in the region. “I harassed all those guys. I didn’t care. I would take whatever I could get, but none of them was really hiring,” he said.
He didn’t give up.
“What I did was call Jerry every two weeks for four months until he hired me,” Hagerman said. “I harassed him. I knew that he was in his office at his desk on Fridays around 3:30 before he’s leaving. He eventually hired me as a janitor. I cleaned floors. That was my job initially.”
He then started working on machinery and overhauling pumps—anything that was mechanical that needed attention, becoming the go-to fix it guy.
But he wanted to be a brewer. That opportunity began by taking on extra weekend work, making Old Dominion’s beloved root beer from scratch. Back to work on Mondays, he was the one bottling the batch.
With that foot in the door, he worked as a brewer for about four years before the company was sold in an Anheuser-Busch-backed purchase to the Fordham Brewing Company. Hagerman, and several other staffers, left shortly thereafter.
Hagerman moved on to brew at Growlers in Gaithersburg, MD, but longed for a return to Ashburn and to compete with Anheuser-Busch’s Old Dominion.
“I wanted to be a smaller brewery, but I wanted to do all the things that Dominion wasn’t able to do or they couldn’t do,” he said.
He never got that chance. But he got his opportunity.
He had been working with the Small Business Development Center in Sterling and had a business plan and prospectus complete.
Then he got the call.
The new owners were closing the Ashburn brewpub. The brewing equipment was for sale. The call came on Thursday. The sale was Monday.
“I had three and a half or four days to raise the money to buy the equipment to get to AB’s desk by Monday,” he said.
Scrambling for ideas, he remembered the NOVA Beer Festival was being held at Morven Park that weekend.
“What better place to raise money than at a beer festival, right?” he recalled. He set up a table in the field amid scores of serving tents, with stickers to hand out and a pitch to make.
“A beer festival, it turns out, is not the best place to raise money. You’ve got everybody out there and most of them are hammered. They’re drinking all day and saying, ‘sure, I’ll put money in.’”
He quickly realized that those promises were unlikely to pan out before Monday morning. As he was packing up his truck Sunday night and wondering what the next step would be, he said a young lady from China who lived in the area, and who he learned was allergic to alcohol, approached him. “She said, ‘hey, I’m interested in investing’—Super random.”
But she knew the business, seeing that her brothers operated seven Anheuser-Busch distributorships in Beijing.
“She gave me the money out there on the field that night. I literally forwarded it to AB Monday morning and then I bought the equipment—with a big non-refundable deposit—which they made very clear when I was buying it.”
He had six weeks to decommission and dismantle the equipment before bulldozers came in to demolish the building, making way for the construction of another data center. He filled six rented 18-wheelers and a box truck and then set about raising money to pay for that storage and look for space.
“I didn’t have a broker, didn’t know how to get a broker,” he said. He stumbled upon the Ashburn Technology Park. “I’m like, Red Rum, that’s a cool name,” he recalled.
He called the St. John Properties’ leasing office in Frederick, MD. They said he needed a lot of things he didn’t have—like money in the bank. But Hagerman said the daughter of the owner was managing the office. She liked beer and gave him a chance.
To outfit the space, Hagerman picked up the tables, windows, doors and anything else he could at an auction of the remaining pieces of the Old Dominion operation. They were repurposed in his new tasting room.
The brewing system and those touches build a connection to Old Dominion that is important to Hagerman.
“That’s been brewing beer since 1989. That’s pretty cool. It’s something we can truly really say was part of something when craft was pioneering back in the day,” he said. “When Dominion opened in Ashburn, “there was nothing out here. It was literally farmland and that was about it.”
‘We’re Staying Put’
Lost Rhino quickly tapped into the (now obvious) demand for fresh local beer and has been growing ever since, including the opening of the Lost Rhino Retreat restaurant in Brambleton.
Last month, the brewery renewed its lease and took over more space at its Red Rum Drive location. Behind the tasting room walls, the brewery is planning to install a new, American-built six-tank system that will triple the brewery’s capacity. Perhaps more exciting for patrons, the brewery opened a patio to provide outside space for the first time. Lost Rhino also is going to offer more canned beer, both locally and in the Tampa, FL market.
“I guess you probably know this already, but it is not the cheapest place in Virginia to do manufacturing or any of that type of stuff,” Hagerman said. “But one thing to remember is that Ashburn was really a pioneer for craft brewing. They were one of the very first into the game in the mid-80s.”
While there are lots of options out there for cheaper space, “it is really important that we keep the roots here in Loudoun County and in Ashburn in particular, because they run pretty deep for craft beer as a whole. Those are stories that we can tell that make up who we are,” Hagerman said. “We’re staying put.”
In addition to expanding his own operations, Hagerman and his staff have worked to help many of Loudoun’s new breweries get started—from offering advice to cleaning their kegs.
“We want to make sure the right impression for craft gets out there. Craft as a whole, craft as a brand, not just Loudoun County or not just Lost Rhino. It is all of us together.”
In addition to the collaborative effort among brewers, Hagerman also highlights the strong support from the county’s Department of Economic Development, Visit Loudoun and the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s been super crazy, but a lot of fun,” he said.
Lost Rhino is located at 21730 Red Rum Drive, Suite 142, in Ashburn.
For more information, go to lostrhino.com.