When Tim Brady and Jamie Long started Pale Fire Brewing Co. in April 2015, they had a clear mission: to brew great craft beer and have fun in the process.
Both graduates of JMU — Brady in 2002 and Long in 2007 — the duo got their respective starts in the industry by working locally and building experience along the way.
Following graduation, Brady began working as an assistant brewer at Calhoun’s Restaurant & Brewing Co. on Court Square in Harrisonburg, which has since closed. He remained in that role from 2002 until 2008.
“That was a great learning experience,” Brady said. “It was a two-man team so I kind of learned a bit of everything.”
Brady then began working as a beer distributor for Specialty Beverage of Virginia where he sold craft beer to bars and restaurants all over Virginia, including Harrisonburg. That’s where his relationship with Long began to develop.
“I was buying beer for Jack Brown’s and Clementine’s, and Tim [Brady] was working with Specialty, so we got to know each other that way,” Long said.
Long also worked as a bartender and bar manager at Clementine’s, and following his graduation he decided to take a more formal approach to the beer brewing business.
Long opted out of attending law school and decided to go to brewing school instead. Long attended the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, where he studied the fundamentals of craft brewing from world-class brewers. From there he went on to work an apprenticeship with Starr Hill Brewery in Crozet, Virginia.
After about six months of learning and mastering the craft of brewing, Long then got a job with Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, Maryland, where he assumed the role of lead brewer, managed a team of brewers and worked in research and development.
Long got his start in craft brewing by brewing homemade beer with his father in Culpeper, Virginia.
“I used to go home to my dad’s and started home brewing with him,” Long said. “From there it sort of evolved into a passion and a drive to do that as a career.”
Long also said that his father was anything but disappointed when he decided not to become a lawyer.
“He was ecstatic,” Long said. “He definitely thought I’d make a better brewer than a lawyer.”
Working in the local brewing industry led Brady and Long to develop a working relationship and eventually a friendship that would lead to becoming business partners. The two had often joked about potentially opening a brewery together. Opportunity eventually came knocking for them when they were approached about a vacancy in the Ice House in downtown Harrisonburg, where the building developers were looking for a brewery.
“I think when we started to realize that we might be able to put Pale Fire together was when we were approached about this space in the Ice House,” Brady said. “The building developers saw the popularity of craft beer in Harrisonburg and knew that they wanted a brewery as a cornerstone business of their development.”
The Ice House is an 80,000-square-foot former industrial ice factory. Brady said that the space is ideal for a brewery.
“What people don’t realize is that a brewery needs industrial infrastructure,” Brady said. “The floors back here were built to handle industry. We have a loading dock, all of the non-glamorous things, but you can’t have a brewery like ours unless you have those things.”
And thus, last April, Pale Fire Brewing Co. was born. The name may seem simple, but it’s anything but.
“Basically the concept is that creativity inspires creativity in others,” Brady said. “All of the beer we make and the name Pale Fire comes from creativity that’s inspired us, and our creative output is our beer.”
The name Pale Fire comes from a book by Russian author Vladimir Nabokov, who in turn borrowed the term from a play titled “Timon of Athens” by William Shakespeare.
“Nabokov was inspired by Shakespeare, and we were inspired by that creativity,” Brady said. “We express our creativity through brewing and hopefully we’ll inspire others.”
It’s been close to a year since Pale Fire opened and the owners have seen their fare share of trials and tribulations.
“The toughest thing for us starting out was trying to figure out a production schedule, since we have no prior basis of how much we needed,” Brady said.
Pale Fire aims to produce about 3,500 barrels of beer annually. Each barrel equates to 31 gallons of beer. Right now, Pale Fire only distributes beer by the keg, which is about half a barrel at 15.5 gallons.
The duo hopes to evolve from keg distribution to bottles on shelves in retail stores.
“Our next big step as a business is putting in a bottling line and having six-packs out there,” Brady said. “The first two we’re going to package are our Deadly Rhythm American pale ale and Salad Days, our American saison.”
Money can be an issue in the brewing world, as much of the machinery is expensive, making the industry very capital intensive. Grassroots and quality control are two staples of Pale Fire’s philosophy, that’s why the owners want to have their own packaging equipment on site.
“Our biggest emphasis, in addition to making unique styles, is quality,” Long said. “We want to make sure we have our hands on it, have all the control, we definitely want to have our own equipment.”
While Pale Fire doesn’t currently have a kitchen, and there are no plans in the future to ever have one, it still offers unique opportunities for patrons to get their grub on while enjoying craft beer. Customers can order food from either Food.Bar.Food across the street or Pure Eats next door and have the food delivered to the tap room.
“There’s so many good chefs out there, and within three blocks of here there’s 15 restaurants I’d be happy to eat at,” Brady said. “We’re much better brewers and they’re much better chefs, so the guest is much better served in that relationship.”
The owners said that they’re still currently basking in the fanfare of being a new and unique spot in Harrisonburg, but are nothing but optimistic for the future.
“It’s always good to remind ourselves that as important as Pale Fire is to us and how much work we put into it, there’s still 50,000 people in this city and it would be easy to assume that everybody has heard of us,” Brady said. “But there’s still plenty of craft beer fans who haven’t heard of us yet, so we have to keep spreading the word.”
Contact Peter Cagno at [email protected]