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.
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.
In preparation for a few days off for my upcoming birthday, 3/12/14 was perhaps our busiest day of brewery visits to date. We started off early morning at Midnight Brewery then promptly made our way through the country to Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery before noon. We then managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello prior to finishing the day off with a stop to see the fine folks at Three Notch’d Brewing Company in nearby Charlottesville. The city is home to the University of Virginia as well as a burgeoning craft beer scene. Three Notch’d is the latest to open its doors in the area, launching for business about 6 months prior to our visit. The company was founded by Derek Naughton, Scott Roth, and George Kastendike with Dave Warwick taking over the helm of all things beer. The founders all share a passion for great beer and thought to taking up homebrewing to create the perfect beer for their tastes. Thoughts traveled further as they dreamt up ideas of how to finance their habit by selling beer to local pubs and eventually made their way to the only logical conclusion – opening up a brewery. At that time there were no distribution breweries in the city so they set to work with the business plan. We were privileged to get the occasion to speak with both Derek and Dave on this chilly Virginia evening.
Following an early 9 am stop at Midnight Brewery, we traveled west through the VA countryside to visit our second brewery of the day before lunch. Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery sits on 221 acres of land, 83 acres of which are wooded and will remain untouched for the enjoyment of guests to the brewery. Their name pays homage to the small creek running through the property that was named in pre-colonial times for the wildlife that stopped for a refreshing drink. The farm style building was built on site to house the brewery and is intended to appropriately blend in with the landscape. The concept is to be as water conscious and sustainable as possible by growing many of the brewing ingredients on site – many crop terraces can be seen in the fields surrounding the building. Currently various hops, barley, pumpkins, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are planted with further plans to do herbs, additional berries, grapes, figs, oranges, and more in the future.
From there we drove up to Jamestown and went on an archeologist-lead tour about the area, which was quite interesting. Afterwards, we stuck around so that Haggis could ask the guy about beer, and he said that Jamestown might be the first place that beer was brewed in America. That is not confirmed, but we’re going with it – we visited the site of America’s first brewery – hell yea. He suggested that we go to AleWorks in Williamsburg, so we picked that up on a whim. After that, we made our way to Hardywood Park Craft, and then spent the night at Capital Ale House in Richmond. That night was pretty sweet, because Capital Ale House knew we were coming and had blasted it through their social media, so we got to meet with and talk to a few fans. One of them was a guy we had met back in Dallas at our going away party, Tony Crawford, and he hung out with us most of the night. The next day we went to Strangeways and then got to check out Mekong which has been voted as the best beer bar in America. While there, Tony met up with us and so did Shannon, a girl we had met the night before. We all ate, drank, and had good times, before Tony headed off for the night and Haggis, Shannon, and I went back to our hotel where we spoiled ourselves by hanging out in the hot tub.
The next morning Haggis and I ate more than we needed for breakfast, and then we made our way to Midnight Brewery at 9am, followed by Licking Hole Creek at 1130am where I got to ride around the land on an ATV. It was the earliest day we had so far, so afterwards we had time to go to Monticello where I ninja kicked Thomas Jefferson respectfully, and Haggis made out with him lovingly. We weren’t sure of what to do that night, so we drove into Charlottesville, NC and hung out at Three Notch’d Brewing. We were originally just going to be there unofficially to hang out, but after liking what they have going on and feeling it was perfectly in-line with what we’re doing, we picked them up as an official stop. Afterwards, we slept in the van again in a parking lot nearby.
We awoke in the van and drove a short distance to Subway for breakfast (again), then had a busy day going to Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, the Blue Mountain Barrel House in Arrington, and the Devil’s Backbone brewpub in Roseland. All three had amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and all three places were very fun to hang out at – the people that work at all of these breweries are badass. Rather than stay the night in that area, we drove all the way up to Dumfries, south of DC. We stayed the night with my sister’s father in-law, Chuck, who talked with us about fascinating subjects. He is incredibly intelligent and had a lot of interesting stories to tell us – both Haggis and I wish we had more time there to really pick his brain about some things. Most of the next day was spent writing and then we drove up to Alexandria to meet with another friend of ours.
Amber is a friend of ours from the Dallas beer scene and she just moved up to Alexandria for a job, but her husband Eric, another friend of ours, is still back in Dallas. The three of us went out to dinner that night and then went back to her place. I got a kick out of being able to tell Eric I slept in his wife’s bed that night, even though she was two stories up on a couch. The next day was Haggis’ 29th birthday (WHAT WHAT) so we went to DC Brau Brewery off the record and indulged in some good beers. After that, we met back up with Amber at her place, popped a bottle of Cigar City Amplitude that we had been holding on to, and then went to Port City also off the record to enjoy even more beers. She then drove us (yay, a DD!) over to eat some Korean BBQ with some of her friends before the five of us went back to Amber’s and proceeded to drink the night away. Again, it was Haggis’ birthday, and he had a good one.
The next day, Amber, Haggis, and I drove into DC to try out a rare cask of Cantillon Iris Grand Cru up at ChurchKey and ended up staying for a while to try quite a few more crazy beers – that place has such a ridiculous selection! Our drive up there was madness, though, as a lot of the streets in DC were blocked off for some marathon, so it took us about 3 times as long as it should have. After ChurchKey we walked over to Shake Shack and got a cheeseburger and a peanut butter shake, then made our way back to the car and Amber drove us back to her place. We chatted for a little longer over a bottle of Bruery Bois and then said our goodbyes, since it was time to make our way to another friend’s place in Maryland just east of DC. When we went back outside to go to our van, though, it had started snowing flakes that were larger than I’ve ever seen in my life (but that’s not saying much).
To be continued…
Our earliest appointment so far was at 9 am on Wednesday, 3/12/14 with Midnight Brewery, who we met after slamming down some coffee and making our way from downtown Richmond over to Rockville. Upon our arrival, we spoke with brewer Becky Rudolf and owner Trae Cairns who told us that “We have a passion for craft beer and really take the beer personally. If somebody doesn’t like it, I want to know why. If people love it, that’s great, but if they don’t like it, I want to know why. To me, that’s really an extension of our craft, and when you find a beer that people like, you stick with it.”
Following a Monday evening enjoying beers and conversation (and $2 burgers!) at the original Capital Ale House location, we enjoyed a solid night’s sleep, a hearty breakfast then strayed just a few miles North West from downtown Richmond for an early afternoon tour of Strangeways Brewing on 3/11/14. The company stays true to its name, a quick look around the taproom leaves one feeling pleasantly engrossed with the quirky eccentricities in decoration and ambiance. Their logo, a barrel seated monkey pondering over a frothy glass of brew, is derived from work done by esteemed comic book cover artist, Glenn Fabry. His work is plastered all over the bar and wall decorations are a variety of other works purchased from a local Richmond artist. The brewery was originally the brain child of Neil Burton and the origination story is quite a long one. I won’t delve into the details but suffice it to say that he had undergone an arduous legal battle in VA with regards to the practice of alternating proprietorship, though eventually successful. Along the way, he met Mike Hiller – a professional brewer with 17 years of experience – at a bill signing at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. The two found that they shared a vision and paired up to make that unique dream a reality, finally opening for business May 29, 2013. We were able to meet with Mike and Operations and Events Coordinator, Cheyenne Burnham, that afternoon to discuss their story.
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.