Sunday, June 21, 2009

Interview with a Brewer: Bill Madden

For today's post I arranged an interview with a really great guy, local brew legend Bill Madden. The interview was prompted by my interest in the Mad Fox brewpub that I have been hearing about around town for the last year or so that is supposed to be opening right in my backyard, Falls Church. Without further ado:

Holz: I heard about the possible future opening of Mad Fox Brewing last fall from some friends, how long has Mad Fox been in the works?

Bill: Mad Fox Brewing Company has been in the works for some time and has always been my dream. I think it got serious about three years ago when a great friend of mine and current business partner, Rick Garvin, started to mentor me on how to go about developing a business. We would talk and then I would be given a task list to go out and work on and then I would get busy with a beer festival or some other distraction. The business took longer and longer to develop. Then Rick got the idea to work with me and develop Mad Fox together for a stake in the business, he put up startup capital and he has been instrumental in helping me to deal with the startup business issues while I can concentrate on the restaurant and brewing concepts. Rick has started numerous businesses over the years and I have helped in the opening or restarting of 7 brewpubs in the area so our skill sets work well together.

Holz: According to the website, Mad Fox is slated to open November 2009, is that scheduled opening date still a reality?

Bill: Well, let’s say November 2009 is probably too soon but we had to pick a target date and last fall that seemed reasonable. I would say now that the end of 2009 or the beginning of 2010 would be more like it.

Holz: A lot of my readers aren’t familiar with Bill Madden, would you mind giving us a run down of your brewing career to date?

Bill: My brewing career started with home brewing in San Francisco and a friend of mine liked my beer so much he suggested I look into going to the University of California at Davis, Master brewers Program. I graduated in 1995 from UC Davis and was hired by Capitol City Brewing Company before I graduated to become a part of their expansion team. Cap City was just the one location then at 11th and H in the District of Columbia and I was to be the brewer at Tyson’s Corner, which never happened. I opened the Cap City on Capitol Hill then designed the brewery for Shirlington, Bethesda and Baltimore. At various times I ran all those breweries and found myself the Executive Brewer for all CCBC locations. I based myself out of the Shirlington location which was the best brewery design of all the Cap City locations (if I do say so myself!). I also founded the Cap City Oktoberfest over ten years ago which is still running strong each fall season. I left CCBC after nine years to accept sweat equity in a small brewpub called Founders’ Restaurant and Brewing Company in Alexandria, Virginia. I lasted there for a year and left to pursue other interests. I was tapped by my current owner, Anthony Cavallo to restart the brewery of the former Thoroughbreds Brewing Company in Leesburg, Virginia now known as Vintage 50 Restaurant and Brew Lounge where I currently brew and helped found the NOVAbrewfest that will be happening next weekend at Moraven Park in Leesburg, June 27th and 28th.

Holz: You currently brew for Vintage 50 in Leesburg; once Mad Fox opens do you still plan to brew for Vintage 50?

Bill: I will not be the day to day brewer at Vintage 50 once Mad Fox is in construction phase but V-50 hired Dean Lake who lives in Leesburg and has brewed at many breweries in the area including Old Dominion (RIP, very sad), Thoroughbreds (RIP but now V-50!), Rockbottom Ballston and Sweetwater Tavern Sterling. I will stay on at V-50 as an Executive Brewer and will check in periodically. There are some mutually beneficial business relations that will be maintained between V-50 and Mad Fox Brewing Company.

Holz: My site is dedicated to all things beer, one of which is my home brewing hobby, did you start out as a home brewer or did you jump straight into the big leagues?

Bill: I started as a home brewer and still maintain ties to the homebrew community since I am a member of the local home brew club BURP (Brewers United for Real Potables). My lovely wife, Beth, is the Editor of BURP’s monthly newsletter as well.

Holz: Are there any local brewpubs or beer bars that have inspired your Mad Fox brewpub concept?

Bill: No, really, the concept of Mad Fox Brewing Company is different from what is available in the DC metro area. We will be brewing our own beer and the restaurant will have a European Pub feel to it with a wooden bar and wood accents to soften the feel and atmosphere. The food will be locally sourced within reason and the focus will be pizzas, panini’s, salads and seasonally changing entrĂ©e offerings that the chef will have a major focus on to showcase his or her talents. There are great pizza places in this town and there are great beer places but no one to date has put the two together. I have seen this more on the West Coast than around the Mid Atlantic region.

Holz: By all accounts starting up a brewpub is an expensive process. To date, has raising capital been tough?

Bill: Raising capital started amazingly well in the spring of 2008 and then dried up in the fall with all the excitement we had on Wall Street. We put Mad Fox in hibernation until this spring when we were approached by the Landlord of the Spectrum property in Falls Church at 444 West Broad Street. The original tenant of the property had faltered financially and we had looked at this very spot the previous summer but were excluded by that very tenant for a competing menu item, pizza. Well, when the terms of the Letter of Intent were presented to Rick and me we realized that a bad economy presents some very good opportunities. Commercial real estate prices are way down, construction costs are down, stainless steel (brewery parts) are down and most contractors, architects and a host of others are competitive for your business. We presented the economic scenario and having a location changed our perception from an investor’s perspective and we are almost there on the first round of investment to start developing the location for Mad Fox.

Holz: Running a brewpub is about a lot more than just brewing great beer, unfortunately, are you also the brain behind the restaurant aspect of Mad Fox or are you working with a partner(s)?

Bill: I have a number of consultants from investors who are successful local restaurateurs to my current employer at Vintage 50, Anthony Cavallo, who is a consultant and has many years of restaurant experience running the former Blackies’ and Lulus’ restaurants. We will hire a General Manager and Chef which I have already had some very competent folks enquire about. I will oversee all operations but will focus on what I do best for Mad Fox and that is making beer.

Holz: The Mad Fox website details your intended beer offerings, 7-10 year-round offerings and a rotating selection with 20+ seasonals sounds pretty awesome, what size brewery are you working with and how often do you plan to brew in order to keep up with the aggressive selection of beers?

Bill: My plan for the beer at Mad Fox is to offer a lot of what I am known for and then add some new creations given that we plan for a large brewing system to support some limited off site sales. I will have my usual four core beers, Kolsch, malty middle beer (ESB, Amber etc.), hoppy middle beer ( IPA, APA etc.), dark offering ( Porter, Oatmeal Stout etc.), an ever changing Belgian style seasonal, Weizen year round, then all the rest will be seasonal along with my regulars like Wee Heavy and Stealth Beer like Molotov Hoptail etc. One thing I am excited to get into will be sour beers and other funk brews that I have been adverse to do given the tight quarters I have been in the last two breweries I have had to work in. Maybe some barrel aged fun is in the works as well. The brewing system will be determined by what we can find in the used market but I have a design in mind. I would like a 15 barrel system or one slightly larger with a fermentation capacity of at least 150 barrels to have a potential annual output of over 3000 barrels. The configuration will be similar to my old baby at Cap City in Shirlington.

Holz: Of the beers listed on your site, the Devils Due and Head Knocker look the most intriguing to me, what’s your favorite beer on the list and why?

Bill: The Devils Due is a Belgian style Strong Golden Ale, think Duvel, and it comes crashing in around 9% abv which has done some damage to our V-50 patrons. The Head Knocker was inspired by a trip to the UK and a sampling of Head Cracker from Woodfordes. It is an English style Golden Barley wine and it is divine on cask. My favorite beer on the list is a question I get all the time and it is hard to pick one child over another. I am proud to have an assortment of beers on tap that covers many bases for patrons coming to V-50 or any place I have worked and each beer is designed to please folks on many levels. To pick one I cannot since each beer I brew I put much effort in designing it to please. I can tell you one beer I brew each year that the patrons love but I have a hard time drinking a full pint of and that is Punkinator, my fall spiced pumpkin beer. I actually go through the trouble of picking the pumpkins at a local farm, Homestead Farms, who carry a heirloom varietal pumpkin called Cinderella. I core and roast the pumpkins and add 100 pounds to the mash. All that work and it is not my fave.

Holz: Which beer style do you enjoy brewing/drinking the most? The least?

Bill: I enjoy brewing all beers but some are more a labor of love like the Wee Heavy which is boiled for six hours to concentrate the wort and intensify the flavors. I enjoy most beers but am not a fan of many spiced beers like Punkinator mentioned above.

A big thanks to Bill for setting aside some time to answer my questions. I can't wait for Mad Fox to open. As mentioned by Bill, a reminder, the NOVA brewfest is this coming weekend at Moraven Park in Leesburg.

Stay Mad Like a Fox,



Anonymous said...

"There are great pizza places in this town and there are great beer places but no one to date has put the two together. I have seen this more on the West Coast than around the Mid Atlantic region."

Huh? OK, maybe no brewpubs plus good pizza, but certainly great beer plus great pizza is plentiful in the area. Pizza Paradiso? Rustico?

Or does he just mean Falls Church lacks this?

What a strange feature to stress. Just make good beer and people will come.


Great interview! Props given at Yours For Good Fermentables.

To Anonymous: I think Bill is referring to BREWPUBS that specialize in pizza. (And for beer-centric good pizza spots, don't forget Fireworks in Leesbur and Rustico in Alexandria.)

HolzBrew said...


I agree with you that Paradiso and Rustico are great options in the area for pizza and beer. I believe I have posted favorable reviews of both places here on the blog.

I also agree with Tom, in that I suspect Bill meant that there aren't really any brewpub/pizza places in the area.

Regardless of how you take the comment, I think that Mad Fox will be a welcomed addition to the DC area beer scene.

Just my two cents

Anonymous said...

Dogfish has good pizza. Not some of the best pizza in the area, but better than any place like Rockbottom (which I prefer overall), GB, etc. Its only a few miles down 7. I went to the opening of Dogfish and have been back a few times, but I couldn't stay excited. I think the problem is atmosphere. I hope Mad Fox can really pull off the European Pub feel.
- Spencer