After our visit to Blue Mountain on Thursday, 3/13/14, we took a scenic drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains over to the brewpub that serves as a basecamp for Devils Backbone Brewing Company in Roseland, VA. Devils Backbone has incredible views in the valley where they are located close to the Appalachian Trail and was awarded Small Brewpub & Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year in 2012 as well as Small Brewing Company & Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year in 2013. We lucked into our visit there after running into COO Hayes Humphreys over at Three Notch’d Brewing the night before, who set us up to meet with head brewer Jason Oliver and assistant brewer Aaron Reilly.
Before getting his gig at Devils Backbone, Jason most recently worked at Gordon Biersch in DC for about six and a half years and worked at a handful of breweries before that; he also attended the UC Davis Brewing Program. Just before the brewpub opened in November of 2008, Jason came down to help Steven Crandall, the founder and owner of Devils Backbone, get the place up and running; in 2012 the company expanded by opening up a second facility for production known as The Outpost. The brewpub is designed to have a lot of variety but not a lot of big batches, so Jason and Aaron usually come up with new recipes using free reign to experiment however they want to. Then, depending on the success, they send those recipes over to the production facility to be made on a larger scale.
The original menu was set up with four year-round beer and slots for six seasonals, so there’s always more specialty offerings than there are core beers; they have made around 100 different beers. The core beers at the start were the Gold Leaf Lager, Vienna Lager, Eight Point IPA, and Wintergreen Weiss and now the year-round line-up consists of the Vienna Lager, Eight Point IPA, Schwartz Bier, and Pear Lager. Vienna Lager won a gold medal at both GABF and WBC in 2012 coming out of the basecamp and again won a gold at GABF in 2013 coming out of The Outpost, which proved that their consistency was not affected by the expansion. Their brews are now offered in both bottles and cans: canned beers include the Gold Leaf Lager, Reilly’s Red Ale, Striped Bass Pale Ale, Trail Angel Weiss, and Bravo Four Point, while the majority of their other packaged beers are found in six packs of 12oz bottles.
Jason told us that “[I] still have a great respect for sessionability, but we run the gambit too. I’m definitely more of a traditionalist than a lot of people.” About two weeks before our visit, they had done a collaboration with Rappahannock Oyster Company termed Austerbrau that is essentially a smoked Kolsch hybrid which uses Kolsch yeast, oysters, an extra ingredient for lemony input, and about 40% smoked malts including Oak & Beechwood smoked malts from Germany. On Saturday, April 19, 2014 they will be releasing that brew with an oyster roast event. They also have unique, interesting, and extremely challenging beers offered seasonally throughout 2014 in four packs of 12oz bottles through what’s known as the Peak Series: 16 Point Imperial IPA, Wood Aged Kilt Flasher, Berliner Metro Weiss, and Baltic Coffee.
Between the two facilities, Devils Backbone pumped out just under 25,000 bbl last year, are on track to produce about 40,000 bbl this year, and will be continuing to increase their output in the years to come. The Outpost production facility works with an impressive 30 bbl system made by the same manufacturer that Stone, Lagunitas, Victory, and other larger craft breweries use. On the other hand, the basecamp brewpub uses an interesting 10 Hectoliter (8.5 bbl) system that was designed in Germany, built and used in Tokyo Japan, and has Japanese characters on the control panel and instructions; the system also has a decoction kettle. Jason loves the uncommon system because it gives him great control on the mashing, boiling, cooling, and sanitation. We were also informed that Devils Backbone will soon be extending their beer garden and just ordered some stills for the distillery they will be building in the near future. They host a ton of other events and adventures throughout the year that you won’t want to miss out on. We definitely had good times chilling with Jason and Aaron and look forward to seeing them again!
Author: Michael Roberts