Our visit to Blue Mountain on Thursday, 3/13/14 was a unique one, in that we visited both the brewery/ restaurant Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, VA as well as the production facility Blue Mountain Barrel House in Arrington, VA. Both facilities have taprooms, fields of cascade hops, incredible views, and awesome beers, but are also distinctive in their own ways.
When we first got into Richmond, VA, we made a night of hanging out at Capital Ale House trying a few of the beers local to the area, and then got to spend some time at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery on Monday, 3/10/14. We were lucky enough to meet a significant portion of the staff during our visit, but spent most of the time talking to head brewer Brian Nelson and co-founders Patrick Murtaugh & Eric McKay. They walked us around the original 12,000 sq ft facility as well as the other 19,000 sq ft building next door, while telling us all about what the brewery has to offer now and in the upcoming future.
The night of Saturday, 3/8/14 was the first time we utilized Couchsurfing in Norfolk, VA and, after having a great experience with our hosts, we spent most of Sunday afternoon hanging out with Greg Papp, the head brewer of Smartmouth Brewing Company. Smartmouth is actually open Wednesday through Saturday, but Greg was kind enough to spend time with us and give us a detailed look into the brewery. Greg and Porter Hardy IV, the President of Smartmouth, originally opened the doors to the facility in October of 2012 and have a goal to be super professional, clean, organized, and make good, easy drinking beer for everyone while supporting the community and waterways at the same time. They really want to get people in the area acclimated to good craft beer and, since they had expected 500 people recently at their one year anniversary where around 5,000 people showed up, it looks like they are doing just that.
We ended up sleeping in our van in Kinston, after we had left Mother Earth then grabbed some food across the street at Boiler Room. The next morning we made a trip to Farmville, NC on Friday, 3/7/14, to meet with the guys of Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery where Tony, who is the bartender for the taproom, jumped out of the front door and posed for a picture right when we pulled up. At that moment we already knew we would have a good time at this brewery who specializes in making only dark beers, even though we had not even gone inside yet.
On Wednesday, 3/5/14 we randomly ended up at Fullsteam Brewery on the same day that Brew Dogs was filming the first episode of their new season. I’ll touch on that a little bit at the end of this write-up, but the brewery has so much to offer that I don’t want that to be the main focus. Fullsteam’s beers are often nuanced and balanced and for the most part they don’t have in-your-face recipes (although there are some exceptions, like the Sour Working Man’s Lunch and the First Frost winter seasonal). They really strive for complexity through simplicity, and Carver Sweet Potato Lager is a good example of that – sweet potatoes are used in the recipe but, rather than going overboard with spices in an attempt to make sure it tastes like sweet potatoes (which would instantly turn it into a seasonal beer), they instead strip it down to the essence making it something more interesting that also pairs very well with food.
After our short-lived visit to Winston-Salem, NC, we made a trek to Haw River Farmhouse Ales on Monday, 3/3/14 to visit with Nick Mangili – a friend of ours who we met when he was a brewer at Deep Ellum Brewing Company back in Dallas, TX. He is now brewing test batches for Haw River Farmhouse Ales since they’re not actually open just quite yet. This brewery is going to be incredibly unique, utilize local ingredients including a house yeast they collected from their backyard on their own, and will be opening sometime later this year.
After leaving Asheville on the morning of Wednesday, 2/26/14, we spent some time at Pisgah Brewing, then continued east to Fonta Flora Brewery. Not only is the name ‘Fonta Flora’ a beautiful Latin alliteration, it also has significant historical ties to the area. Just a little northwest from the brewery, the Linville River runs through a gorge and into Lake James, where an old sharecropping community lived back in the late 1800s/ early 1900s. The community was known as Fonta Flora but, once people created Lake James by damming the Linville River, the community was flooded. The brewery pays homage to this lost community through their logo of an underwater town.
Our final brewery visit in Asheville was on Tuesday, 2/25/14 to the first and longest standing brewery in the area, Highland Brewing Company. The brewery originally started in 1994 in the basement of Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria in the heart of Asheville and their first beer was the Gaelic Ale. For a few years, Highland was only sold on tap through kegs at Barley’s, but started gaining popularity fairly quickly. We got to speak with Asheville native and employee of Highland, Drew Stevenson, while we were there, and he informed us that downtown started to really get refurbished in the late 80s / early 90s just before Highland began brewing their first beer.
We packed our stuff back in Birmingham, headed north, stayed the night at Point Mallard Campground in Decatur, AL, and then made our way to Blue Pants Brewery in Madison on 2/17/14. Right as we walked up to the brewery, we noticed the beautiful 4,000 sq ft patio containing tables, chairs, and a stage outside. Apparently they utilize that space by bringing in musicians to perform on a weekly basis, as well as allowing patrons to hang out there anytime they’re open.
Once we left Atlanta, we headed west into Alabama again and found ourselves back in the Central Time Zone on Friday night. The next morning, we drove into Birmingham to see what Good People Brewing is all about. At first we just sat at their bar and spoke with some nice locals, who one might consider to be good people, then joined the 4pm tour with Tripp Windham as our guide. Tripp was one of the most entertaining people we have run into yet and, outside of giving tours, he works the canning line, serves beer in the taproom, and helps out with various other tasks at the brewery.