Destination: Charlottesville and environs
In the Blue Ridge Mountains, everything seems to be found along a well-organized trail. The Wine Trail, the Artisan Trail and the granddaddy of them all – the Appalachian Trail – send us out in search of everything from the bounty of the land to inner peace.
This hardware with heart dispenses Starr Hill’s German-style hefeweizen, a local favorite. All photos by Paul Jean
And the Brew Ridge Trail? That gives us a place to kick back, relax, connect with one another and give thanks. The gifted few who brew are making a bit of magic here that may just border on religion, at least to the folks who congregate on their patios and decks and in their tasting rooms and biergartens.
This weekend romp will make you proud to be a Virginian, leaving you in awe of our talented brewers, their inspired products and the intoxicatingly beautiful surroundings.
Starr Hill Brewery: Feel the love
You’ve probably tried Jomo Lager, since any tap worth its suds dispenses this brew on occasion. But Starr Hill also offers IPA, amber ale, pilsner, saison, stout, seasonal beer and a German-style hefeweizen – affectionately known as The Love –at a friendly-but-no-frills tasting room in an industrial facility in Crozet. The setting may be antiseptically clean, but you’ll still get a warm and fuzzy when the train barrels through town and froths up your beer.
Starr Hill is the recommended first stop on a Friday afternoon. It makes good sense, since you have to remain vertical to taste at the bar here; plus they close earlier than the other breweries. Starr Hill is the place to enjoy a sampler and savor that first pint – shedding your Northern Virginia skin and talking with a few strangers … who will soon become friends.
South Street Brewery: Wind down C’ville-style
Just a block from Charlottesville’s downtown mall, South Street brews its own beer and offers an eclectic menu that ranges from shrimp kebobs and tostado appetizers to big burgers, salads and ribs. The setting – in the renovated, 19th-century HH Hankin Hay and Grain warehouse – is laid back and comfortable with brick walls, hardwood floors and hewn beams.
Found in a former hay and grain warehouse, South Street Brewery is just one block from Charlottesville’s downtown mall.
Cozy up to the bar, since table servers are busy with the college crowd on Fridays. Bartenders are friendly and dispense information about the area, along with what’s currently on tap. Try Satan’s Pony Amber Ale – a highly balanced blend of hops, malt and roasted flavors, it’s the perfect nightcap.
Blue Mountain’s Barrel House: Rise and shine
At the Blue Mountain Barrel House in Arrington, Imperial Stout is aged in charred American bourbon barrels to create the magic of Dark Hollow.
Barrel House is Blue Mountain’s new production facility in Arrington, and it’s recommended that you begin here on Saturday at 11 a.m. with a nice breakfast beer like Rockfish Wheat.
Which leads me to declare: I drank wheat beer. And I liked it.
I’m not particularly fond of a beer that’s always unfiltered and usually smacks of banana taffy. But Rockfish Wheat and Blue Mountain’s other beers – Kolsch 151, Uber Pils, Full Nelson IPA and the cask-conditioned Local Species and Dark Hollow –deftly avoid clichés while remaining true-to-form.
Beers are available to sample or by the glass, and tours of the impressive facility are held on weekends. You’ll learn about their old-school parti-gyle system that’s unique to the region and creates a brother and sister beer from the same mash. This tour’s perhaps the best one on the trail.
Wild Wolf Brewing Company: Take it easy
With its biergarten, playground, ponds, water wheel and shopping village, Wild Wolf Brewing Company in Nellysford could easily win an award as the trail’s most charming stop. Relaxing outside and enjoying a great meal by the Inn-at-Little-Washington-trained chef – with the best of the Eagles wafting through the patio – you almost forget you’re at a brewery.
The pond, playground, working water wheel and casual biergarten make Wild Wolf a favorite with families.
But make no mistake: Brew Master Danny Wolf is crafting great beers behind his adorably rustic curtain. Wild Wolf Pils, Alpha Ale, Wee Heavy Ale, and Black Wolf IBA (it’s black, not pale) make up the menu of house beers, along with Blonde Hunny Ale that’s had a little help from the bees at Hungry Hill Farm. Seasonal beers are also offered, and all brews reflect Wild Wolf’s happy twist and creativity.
The main building – once a Nelson County high school – is cozy on fall days, and converted tobacco barns host a village of boutiques selling gift items. If you’d like to try your hand at the brewer’s art, visit Libation for supplies – they’ll set you up with everything you need.
The diminutive village at Wild Wolf Brewing Company hosts boutiques selling gifts and brewing supplies in converted tobacco sheds.
Devils Backbone Brewing Company: Toast the sunset
The sweeping vistas that surround Devils Backbone in Roseland make this a great destination at any time of day, but plan for an early evening arrival. As the sun sets and the overhead lights come up on the patio, you’ll have that one sublime moment. Sipping on Vienna Style Lager – awarded a gold medal in the 2012 World Beer Cup – you know it doesn’t get much better than this.
Devils Backbone Brewing Company, located at the base of Wintergreen, is a lively stop in any season.
Devils Backbone offers a full line of tradition-steeped favorites, including a pilsner, hefeweizen, IPA, wit bier, rye ale and their crowd-pleasing seasonal, the Ale of Fergus.
The interior of the building resembles a hunting lodge, complete with stonework crafted from local river rock. Moose heads, mountain goats and black bear peer over your shoulder as if to read the menu, which features organic veggies and herbs that have been grown onsite.
Blue Mountain Brewery: Say goodbye with brunch
Blue Mountain’s restaurant in Afton serves Sunday brunch, lunch and dinner in a laid-back setting.
Blue Mountain’s Afton location prepares its food from scratch – using local ingredients whenever possible – and grows the hops for Full Nelson IPA right on the property. A visit to the area isn’t complete without sampling their gourmet pizza or choosing from an inspired menu that reflects the season.
Enjoy Sunday brunch at 11 a.m. – you’ll appreciate a last chance to drink one of Blue Mountain’s superb beers while gazing out at the mountains from the patio.
Dine on Blue Mountain’s patio for veggie pizza with a view.
The Boar’s Head: Detox and decompress
Who knew tasting beer could be so grueling? Returning to base camp at the Boar’s Head in Charlottesville every evening provides the perfect recharge, with spa services that replenish and renew. Make appointments for massages, facials and beauty treatments – as well as soaks, wraps and other detoxifying therapies.
The Boars Head in Charlottesville graciously combines Southern hospitality with fine dining, an award-winning golf course and state-of-the-art athletic facilities.
The Boars Head just completed extensive renovations to their guest rooms, and each creates a soothing environment with one of the most comfortable beds for miles around. Sink right into those uber-high-thread-count sheets; you know you want to.
The resort offers dining options ranging from the romantic Old Mill Room – with elements from a gristmill built in the 19th century – to the intimate Bistro 1834 – where a Burger and Beer dinner is featured from August 11 – 19. Signature creations include farm-fresh ingredients paired with local brews on a memorable menu. Tuck into the Dark Starr Stout Chocolate Cake before tucking into bed.
The resort is set on 573 acres of idyllic Virginia countryside, offering numerous photo opportunities and a place to unwind.
The Boars Head provides plenty of ways to work off those extra carbs. The 18-hole Birdwood Golf Course offers 500 acres of challenging terrain, and the resort boasts a fitness center that contains state-of-the-art equipment as well as a climbing wall, three swimming pools and 26 USTA-regulation tennis courts. Volleyball, basketball and squash courts ensure there’s something for everyone, and over 50 classes are offered ranging from aerobics to Zumba.
Y’all come back now
A weekend in Virginia’s burgeoning beer country reveals an unexpected treasure: Handcrafted brews and innovative food in a farmland setting that’ll knock your socks off. The laidback-yet-industrious vibe sends a clear message: Join us! This is how life can be! Honestly, you’ll want to sell the house, grab the dog, move to Nelson County and start a hop farm.
August has been named the first ever Virginia Craft Beer Month by the state’s General Assembly, proof that our love for handcrafted cold ones is here to stay. Wild Wolf Brewing Company owner Mary Wolf predicts that the future looks bright, since, “People love local beer, and craft beer is so flavorful and interesting. The more people discover, the more they want!”
When you go …
Cans of Starr Hill beer on their way to thirsty customers.