For John Pope, Cooling Pond Brewery has never been just a place to sell beer. He views it as a place for the Lake Anna and Louisa communities to come together.
“People feel like they belong here, and they make new friends here,” he said of his business, which opened on Route 522 near Wares Crossroads in 2019. “It’s a casual environment that allows them to have a low-key day. I think we make good beer, and that helps.”
From starting out quietly two years ago with just the help of his wife Lori, Pope now employs eight part-time servers and an assistant brewer. Cooling Pond has also grown its presence in the community, especially during the past year, hosting several events to help raise money for the planned New Bridge fire and emergency services station and other fundraisers.
Pope was honored on June 24 as the Louisa County Chamber of Commerce’s businessperson of the year, chosen from four finalists. He got a bit teary-eyed as he thanked the crowd at the event, held in the barn at Callie Opie’s Orchard restaurant.
“We came down here as a retirement thing, but it might have gotten a little away from us,” he joked about his brewery venture.
Pope developed a thing for beer while he was stationed in Scotland for the U.S. Navy. About 11 years ago, he sold his motorcycle to pay for a beer-making kit, which he still uses to work up his creations at Cooling Pond. After several years developing concoctions in his lakeside garage, he was ready to try them out on a willing public.
At first he offered a handful of beers with names honoring historic local taverns in Louisa and Spotsylvania. Now he makes 25 different beverages, with 12 on tap. Some beers have names that pay humorous homage to the nearby nuclear plant and the lake, like Ipatope – a play on isotopes – and Swim Advisory, which he says has a “murky” color.
Pope expanded in the past year from two to five barrels and now makes beer for three other breweries in the region that don’t have as much production capacity. With this and other adaptations, he was able to weather the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Introducing Pope during the June 24 dinner, Lake Anna Tractor and Hardware co-owner Stephanie Koren noted that Cooling Pond’s direct and indirect contributions accounted for 25 percent of the first $100,000 raised by the Foundation for Lake Anna Emergency Services in 2020. The Louisa County Board of Supervisors challenged residents and businesses at the lake to raise the money as a down payment toward the fire and rescue station.
Among Pope’s ideas was to team up with Brian Gilbreth, owner of Lake Anna Taphouse, to make a new beer and donate all the proceeds from its sale to emergency services.
“Even though it was an odd year and had its challenges, this was something we needed to do,” Pope said.
The chamber of commerce also named Blue Ridge Health District its Good Neighbor of the Year; Louisa County High School teacher Carrie Hicks as Volunteer of the Year; and Classic Hits 105.5 (SAM FM) as Partner of the Year.