Local startup Snowing in Space taps into collaborative, innovative spirit

A former brewery on West Main Street is once again filling with tap handles, the bar is being painted and staffers are writing new menus, but beer will be an ancillary attraction in the new shop.

Snowing in Space is replacing C’Villian Brewing in a small storefront next to JM Stock Provisions and will be pulling glasses of cold-brewed, nitro-charged coffee.

With a foamy, brown head and a touch of effervescence, nitro cold brew looks almost identical to a stout or porter beer, but it eschews alcohol for caffeine and does not fall under Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control regulations.

It’s also quicker to produce than beer, with just a one-week lead time between initial brewing and having a ready-to-serve beverage, a process that with beer can take more than a month.

The spark that led to the shop came to co-founder Paul Dierkes two years ago, when he had a cup of another brand’s nitro cold brew at JM Stock Provisions.

Dierkes, who owns Okay Yellow, an advertising company that produces label designs for Three Notch’d Brewing Company, Devils Backbone Brewing Company and Chaos Mountain Brewing, said he immediately identified similarities between cold brew and craft beer and saw an opportunity.

“I do a lot of work with craft breweries and sort of have an entrepreneurial nature and saw a lot of the correlations and similarities between cold brew and craft beer and the opportunities that coffee, with a longer shelf life, afforded for product development,” he said.

The craft beer industry relies heavily on collaboration and experimentation, Dierkes said, an ethos he intends to translate to his coffee.

Collaborations began early, with Snowing in Space brewing on equipment at Three Notch’d, and buying beans and working on roasts with Shenandoah Joe, Traeger Brothers and Shark Mountain Coffee Company.

Snowing in Space began distributing kegs of cold brew last summer and currently maintains about 20 taps at local offices, restaurants, breweries and wineries.

After their shop opens later this month, Dierkes said, the company will focus on canning its coffees for retail distribution.

To keep Snowing in Space running smoothly, Dierkes, who spends most of his time with Okay Yellow, hired Damian Warshall, a graduate of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business who previously ran Lumi Juice and worked on business development for Wild Wolf Brewing Company.

Warshall, a Chicago native, developed a passion for craft beer in college, in part because of the impact he saw small breweries making in neighborhoods without jobs or economic opportunity.

He was taken by Dierkes’ plan to brew coffee instead of beer, he said, and took the job to make his mark on a small business in a small town.

“It scratched the itch of wanting to start my own business, and I worked in a coffee shop all through college, and I love coffee,” he said.

At Snowing in Space, Warshall said, he hopes to bring the collaboration and innovation often associated with beer to coffee.

“My experience with coffee is that it’s kind of a sleepy industry, the shops have a lot of greens and browns, as opposed to craft beer, where everyone is collaborating and helping each other out,” he said.