Summer Suds | Central Virginia’s Brew Scene is Bubbling
In recent years, Roanoke has been getting some attention for their burgeoning beer scene. But it’s not only our neighbor city who’s enjoying some suds—the Central Virginia region has seen a rise in local breweries as well. Josh Pratt, who founded Brew Ridge Tours in 2016, says this area has several great breweries, and he’s heard talk that more are planned in the coming years. “There is no doubt that the brewery scene is continuing to grow,” he says.
Currently, Brew Ridge Tours offers various itineraries for folks who want to explore local offerings, including not only beer but also cider, wine, and even golf, all of which include dining options. Details are available on the website, but whether you want to book a guided tour or strike out on your own, here are four area breweries to check out…
Loose Shoe Brewing Company
Located about 20 minutes north of Lynchburg, right off the 29 Bypass, Loose Shoe is an easy visit. Inside the tidy brick exterior is a taproom that can seat about 50 patrons at the bar and tables. Out back, a fenced rear patio offers additional seating at umbrella tables. The brewery takes its name from owner/brewmaster Derin Foor’s other occupation—he’s a farrier—and the equine theme is echoed in the horseshoes beneath the glasstopped counter, and the flights of beer served in wooden horseshoe-shaped trays.
The brewery opened in April 2015 and, in addition to on-site sipping, offers beer to go via 32-ounce aluminum crowlers and 64-ounce growlers—or bring your own for a fill up. Loose Shoe is a stop on Brew Ridge Tours because, Pratt says, “Derin is one of the best brewers in the region.” Beer is made in a brewing area off the taproom, which offers a list of rotating beers on 12 taps. “We have over 40 recipes that we rotate through, and about six constant ones,” says Foor. His love of cooking led him to experiment with non-traditional ingredients and flavors you don’t find everywhere, such as a coconut porter or a peanut butter stout. Foor says that earlier this year they produced a pawpaw beer for the first time, Pawpawlicious Cream Ale. (The pawpaw tree is native to our area and bears oblong greenish-yellow fruit with creamy flesh and a startlingly tropical taste.) Foor describes the cream ale as a “nice, light beer with a very subtle bananapassionfruit flavor.”
Many of Loose Shoe’s offerings are seasonal; Summertime Blues is described as “a citrusy and refreshing blueberry lemon pilsner that’s perfect on a hot summer day.” Mane Event is a Kölsch whose write-up says, “Wrap your fingers around this beer and hold on as your palate experiences the clean, crisp taste,” while Secretariat’s description is, “Like its namesake, this amber ale is big, red and bold.” Loose Shoe offers a session beer at 4.7% ABV (alcohol by volume) and Foor says his Belgian Quads (a style of hearty ale) range from 5-7% ABV. Double IPAs, a customer favorite, are up there at 8% ABV, with stout at 8.9%.
Loose Shoe has a friendly neighborhood vibe, evidenced by the “Pay-It-Forward” door, a chalkboard where customers write the name of a friend on the door, and the pint name or dollar amount for which they’ve paid in advance. Munchie snacks are available at the taproom, or you are welcome to bring in your own food (there are three restaurants in close proximity). There’s music every weekend, “Thinkin’ and Drinkin’ Trivia Thursdays,” and cornhole and various outdoor games on hand. The brewery also hosts a chili contest and various events for charity, best discovered on their Facebook page.
Apocalypse Ale Works
The closest brewery to Central Lynchburg is Apocalypse Ale Works, housed in the old Forest Volunteer Fire Department. The brewery is a family affair, owned by Doug John and his wife, Lee. Son Austin is the head brewer, and Pratt—who notes they are not on his Brew Ridge Tour due to being right in town—says they are all about community and making local connections. Apocalypse has been open for five years, and is the result of Doug John’s 30-year home brewing hobby. “It was always his dream, and I wanted to support his dream and get out of the corporate world,” says his wife, Lee John. “We took a leap of faith, and jumped in with both feet.”
The taproom has room for about 50 patrons, and outside there’s a covered deck and beer garden that can accommodate as many as 300 to 400 people. The brewery is family- and dog-friendly, and weekly live music and Rodney’s Sweet Pig BBQ food truck ensure a good time for all. Every Thursday, a new “crowd-sourced” beer is released. John says, “It’s a one-off—we use a base recipe with something determined by our customers, and produce a half barrel keg to see what people like. Grapefruit and raspberry have been some favorite flavors.”
Apocalypse brews a range of suitably named beers, including Grapefruit Hoppocalypse red ale; Barrmageddon lager; Mandarin Censer pale ale; Hell Yeaah, a pilsner; and Lustful Maiden, a Belgian Dubbel (a malty brown style originally brewed by Trappist monks). According to John, every summer they release an annual Holy Pucker gose, a German-style sour ale. “Key Lime Pie gose is our most popular, and we alternate flavors throughout the summer,” she says. Apocalypse has also begun producing low-gluten alternatives called “Triad hard seltzer water” in flavors such as “Ginger Lime,” “Wild Berry H2O,” and “Mango H2O.”
On-site, beers are available for sale on tap and by the can, and the brewery offers 22-ounce bombers and growler fills. Off-site, kegs are distributed throughout Virginia, with an emphasis on supplying local restaurants.
Beale’s Brewery and BBQ
Beale’s Brewery likes to keep it simple and tasty. While many breweries have witty, tongue-in-cheek names for their beer, Beale’s core line-up includes their flagship Gold, a lager; Silver, a Hefeweizen; Red, a West Coast IPA (description: “Sweet beginning. Bitter finish. Tragic in life. Great in beer.”); Black, an oatmeal stout; and Brown, a German-style lager. (Seasonal offerings also make appearances on tap at the brewery.)
That’s not to say the beer names don’t have significance. Beale’s, the first brewery in Bedford—and the second offering by Dave McCormack, who also owns Trapezium Brewing Co. in Petersburg—was named for Virginian Thomas Jefferson Beale. In the early 1800s, Beale supposedly found gold and silver while mining in the Rockies and brought his hoard back to our area, where it was secretly buried in nearby mountains. The story goes that Beale gave ciphers to a trusted friend in Lynchburg, promising to send a key which would unlock the code and identify the hoard’s location shortly thereafter. Naturally, he was never heard from again, and a legend was born.
Whether the story is true or not, there is no doubt that today, Beale’s is up to something good in nearby Bedford. The 12,000-square-foot brick building, which was once home to a woolen mill and a furniture factory, is now serving up an extensive food menu along with their brews. Pratt, who stops at Beale’s on one of his Brew Ridge tours, notes, “They make a really good beer, they’ve got lots of new equipment, their location is cool, and they smoke their own barbecue.”
Protein features heavily on the Beale’s menu—smoked pork, Texas-style beef, and smoked turkey sandwiches are offered with a choice of four sauces. Snacks such as soft pretzels, nachos, and pork rinds, sides like mac and cheese, barbecue beans, and potato salad, and even a couple of dessert offerings mean no one needs to leave hungry. The brewery’s interior is spacious and modern, and the expansive patio is family- and dog-friendly.
Despite the cool setup and tasty grub, Beale’s focus remains on selling classic, high-quality, easy-drinking beer. Both onand off-site, Beale’s Gold is available for purchase in an 8-pack featuring their distinctive, 11-ounce stubby bottles. Distribution has been expanding from Southwest and Central Virginia into the Richmond area, so if you can’t make it to the brewery, keep an eye out for Beale’s bold, blue and white labels.
Blue Mountain Barrel House
Blue Mountain Barrel House is an off shoot of Afton-based Blue Mountain Brewery. The original award-winning operation launched over a decade ago as the first brewery in Nelson County, with Barrel House added in 2012. Located in Arrington, about 30 minutes north of downtown Lynchburg, Blue Mountain Barrel House was conceived as a site to help brew and package the original brewery’s offerings, as well as a spot for a new hop yard.
Taylor Smack wears many hats at the operation—brewmaster, co-founder, co-owner, president, and CEO. He says, “By 2010 we realized the demand for Blue Mountain beer was very soon going to be beyond what we could brew and package at our original Afton brewpub facility… we were experiencing bottlenecks with packaging the beer and with our barrel-aging program. Blue Mountain Barrel House [was] specially designed to accommodate our barrel-aged beers and [had] enough room to begin taking over the bottling and canning of all our core beer.”
Those core series beers include Blue Mountain’s Full Nelson, their flagship pale ale; A Hopwork Orange, an orange-infused IPA; and Kölsch 151, a classic lager. Blue Mountain also has a barrel house series (aged in bourbon barrels) and seasonal offerings. In 2014 Blue Mountain purchased Charlottesville’s South Street Brewery, and the Barrel House taproom also features South Street’s Virginia Lager and Barhopped IPA on tap. According to Smack, there are six beers on tap at Barrel House at all times. He says, “It’s an ever-changing, seasonally focused tap list. The only goal is to keep the list balanced and fresh. There will always be something light, something hoppy and something barrel-aged on tap. Other than that, we play around a bit: Belgian-style beers, sours, fruited beers, seasonal favorites like Rockfish Wheat from our Blue Mountain Brewery line or Hop Grove from our South Street line, for instance.”
The taproom holds about 50 patrons in the tasting room and mezzanine tasting room. Smack says this is by design, as the main purpose of Barrel House is beer production. However, outside features a lawn with plenty of seating, along with a fire pit. With mountain views and 15 acres on which to spread out and enjoy, Smack says, “Walking down to our halfacre hop field with a beer in hand is a delight in late summer.”
“The vibe down there is totally different, too,” he adds. “We have a tasting room and our own food truck onsite (which has added pizzas to the menu for this year), but it’s not a huge restaurant like Afton and the crowds are nowhere near what we experience up at the northern brewery. So it’s more relaxed, and more focused on manufacturing beer.”
The brewery offers tours, which includes the reason Barrel House was named—the East Coast’s largest barrel-aging facilities for beer. “One of the best parts of the Barrel House tour is walking into our temperature-controlled barrel aging room,” says Smack. “If you like the heady aroma of bourbon and oak char, it’s a must see (and smell) experience.” There’s also live music every Friday, a Low Country boil on the 4th of July, and a hop-harvest festival in August. The biggest event of the year is the first Saturday of every December, when the brewery holds a release party for Concealed Darkness, their barrel-aged Imperial Stout. Smack explains, “We feature dozens of special rare beers on tap from Blue Mountain and South Street, host four bands, have a whole-hog pig roast with all the fixings and put up a huge tent with Christmas vendors. It’s like an amazing southern Christkindl market and one heck of a good time.”
This summer, and all year long, Central Virginians can quench their thirst at any of these local breweries, or through Brew Ridge Tours. Before visiting a brewpub, be sure to call or check their website or Facebook page for specific hours (most are open Wednesday through Sunday), upcoming events, and new releases. Cheers!
Brew Ridge Tours
Loose Shoe Brewing Company
198 Ambriar Place, Amherst
Apocalypse Ale Works
1257 Burnbridge Road, Forest
510 Grove Street, Bedford
Blue Mountain Barrel House
495 Cooperative Way, Arrington