Because every great journey has a beginning
Billsburg is a destination brewery and event venue in Jamestown, VA. We are in the heart of Williamsburg/Jamestown and next door to destinations such as The Jamestown Settlement, Jamestown Island, The Colonial Parkway, The Capital Trail, Jamestown Beach Event Park, and the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry.
By Laura Lane
Ten years ago, six large boxes appeared under Dave Baum’s Christmas tree and changed his life. His wife Kristin had gifted him with a considerable starter set of equipment for home brewing, with careful guidance from her sister’s husband and a friend of Dave’s, both experienced brewers. “Ever since then, it’s been a hobby that’s been sought after with a passion,” Dave says.
That passion has ultimately led to the founding of James City County’s only craft brewery, Billsburg Brewery, scheduled to open this fall at the county marina on Jamestown Road. While the operation is the result of four years of diligent planning, it’s certainly not something that Dave ever expected while making his first batches of beer.
His five-gallon kit eventually grew to a half-barrel commercial grade system that filled the Baums’ entire garage, often prompting curiosity from neighbors in Seasons Trace. “It started to take over everything to the point that we were tripping over stuff in the house,” says Kristin. “We had this big grain mill sitting in our kitchen blocking the door to the garage, and that’s when I said, ‘Uncle! We have to go somewhere bigger.’” There was no denying it—Dave’s hobby had become significant enough to prompt a move, and the family purchased their current home in Kingswood in 2013.
As Dave’s brewing operation increased, so did his supporters. “We had a couple of friends that came out of the woodwork with enough financial backing and said, ‘how would we take this to the next level?’ That led us to figure out the next steps,” Dave explains. Jokingly he adds, “I think at that point, someone probably should have said, ‘no, you shouldn’t do this.’”
Thankfully, they said just the opposite. “Our couple of friends turned into a team of ten investors,” Dave says, “—a small group of people that came together to say, ‘we believe in all of this.’”
The team supporting Billsburg Brewery is closely intertwined, with a key role played by Kristin, who explains ironically that her husband is now her client and her boss is her landlord. A local architect and vice president with GuernseyTingle, Kristin began preliminary designs for the brewery in 2013 as potential locations were considered. Her boss, Thomas Tingle, also served as chair for the James City County Economic Development Authority, which eventually began to seek a new tenant at the JCC Marina after Eco Discovery Park let its lease expire in May 2015.
When Billsburg Brewery applied and was chosen, Kristin not only took on the architecture and construction management for the new facility, but she’s also putting her own hobby to work by coordinating the interior design. “I really just want the space to have heart,” she says. She’ll accomplish that in a budget-friendly way with her semi-annual pickings from the largest flea market east of the Mississippi in Hillsville, Virginia. “I always get the question, ‘where are you going to put this or that?’ Now I just say, ‘it’s going in the brewery.’ We’ll have lots of fun, kitschy things with a story behind them—conversation pieces. It’s just fun because both of our hobbies are coming together.”
Teamwork and support are evident dynamics in the relationship of this couple, who met through a mutual friend in 2004 and married three years later. “Friends saw a logical fit that we didn’t see,” Dave says. “It’s an interesting combination, but it works very well,” Kristin says in agreement. Their well-matched characteristics seem to have paid off personally and professionally. “It’s exciting and terrifying all at the same time,” Kristin says of the brewery project. “People are shocked when they learn that, when you boil it down, I’m the one who got him into this in the first place!”
A Virginia native, Dave grew up in Virginia Beach and Richmond before his job in philanthropic research for GuideStar brought him to Williamsburg in 2003. Several years later, he joined Lumber Liquidators, where he currently serves as director of e-commerce, a position utilizing his blend of computer and marketing expertise. “It’s a new life now,” he says of his recent balancing act managing a full-time job, opening a new business, and being a father to his three daughters: a 21-year-old nursing student at UVA, an 18-year-old headed to VCU this fall, and a 16-year-old rising high school senior.
In fact, Dave embraces the multi-faceted aspects of his life, appreciating the change of pace that brewing offers. “I started out a long time ago working in the restaurant industry before I got into computers,” he says. “What I’ve found relaxing over the last 20 years is the ability to come home and do non-computer-based things, like cooking dinner…being the chef in the house. I think brewing is an extension of that.” Although Dave loves the process, he has hired a brew master who will play a critical role in Billsburg’s success while he focuses actively on marketing and R&D.
Enjoying a periodic break from the IT world may have originally attracted Dave to the diversion of brewing, but other factors in his life seem to have inspired him to share it with others. His mother passed away 20 years ago after a battle with lung cancer, leaving behind his father, brother and himself. “My dad always had this vision of me and my brother opening up something…a restaurant or anything…it was a dream he had for himself,” Dave says.
Unfortunately Dave’s only sibling, Ken Baum III, died in a car accident in 2013, the same year that Dave’s brewing operation was taking off. Kristin says the impact of Ken’s death brought about a new level of motivation in Dave. “I saw this whole idea start to gain more traction, because there were so many things that his brother didn’t get to do at 42 years old,” she says. “I think Dave definitely seized the day after that.”
Most recently, Dave’s father, Ken Baum II of Virginia Beach, passed away on June 4 due to heart failure after a brief illness. He was 71 years old. He was also the person behind Billsburg Brewery’s name.
“It’s a word that my dad threw out on the table 12 or 13 years ago, not too long after I moved to Williamsburg,” Dave says, as he explains how his father would casually use the word “Billsburg” when referring to the town. Kristin continues, “We’ve often joked that Williamsburg has this perception of being more formal and we say that Bill is William’s less formal, more fun uncle. Bill is just short for William.” And a fitting name for their brewery, the Baums decided, true to their down-to-earth nature.
After Mr. Baum’s passing, Kristin came across a notebook of his. “He had jotted down our address and written ‘Billsburg’ on it,” she says. “I tore it out, ran down the stairs and said, ‘It’s proof your dad is the one who coined the Billsburg phrase!” “I do think he died knowing that this was all still going to happen no matter what,” Dave says.
Though he admits that suffering family losses has fueled the reality of Billsburg Brewery, Dave attributes it more to his family-like friendships and the insight they have offered. “The ability to put together a team of tight-knit friends and a solid business plan—really that was the driver for all of this and it can’t be underestimated,” he says. “After building a plan for two years, at some point we switched gears to execute that plan and check the boxes. Thank goodness we were smart one day and wrote it down.”
Behind that plan is a diverse group of investors and board members with impressive experience. “They each represent different components that make a successful business, even if it wasn’t craft beer,” he says. “I think what allowed us to keep moving forward was being able to meet new potential investors along the way and say, ‘this is not just a pipe dream of some idiot trying to make beer.’ It was more of, ‘we have a marketing extension, engineering extensions… a team where everybody can sit on the board of directors and really provide strategic direction in different silos.’”
While each stakeholder’s contribution is crucial, it’s clear that Dave’s leadership is the common thread instilling their faith in Billsburg Brewery. Kristin remembers watching him put together the group from the very beginning. “He had this presentation on craft beer and I was completely blown away,” she says. “His knowledge and research was something that I thought was part of a hobby, but it was well beyond that.”
So what exactly is beyond that? “Our short-term goal is just to get to opening day,” Dave says with a laugh. “Then, we want to enter craft beer in the place where we are only available on-site. For our first year, our goal is to build our company, brand and products—to develop them strategically so that they fit within this market space. Then we’ll look at distribution maybe two years down the road. We really want to reinvest in this area right here and turn this location into a base camp.”
The location offers enormous potential, surrounded by attractions such as Jamestown Beach Event Park, the Virginia Capital Trail, the Colonial Parkway, the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry, Jamestown Settlement, and the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeological site. “James City County, especially our County Administrator Bryan Hill, has encouraged us to let this area become what it could be,” Dave says. “We are a destination brewery, which means that we are planning to be a venue for locals and tourism. We want to bridge that connection and become part of this community that brings everything together and gives everybody a place to stay longer.”
With plans to leverage food trucks, Billsburg Brewery will be one of the county’s only public venues on the water offering dining options. But Dave’s plans don’t stop there. “If we can expand on the amenities in this area, whether it’s to support a dog-friendly community, or a child-friendly community with playgrounds…if we can turn this into a musical venue of some sort with a small amphitheater on site…we want to encourage a multi-experience,” he says.
“If we can pull all that off, that becomes the reward,” Dave says. “It’s the satisfaction of making people happy…of bringing them together. Watching this whole thing evolve and take a life of its own has been the most fun so far and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. I see this underdeveloped opportunity becoming a reality.”
Although Billsburg will join neighboring beer establishments in York County, its unique characteristics create a new niche in the market. “Location is critical for what we’re doing,” Dave says. “We understand the opportunity that’s been given to us. I think that really makes us capable of turning this into a pillar in the community. It also allows us to extend reach into the local craft beer scene, providing an alternate option for collaborating and working closer together with these guys.”
Rather than a competition, Kristin points out, “It’s more of a complement to everyone else. Coming from the competitive world of architecture, it’s mind boggling to me that this is almost like a brotherhood. It’s very refreshing…no pun intended.”
Dave and Kristin look forward to Billsburg Brewery’s participation in community events, having already sponsored the Williamsburg Craft Beer Festival this past spring and worked on a future partnership with Virginia Fine Arts?. “The only way we can make this area grow and sustain itself on a bigger scale is to partner with other local businesses,” Dave says. “And that’s really how we want ourselves to always be seen. We want to be friendly with the people in this town but also the business owners as well.”
People from across the community should all be able to find a favorite Billsburg brew in their glasses. A recent equipment purchase makes it possible for the business to potentially open with 12 to 15 beers on draft, with the ability to brew double batches and half batches that split base recipes into different yeast strains and hops. “Having the smaller subsystem allows us to constantly rotate fresh beer,” Dave says. “That sets us apart—not going into distribution, staying very small, keeping a handle on the craft aspect of the product.”
The equipment will be housed in a newly constructed brewery building that makes much of the process visible through oversized windows. The structure also contains spaces for a testing lab, office space, packaging, and a large “cold room” that will replace the half dozen beer refrigerators in Dave and Kristin’s garage. Tap lines will run from there out to a grassy event lawn to facilitate an outdoor serving station for guests.
The second floor of the adjacent existing building is undergoing renovation to become Billsburg Brewery’s official tasting room, to include both indoor occupancy and outdoor space via a large deck overlooking the water. David Nice Builders has been steadily keeping construction on track since February, while licensing and permitting processes move along to prepare for an opening weekend sometime after Labor Day.
“It’s going to be fun and interesting and bigger than we expect,” Dave says. With camaraderie at the core of this business and this family, something tells me he’s right.