Four Mason alumni walk into a bar….
Not really. But they do walk into their own brewery, winery, or distillery nearly every day, and their success is no joke. Not far from where they once crammed for exams, these entrepreneurs each fashion and distribute a distinctive line of beverages—beer, wine, or spirits—throughout Northern Virginia and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
The following four alumni are just a sampler of more than 15 Patriots crafting beverages in this growing industry. And Mason, they say, played a big part in what’s on tap.
Photos by Evan Cantwell
Matt Greer, Caboose Brewing Company
While still a student at Mason, Matt Greer tried his hand at beer making with a home brewing kit called Mr. Beer.
“I had no idea what I was doing and I had no patience,” he recalls. “Beer takes a good two or three weeks to make well. Three days later I was like, I think this is done. It wasn’t. It just tasted terrible.”
Fast-forward to find Greer, BS Biology ’94, now immersed in the intricate process of craft brewing and sales at his own establishment, Caboose Brewing Company, in Vienna, Virginia. Greer and partner Tim McLaughlin opened Caboose in May 2015. The two had first planned to start a software company—a venture they often discussed over cold ones at the Vienna Whole Foods, “the only craft beer in town,” Greer says.
It wasn’t long before the brewery idea took hold instead, and with help from their wives, the pair fashioned a locally sourced menu of food as well, like Virginia pork belly with Pennsylvania apple cider glaze.
After graduating from Mason, Greer worked as a microbiologist, then founded multiple startups before opening Caboose. What he learned as a Patriot, he says, still resonates.
“Everything that happens in that room is biology and chemistry,” he says of the on-site brewery. “It’s not often you get to study something you actually end up doing.”
Greer plans to open another Caboose this year in the Mosaic District in Merrifield, Virginia. The new venture will make beer and cider, he says, and may even include a distillery.
For more information about Caboose Brewing Company, visit www.caboosebrewing.com.
—Cathy Cruise, MFA ’93
Sudha Patil, Narmada Winery
When Sudha Patil, BS Chemistry ’83, was working on her degree at Mason in the early 1980s, winemaking wasn’t even on her radar.
She came to the United States from Thane, India, a small town outside of Mumbai, India, with her husband, Pandit, so he could study engineering. After he completed his doctorate, it was Sudha’s turn, and the young mother of two began taking classes at Mason in the evenings.
“I had no idea at the time if I would get into dental school, but I loved chemistry and figured if it didn’t work out I would get a PhD and teach,” she says.
It did work out, and for more than 20 years Sudha has enjoyed a career as an endodontist. In fact, she continues to practice part-time. Her love of chemistry has also played a role in creating Narmada’s award-winning wines.
“My husband used to travel all over the world for his business,” she says. “That’s how we got interested in wine.”
As the Patils began pondering retirement, the plans for Narmada Winery came to be. In 1999, they purchased the 51-acre site in Amissville, Virginia. In 2007 they celebrated their first harvest of 14 tons of grapes. In between, they worked with some Virginia experts on the specifics of grape growing and farming, and Sudha took winemaking classes with one of the top winemakers in Virginia.
It wasn’t long before the awards began pouring in. In the past decade, Narmada wines have won more than 64 gold medals in national and international competitions. Most recently they won a medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and Winemaker Challenge Platinum for their 2014 Yash-Vir Red Wine.
When asked if she has a favorite wine, Sudha won’t commit. “It depends on so many things—the season, the food we are having, my mood.”
For more information about the Narmada Winery, visit narmadawinery.com.
—Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA ’95
Sarah Meyers, BadWolf Brewing Company
Sarah Meyers, BS Management ’10, says the idea to start a brewery was “deeply tied” to her Mason experience. In fact, she created the original business plan in her School of Business capstone course.
Meyers co-owns BadWolf Brewing Company in Manassas, Virginia, with her husband, Jeremy. It was during a trip to Germany that Jeremy developed an interest in home brewing. Soon friends were telling the couple they should open their own brewery.
The Meyers opened Little BadWolf in June 2013.
“The day we opened we had a line across the plaza,” Meyers says. “We ran out of beer very quickly. The next day the same thing happened, and the third day [Jeremy] decided he needed to quit his job.” He now works full-time at the business.
In addition to her work at BadWolf, Meyers also works full-time in human resources for an IT firm.
“A typical day is kind of insane,” she says. “I juggle my day job and back-end business stuff for BadWolf. It’s always simultaneous.”
In August 2015, the Meyers opened Big BadWolf, also in Manassas. The smaller brewery now acts as a “pilot brewery” to test recipes and get customer feedback. From there, recipes go to Big BadWolf. The company also has four distributors that serve all of Virginia and Washington, D.C.
“We really built up our business, and we’re really starting to see the benefits and rewards,” Meyers says.
Her Mason degree has helped with all aspects of running a business. “My management background has helped me to focus on the most important things and solve problems,” she says.
Although she admits being an entrepreneur is hard work, for Meyers the greatest joy is seeing her employees and customers happy. “We’re out there doing this because we have a passion for it. We love what we’re doing, and it’s more than a hobby. It’s a way of living for us.”
For more information about BadWolf Brewing Company, visit www.badwolfbrewingcompany.com.
Bill Karlson, KO Distilling
When Bill Karlson, MS Software Systems Engineering ’94, retired from the information technology industry in 2009, he was looking for a new project. It came in the form of a craft distillery he started with former classmate and longtime friend John O’Mara.
The two 1982 graduates of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy opened the doors of KO Distillery in Manassas, Virginia, in September 2015. Named for the co-founders—Karlson is the K, O’Mara brings the O—the award-winning enterprise is already expanding, and Karlson admits it is bigger than he expected.
“We imagined it smaller,” he says with a laugh. “Kind of like you would make beer in your basement. It got on steroids really quick.”
But it didn’t happen overnight. Karlson says it took them a year to find the space and another year to build it out, including the cozy tasting room with Virginia-specific decor. And they set some hefty goals for themselves, such as completing 200 mashes in 2016.
Now they are expanding with the help of a $25,000 Virginia Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund grant that the City of Manassas matched. All their corn, wheat, and rye is produced in Virginia by Bay’s Best Feed Farm in Heathsville, Virginia, a fact that is important to Karlson.
“Like the ‘farm to table’ movement, we call it ‘grain to glass,’” he says. “Not only are we making a great product, we are supporting small businesses and the local economy.”
KO Distilling took part in this year’s Mason Homecoming indoor tailgate, and their spirits were recently featured at the Hylton Performing Arts Center’s gala.
When asked what his favorite KO product is, Karlson admits: “I’m more of a bourbon drinker.” He prefers KO’s Bare Knuckle wheat whiskey. “John is the gin drinker,” he says. “He is the reason we make gin.”
For more information about KO Distilling, visit www.kodistilling.com.
—Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA ’95