New District Brewing Hits the One-Year Mark
Grab a growler and sample craft suds at this homegrown start-up—the first distribution brewery to hang a shingle in Arlington since 1916.
It was October 2014, and Mike Katrivanos faced a choice.
A passionate and prolific home brewer for years, he’d long dreamed of opening a brewery in his home town of Arlington—one that would not only make and serve beer, but also distribute it. He’d already had meetings with several county officials to blaze the necessary trails for zoning, permitting and licensing.
And now, one of the potential spaces he’d had his eye on to house the venture—one of the only buildings in Arlington that could accommodate such a project at that time, in fact—suddenly had become available, a full year ahead of schedule.
After a sleepless night, he signed the lease in an industrial area of South Arlington just a couple doors down from the legendary punk rock recording studio Inner Ear Studios, and only three streets over from where he visited his grandmother as a kid.
Things would start in an unglamorous fashion: by hauling out four dumpsters’ worth of abandoned stuff. But fast-forward more than two years and New District Brewing, which was effectively born on that day, just celebrated its first anniversary in business. In its first year, it turned out 500 barrels of beer from its 14 taps.
Unlike a lot of breweries and wineries, this wasn’t a pet project of a lawyer or stockbroker who struck it rich. But what Katrivanos lacked in cash he made up for with ingenuity, a vast network of friends and a little help from the county government.
By day, Katrivanos works as a civilian engineer for the Army at Ft. Belvoir. His specialty: rapidly designing and building just about anything the military brass suddenly decides it needs. That involves plenty of electrical work and metal work. It’s handy when it comes to making beer. As a home brewer, it meant rigging up a secondhand boiler in his own backyard.
As a brewery owner, it meant designing his own cooling system, which now snakes across the ceilings and the walls to regulate the temperatures of the fermentation tanks, and repurposing old coffee roasting vats into boiling tanks.
But getting a small business off the ground also meant enlisting a lot of help. A high school friend helped draw up the architectural plans, and Katrivanos’s extended Greek family pitched in with elbow grease. He praises the “very good and creative” group of county employees that helped him along the way.
There were other helpful believers, too. When Katrivanos heard that an area florist was going out of business, his landlord, the owner of StorQuest moving and storage next door, lent a truck so that he and his start-up team could pick up the flower shop’s massive, walk-in refrigerator and repurpose it as a keg cooler. In fact, the only contractor he brought in was a drywall installer.
“Everywhere along the way, there was someone who helped us solve a problem,” Katrivanos says.
The modest, slow-growing operation—New District just started distributing to its first two bar accounts in the county this year—is a far cry from Sehkraft, the ambitious brewery/restaurant/beer garden/live music space in Clarendon that recently shut its doors less than a year after opening.
But its beer selection isn’t modest. Pull up a stool in the garage-style tasting room, peruse the list, and you may find a dark lager brewed with local Commonwealth Joe coffee, a Hefeweizen brewed with Virginia honeysuckle, or a French saison with ginger. The flagship beer is called 1821, a saison brewed with a Greek mountain plant loosely translated as “herb of the gods.”
It’s been enough to draw a steady stream of neighbors who hitch up their dogs, play board games while they sip, and even show up for yoga on Saturday mornings.
“When I was a little kid, this was not a part of town you’d want to go to,” Katrivanos says. Now, he appreciates its charm as one of the last areas of the county untouched by chain retail and hi-rise buildings. He hopes the county sees New District’s success as an example going forward.
“The innovation happens in places like this,” he says.