Deschutes Brewery made its first beachhead this week in the Bend-based company’s campaign to build a brand new brewery east of the Mississippi.

Brewery founder Gary Fish tapped the first pint at the taproom Deschutes formally opened Monday in Roanoke, Virginia. The taproom is the brewery’s first tangible presence in the city, other than trips by company personnel, since Deschutes announced in 2016 it had selected the city in southwestern Virginia to be the site of its second production brewery.

“They actually started lining up around noon,” said Deschutes Brewery CEO Michael LaLonde on Wednesday. “By the time we opened at 5, we had a line down the street.”

The taproom, which employs four full-timers and five part-timers, is located in a 4,700-square-foot space, formerly the home of Thelma’s Chicken and Waffles on Market Street and Church Avenue in downtown Roanoke. The site is in the heart of Roanoke’s shopping district and close to the city Market Square, site of weekly farmers markets and hub of the city’s small businesses, Starr Anderson, communications manager of the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday.

“There was a solid maybe 200 people waiting in line for those doors” to open, she said.

Opening day featured a virtual-reality corner where patrons could take a virtual tour of Black Butte, the Metolius River and the Bend home brewery. LaLonde said a small brewing system on site will provide some product for the tasting room. A Northwest meets Southeast IPA is in the works, he said.

Deschutes Brewery is set to break ground next year on 49 acres east of town on a new brewery, estimated in April 2016 to cost $85 million and produce about 190,000 barrels of beer its first year when it starts production in 2020. LaLonde said he expects to see the first version in October of a design for the brewery campus.

“We’ll make a decision on what we want to change, then continue to the next iteration,” he said.

Deschutes Brewery is making its biggest investment ever as a company in the Roanoke venture, LaLonde said. Although excitement for Deschutes grew during the site search and selection in March 2016, it isn’t the first West Coast brewer to build in the Roanoke area. That distinction belongs to Ballast Point Brewing Co. of San Diego, California.

In April 2016, Ballast Point announced it would locate a production brewery in Daleville, Virginia, about 20 minutes from downtown Roanoke. Ballast Point also opened a taproom, in June, also to long lines of beer drinkers, and began a test run at its brewery in July, according to The Roanoke Times.

Competition among brewers, of which the U.S. has about 6,000, is cutting into margins and slowing what had been double-digit growth year over year. LaLonde said Deschutes has sold about 5 percent less by volume of beer this year than last, so far. That’s due, in part, to dropping some established labels in favor of new products that consumers are still catching up to, he said.

“We knew there’d be a little downturn this year in our business,” LaLonde said. “We have great plans for 2018. We focus on what we do and what we do well. We get better because of competition.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7815, jditzler@bendbulletin.com

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