Community-focused Fairfax County-based Bunnyman Brewing named for urban legend

Locally owned, founded and operated by Eric Barrett and Sam Gray, Burke, Va.-based Bunnyman Brewing is named after a long-time local urban myth about an ax-wielding man dressed in a white bunny costume who wreaked havoc in Fairfax County and throughout the region. Starting back in the 1970s, many Fairfax County kids grew up hearing scary stories about the Bunnyman. Sitting around campfires, the stories grew and changed, as urban legends tend to do, from mere sightings in the woods to versions of violent crimes by a man donned in a bunny suit.

Nestled in a woodsy area of Burke, Bunnyman Brewing is located nearby to the railway that was often featured in versions of Bunnyman lore. According to some tales, the Bunnyman escaped off a train from the former Lorton Reformatory, a prison that was in operation from 1910-2001. Building on this myth, Barrett and Gray are opening a second Bunnyman Brewing location this Fall in Lorton at the Workhouse Arts Center, the 55-acre center for the arts and arts education that, through adaptive reuse, utilizes existing structures on repurposed land at the former Lorton Reformatory.

But, despite all the supposed sightings and incidents, and alleged crimes, Brian A. Conley, historian-archivist, Fairfax County Public Library, conducted an extensive multi-year investigation that debunked the stories of the violent man in a bunny suit. Yet the tales live on.

Both graduates of Fairfax County Public Schools, Barrett and Gray joined as a team to open the Bunnyman Brewing in 2021 in Burke, Va. Hearing frightening stories about the Bunnyman was part of the culture of growing up here, according to Barrett and Gray, and so that was the reason they chose its name.

“So over time, the stories grew more and more ridiculous as kids tried to scare each other,” Barrett said. “But it’s, for us, a nod to the local community. People that are from this area right away are like, I love that you named it that. It’s part of the culture of growing up here. And for those people who’ve moved into the area, it’s a great way to start a conversation, teach them something about this area, something about growing up in this area. So, for us, it was really just a nod to being local.”

While both Barrett and Gray grew up just miles from the brewery location, they first met in 2018 at their kid’s sporting events. Conversation on the sidelines tended to focus on their mutual passion for well-crafted beers and how they wished there was a brewery nearby. At that time Barrett was working for a large tech company leading product management, and Gray had worked as a Fairfax County firefighter for 28 years. Both men were nearing retirement and decided to make a jump from their current careers to open the craft brewery together right in Burke.

“So both of us had always been here, and I couldn’t think of a better place to be,” Gray said.

“I grew up right up the street, and this has always been a fairly underserved area for independent businesses. There are not a lot of restaurants, bars, or anything in this general area yet. There is a ton of residential housing here and a ton of people that were thirsty for a brewery. No pun intended,” Barrett said. “This is an area where you have 84,000 homes within a five-mile radius of here with no other brewery.”

“So for us, we wanted to build a community-based business in the community that we grew up in. And this was perfectly central to that. The other part is that we needed industrial zoning. This is an industrial facility that happens to be right next door to where the urban legend happened. So, it was the perfect place for us to build this business,” according to Barrett.

“Fairfax County has great schools, great infrastructure, and a great diverse population. That is something that we believe in and maybe we can give back a little bit by serving the community that we grew up with,” Gray added.

As a community-based business, Bunnyman Brewery is a family-friendly brewery that’s open to kids and dogs, Gray emphasized. Families can come by after sports games, for birthday parties, and just to hang out. Food trucks that are on rotation serve food from a variety of local restaurants.

But, of course, the main spotlight at Bunnyman is on the beer. Bunnyman Brewing crafts high-quality beers with a rotation of unique variations. It’s an 18-tap self-pour system in the main taproom and an additional nine-tap system in the mezzanine. Three tasting areas are available: the lower main tasting room, an upstairs mezzanine, and an ample outdoor space, which includes a large Oktoberfest tent.

As a relatively new and a rapidly expanding business, Gray noted that they value the collaboration among the more than 14 breweries in Fairfax County’s thriving microbrewery ecosystem.

“We truly believe that it’s a joint effort between the other breweries and ourselves which allows us to be a little more community-focused, more locally focused in the area just surrounding our area in central Fairfax County,” Gray said. “I think that area that we serve is special to us and the people that come here also see it as their neighborhood place.”