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Living the Dream | Making a Beer Store a Reality

Living the Dream | Making a Beer Store a Reality
Stacey Goers

Beer lovers daydream of quitting their day jobs, changing their careers and getting started in the brewing world. Become a brewer or a bar owner or a distributor anything where you taste, sip and enjoy beer all day long.

Beth Helle and Julie Drews are doing it.

Yes, be jealous. Well, sort of (no surprise, it’s a lot of work).

Beth chatted with about the new beer, wine and homebrew store she and Julie are opening in Alrington, Va. After hours of consideration, months of saving and piles of research, The Brew Shop will open this fall with a heavy focus on all things locally sourced.

Two years ago, Julie and Beth were CPAs, working long, frustrating hours. Both homebrewers with their husbands, they realized they were not as happy professionally as they could be.

“Life is too short to play it safe,” Beth said.

They decided to change it up and focus on their love of homebrewing and the Northern Virginia region they call home.

Notably, they recently made the decision to leave their day jobs and put their energies fully into the store.

“About six months ago, we began looking into space for The Brew Shop and the reality hit us,” Beth said. “You can’t work 60 hours a week and try to start a business. Julie took the plunge first by quitting her job last September and I followed suit a couple of months ago.”

Here’s our first chat with Beth and please follow the team’s blog for more updates.

PD: When do you plan on opening?

BH: Early fall is our goal just in time for football season! If it were up to us, we would open our doors tomorrow, but we have quite a few hoops and hurdles to conquer before we can open our doors including permitting and construction.

Who or what were your primary influencers on this journey?

We both believe that neither of us would be pursuing this dream without the other. Opening a business with a business partner involves a lot of trust and patience. We also wouldn’t be doing this without the love, support and encouragement of our husbands thank goodness they love beer.

Julie Drews & Beth Helle
Julie Drews & Beth Helle

A couple of years ago, Julie and I toured 3 Stars Brewing Company in DC with our husbands. I’ve toured a lot of breweries, but I’ve never experienced a more personal tour than the one we received that day from co-founder, Dave Coleman. Dave described the commitment and sacrifice it took to open 3 Stars, but then he said nothing compares to working hard next to your best friend doing something that you love. That moment was the start of the dream for us — to do something that we love, together.

As for our beer influences, we are both Midwestern natives who grew up with craft beer powerhouses like Bells, Great Lakes and Founders.  … The beer that changed me from solely wine drinker to a beer lover was Boulevard Tank 7. I had an IPA epiphany over a Mad Fox Orange Whip IPA. And Bell’s Special Double Cream Stout was love at first sip. We hope to give our customers those special beer moments.

You are doing growler fills! How many do you plan to have on tap? What breweries to start?

We plan on starting with four taps with an easy option to expand to eight taps depending on demand. We’re hoping the growler fills will help us showcase our emphasis on the local beer market by offering unique access to Virginia, DC and Maryland breweries who aren’t bottling yet.

Why did you pick Arlington?

The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor of Arlington is a young, vibrant, beer-loving community without a true beer store. More importantly, Arlington is our community and home.

What have been some of your biggest surprises?

How much people want to help us! The DC area is full of collaborative, innovative and entrepreneurial people that want to help us succeed. We’ve been surprised at how many other small business owners have lent us a hand by showing us their inventory system, recommending vendors, sharing their distributor lists, or even letting us work in their shop to gain experience. Julie has been gaining invaluable experience working at Red, White and Bleu in Falls Church and we’ve both learned a lot working the bottling shift at Port City in Alexandria.

What has been difficult when you didn’t expect it to be?

The process of leasing a space and orchestrating a buildout has been much more difficult and slower than we ever imagined. The countless calls and coordination with our landland, architect, general contractor and the many, many Arlington county regulators have given us good reason to stay on top of our research by trying a new beer. We’re both lucky and cursed that our leased space started as an empty concrete box without electrical, HVAC or plumbing — with a blank canvas we have the ability to design and construct the shop of our dreams, but we also have to start literally from the ground up.

Your favorite beer from DC is ___ and from VA is ____ and from MD is _____.

Beth: My favorite beer from DC is 3 Stars Peppercorn Saison, from VA is Old Ox Golden Ox and from Maryland is Brewer’s Art Resurrection.

Julie: My favorite beer from DC is a new collaboration DC Brau did with Oskar Blues called Smells Like Freedom, and from VA is Hardywood Park Great Return and from Maryland is Monocacy Riot Rye.

What is left on your “to do” list before opening?

BH: At the top of the list, drink more beer. The more we taste, the more we can help our customers have a beer moment. We’re continuing to work with distributors and vendors to decide what beers, kegs and homebrew supplies we want to carry and we’ve been busy visiting local breweries to find the best new local offerings. We’ll also be making our own homebrew kits, so we’ll be spending a lot of time in our kitchens perfecting our own homebrew recipes. The most tedious part of our “to do” list is finalizing our construction plans and permit approval with Arlington, so we can begin construction.

Any advice to people looking to start a small business that’s related to beer and brewing?

Find a really great support team to help you with the parts of your business that you are not an expert in including a trusted attorney, accountant, and architect. Our team, especially our architect, has been godsend in terms of understanding our vision and helping us make it a reality.

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