Deschutes says it still plans to brew beer in Roanoke

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Deschutes Brewery operates a tasting room in downtown Roanoke.
Photo by Don Petersen

Two years ago, when Bend, Ore.-based Deschutes Brewery announced plans to make Roanoke its East Coast outpost, some people reacted as if the Star City had won a massive lottery.

In April, when Deschutes said it was adjusting those plans, some residents reacted as if Roanoke had been jilted. Both reactions were a little over the top.

Instead of sticking with a plan awarding Deschutes economic development incentives as it hit hiring and investment targets, the company now has decided to move at its own pace.

“We’re committed to Roanoke,” says Deschutes CEO Michael LaLonde. “I think it says that when we decided to go ahead and purchase the land [for the brewery] for $3.2 million … We love the town. We love the community, and we have been investing there.

“We just need to be careful,” he adds. “We’re a small business. We’re employee- and family-owned. We don’t have the balance sheet of big multinational corporations. Even a $3.2 million investment is big. But we decided to make that investment and just show our commitment. We’re excited about moving to Roanoke when the time is right.”

Deschutes had planned to open the Roanoke brewery by 2021, investing $85 million and creating 108 jobs, according to a March 2016 announcement.

“Right now, things are looking a little bit slow in the craft beer world, especially in some of our larger markets,” LaLonde says. “We haven’t said we have a new date or we have a new size of the brewery. We haven’t made any decision like that. But we recognize that we may have to pivot at some point. I can’t tell you a date or size or number of employees. We would like to continue on the path that we were on, but we are just conscious of the business environment.”

That environment includes an apparent shift by some millennials from craft beer to wine and spirits and a trend in which large companies buy and heavily promote craft-beer brands. Anheuser-Busch InBev, for example, acquired Virginia’s largest craft brewer, Devils Backbone, in 2016.

“It’s really tough competition right now,” LaLonde says.

While Roanoke awaits Deschutes, San Diego-based Ballast Point Brewing Co. opened its East Coast brewery in Botetourt County last year. The facility includes a tasting room and a restaurant.

Hilary Cocalis, the company’s vice president of marketing, says it “opened on schedule and according to our plan.”

Ballast Point is owned by Constellation Brands, whose alcoholic-beverage brands include Corona, Modelo, Robert Mondavi, Woodbridge and Black Velvet.

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