by Warren Varney, Nerd, Wannabe Rhino Chaser
Over the past few years, a trend is happening with the term “Nerd”. When I grew up it was a more typical definition. Back then, if you were a nerd it probably meant that you were into science, or you like comic books, or you play Dungeons and Dragons, or any number of non-mainstream things. Today the term applies to so many things, and these days you can be a nerd over just about any and everything. It’s a term that has transformed to really be about passion more than anything else.
So after Mike and I shared some beers with Matt Hagerman,of Lost Rhino Brewing Co., I had no doubts……. this guy is a nerd.
Matt’s pretty low key and easy going. The guy is a fantastic story teller and his passion for beer and the brewery is addictive. When we met, Lost Rhino was having a beach-themed “bring your own vinyl” night. A concept that really represents who Lost Rhino is. A place to come, drink, have fun and get lost. It doesn’t matter if you are working in a data farm or a wheat farm, or just a couple of nerds trying to start a nerd empire…Matt just wants people to come and meld and enjoy great beer.
Like any great origin story, Lost Rhino’s starts with a person, a dream, and some sacrifice. Matt grew up in Northern Virginia’s brewing culture, back before anything was cool about craft beer, and when some of our readers were still stealing Ice House from their dad’s beer fridge. What Matt knew, more than anything, is that he wanted beer to be his life’s work and he would do anything to make that happen. So he did what any driven person would do. He left a high-paying job for minimum wage and a mop at Old Dominion Brewing Co. It did not take long before Old Dominion realized the guy mopping the floor has a background in electrical engineering and he began doing any job in the brewery he could, working his way to the top…or somewhere near it, any job short of brewing actual beer.
The thing is, being a brewer is a great job. You get to make the world’s greatest drink every day and needless to say…people don’t tend to let a job like that go. Short of someone dying it was going to be a while before he’d get to brew beer on the brew system. Undeterred by this he took the next best option. At the time the brewery also made root beer and none of the brewers wanted to spend their weekend making root beer, but Matt would. He used this as a stepping stone to learn his craft, work on a business plan, and develop his own killer root beer recipe that they serve today. He had no idea how rapidly things would grow from there.
As it turns out we have Lost Rhino because of a short series of lucky events, the drive to keep chasing your dream, and most importantly, stickers. Luck struck Matt when Anheuser-Busch closed a brew location down and the same system Matt had been brewing on was about to go to auction. With an upcoming beer festival that weekend and an auction the following Monday he had days to get a table, put some legal documents together, and buy some very important stickers.
Like most things in Lost Rhino the goal is smart use of time, energy and materials. Buying some stickers for the then titled Matt Hagerman Brewing
Company was a great example of this. Matt worked the festival trying to find investors for his dream and quickly came to the realization that everyone at a beer festival is either drunk…or on their way to drunk. Well, almost everyone. As he was packing up a woman approached him. As luck would have it, she worked out of the far east brew market and can’t even drink beer (a fate worse than death). Somehow, he had found the only person sober enough to pitch to with a clean conscience and she cut him a check in a grassy field just before the deadline.
Since then Lost Rhino has grown a brand that does some really great things. The brewery runs off 100% green energy thanks to subsidies, they work with local farms to share spent grains, they are active in the beer community and work to help other breweries grow and preserve the craft, and they even adopted a rhino and fight international poaching. They host a ton of local events and participate in charities, and you may have even caught them at All Star Comic Con with their signature “Versus” brew made specially for all the nerds out there.
As the brewery began to shut down, a few beers in, and joking about how Star Wars original trilogy models and puppets are way better than CGI in the later movies I asked where the name Lost Rhino came from. Matt motioned to a little unassuming neon sign hung high up on the wall overlooking the brewery to remind them where they came from. It says “Rhino Chasers”, an old brewery named after big wave surfers who seek a relaxed life and to chase the next big one. A brewery that was once one of the largest in the US which was no small feat for a craft brewery back then. A great legacy of rhino chasers now lost out in Ashburn VA, hours away from any kind of beach, but still living a mellow lifestyle. We end the night going back nearly a decade with some root beer, back to when Matt was just a beer nerd with a dream, mopping floors and waiting for his opening. I gotta tell you that you can taste the work that Lost Rhino has put into this. There’s a legacy to it built on years of hard work and jumping head first into the biggest waves even at the risk of being sucked into the undertow.
What a nerd.