Army National Guard Veteran, Tom Wilder, and Army Reserves Veteran, Neil McCannon, set out to build an empire of home-brewed beer in their hometown of Virginia Beach, VA in 2012. After successfully crowd funding their endeavor via Kickstarter, Tom and Neil were delighted to open their doors for business roughly 18 months ago, making them among the first veteran-owned breweries by vets, for vets.
What makes them special is the idea behind their brewery and how frequently they give back to their own community.
"For Young Veterans Brewing Company brewing is about love," Tom said. "Since our first batch, we have been delighted by the artistry of the process and the creativity of recipe development and perfection. We are captivated by the detail and scientific precision required during the production and maturation processes. Mostly though, we love the joy we provide with our distinctive, high quality beer."
Tom and Neil began experimenting after a stint as roommates.
"We lived together in a house together with like six other people in our twenties," Neil said. "We had a home brew kit brought over and we made it together; it was a brown ale and it turned out well. If it hadn't turned out better than we expected, I don't think we would have continued."
"The military has played a pivotal role in both our lives, shaping us as men and as citizens. Combined with our love of craft beer and experience in home-brewing these last five years, our idea took shape and we are ready to begin our new careers as small business owners and as brewers." -- Neil McCannon
This set them apart from most home brewers because they began experimenting shortly after their third batch whereas many will brew from standard kits.
"When you first start home brewing, they supply you with basically everything you need to brew beer," Tom said. "After the third one we basically said screw the kit and began experimenting on our own, becoming addicted to brewing."
In opening the brewery, the name was the easy part. Tom and Neil are natives of the area and both served in the military.
"To us, Young Veterans is where we're from," Neil explained. "We're vets and we wanted to open our own business. We're making a call to where we're from, and the name was the easy answer. We do have a lot of focus on veterans charities and the military because it meant a lot to us. It was something [the military] we wanted to keep in our lives."
"We were really worried that someone was going to steal our idea because we were YVBC about two years before we opened," Tom said. "It would have been easy for someone to come in with a decent amount money and say, 'Nice name' and take off with it. We're lucky that didn't happen. We were very much among the first of veteran-themed breweries to pop up and shortly after we opened, Veterans Brewing popped up in Chicago, who is a high-volume, money making contract brewery. It puts pressure on us to stand out."
Originally, the two were looking to start a grandiose brewery with a large concert space and a tap room, but after considering the options they had in regard to venue size, budget and production, Tom and Neil opened a small brewery near Oceana Naval Base in Virginia Beach, completing their transition from home brewers to brewery owners.
Tom explained that in order to get their feet on the ground Neil attended the Siebel Institute in Chicago and Munich and obtained an International Degree in Brewing Science last year to further their goal and his knowledge as a brewer and Tom gained experience working in multiple facets of a distributing company."
Today, they can barely keep up with the foot traffic from their 40/60 military to civilian customer base and are looking to expand. They recently found that they'll be sharing the area with a veterans service group just up the street. Several of YVBC's craft beers have become a staple in the Hampton Roads community, even traveling to other venues for "steal the taps" events in the area. The tap room features a membership club called 'Canteen Command' with military themed swag and a personalized mug that allows members to drink unreleased brews before they debut to the general public.
The duo is known for a variety of incredible brews with catchy names and nostalgic labels like "Pineapple Grenade," "Jet Noise," "Semper F.I.P.A.," "Night Vision," "New Recruit," "DD-214," and "Big Red Rye." For more information about Tom, Neil and the gang at YVBC, they can be found at yvbc.com or on Instagram: @YVBC.
Brittany Slay is the Editor of American Veteran Magazine and a US Navy veteran, completing a 9 month deployment to Bahrain in 2014. She's a fan of dark humor and enjoys writing, visiting breweries, and meeting people.
And check out American Veteran Magazine at amvets.magloft.com.