VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Two Iraq War veterans eager to slake a growing American thirst for craft beer are setting up a brewery less than a mile from the main runway for the Navy's East Coast master jet base.
Their beers have names like “Jet Noise Double IPA and “Pineapple Grenade Hefeweizen.” And their motto strikes a military chord: “Brewing With the Freedom We Fought For.”
Young Veterans Brewing Co. is set to open in September in military-heavy Hampton Roads. For the brewery president, Thomas Wilder, and the co-founder, Neil McCanon, the business was born of struggles the two endured after they returned to American soil in 2005 from their overseas assignments.
The craft brewery is one of a growing corps popping up in Virginia and the nation.
Virginia, which is celebrating its second craft beer month in August, has seen the industry grow from about 40 craft breweries last year to more than 60 in 2013.
The 29-year-old Wilder spent more than a year in Iraq after joining the Army National Guard in 2003 right out of high school. He lost two close friends in a 2004 bombing at a base in Mosul that killed 22 people, including 18 Americans.
“Being at war is tough, but you don't realize how tough it is while you're there,” Wilder said as the sound of F/A-18 fighter jets roared overhead from nearby Naval Air Station Oceana.
Many vets face trouble reorienting to normal jobs, finding adequate paying jobs or employment period after military service. Many also grapple with war wounds or invisible post-traumatic stress.
Upon returning home, Wilder tried his hand at school, hoping to become a teacher. McCanon, 29, went through a revolving door of hirings and firings. But both knew they wanted to work for themselves.
When they first experimented with a home brewing kit the high school friends from Virginia Beach received as a gift, Wilder said he was unfamiliar with craft beers.
His knowledge then was limited to mass-produced domestic beers.
The pair hosted house parties offering up free beer to friends and family to test their creations. Now they hope their dream of finally opening a brewery will provide an opportunity to hire other veterans and give back to military-related charities.
“For me, it's sort of my way of showing that after service there's more to do,” Wilder said. “For a lot of soldiers who come home, there's a lot of trouble. I've been through that and I know what that's like.”
In Virginia, a budding interest in craft beer is helping brewers grow at a faster rate than the national average.
Production in Virginia grew nearly 37 percent to more than 84,000 barrels in 2012, more than double the national growth rate of 15 percent, according to the Brewers Association.