If you haven’t yet made plans for a scenic trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains, no need to worry…the Blue Ridge Mountains are coming to you (well, a little taste of them anyway).
Last week, Devils Backbone Brewing Co. in Roseland kicked off the draft roll-out of their exquisite Vienna Lager, Eight Point IPA and limited-release brews in restaurants and clubs throughout the northern Virginia area. “With tap takeovers and meet-the-brewer events in Alexandria and Arlington, the welcome festivities show no signs of slowing down as the parties continue over the next ten days,” said Megan Tuttle, craft beer manager of Guiffre Distributing in Alexandria.
Bottles already blanket the central part of the state near DBBC’s grassroots brewpub operation (nicknamed “Base Camp”) as a result of their $6 million undertaking, a brand new production brewery (called the “Outpost”) which opened three months ago in Lexington, Va to the bustling cacophony of a bottling line.
In addition to the late April draft roll-out in northern Virginia, DBBC began selling two of their flagship brands in six-packs throughout DC’s bedroom community.
Meanwhile, plans have been drawn for a controlled expansion into DC and parts of Maryland that will allow the brewery, expected to produce 10,000 barrels its first year, to deliver its beer to the new areas with the reliability of a Swiss commuter train.
“We are geared for growth, but we want to grow our roots deep in the Virginia soil and contiguous areas in a way that allows us to expand at a rate that continues our tradition of creating traditional, award-winning, local, craft beer,” said founder Steve Crandall. “I was raised in Fairfax County and went to W. T. Woodson and Oakton High, and I am excited about coming back to my hometown,” he added.
Devils Backbone Brewing Co. is the brainchild of Crandall, who has been in the custom home-building business for 30 years. It was born in Nelson County in November 2008 as a brewpub offering an amazing array of traditional America eats and custom-smoked meats at the base of Wintergreen Resort.
Brewmaster Jason Oliver, who worked out of Gordon Biersch’s DC location as their regional brew master, came to DBBC in 2007, There, he’s crafted 13 award-winning microbrews and taken the prestigious World Beer Cup title for small breweries in 2010. He is continually one-upping himself with an ever-changing selection of American-, English-, German-, Scottish- and Belgian-style beers, as well as experimental brews that defy styles.
DBBC released its first bottled offering from the Trail Blazers series, Belgian Congo Pale Ale, just last week. They plan to release these one-offs about every 4 to 5 weeks. Belgian Congo clocks in at a respectable 6.85% ABV. As Oliver describes it, “From the heart of darkness comes a Belgian-inspired pale ale of great enlightenment. Brewed like an IPA, it blends pine and citrus hop flavors with hints of apple and pear from a secret Belgian yeast strain.”
But it’s their Vienna Lager that won the Great American Beer Festival’s coveted 2009 silver medal. It’s a personal favorite of mine. At SAVOR 2011, in spite of the 150 beers available for me to try, I had three – yes, three – tasters. One sample was just not enough.
I was captured by its depth of flavor and its amber-colored good looks, the way it blends color and flavor without heaviness or bitterness. This velvety lager is truly sessionable at 4.9% ABV.
Hopheads can indulge in their other regular offering, Eight Point IPA. The name was coined by Oliver after he encountered two eight-point bucks rustling along the fence early one morning while he was enjoying his coffee. It can be sampled at dozens of bars and restaurants around northern Virginia; bottles are also available in a bevy of off-premise variety, wine, liquor and specialty markets. The Eight Point IPA is brewed with Pilsen and caramel malts and torrified wheat along with Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Columbus and Simcoe hops. At 5.9% ABV, it’s a surprisingly sessional but well-hopped IPA.
Founder Steve Crandall is an avid outdoorsman, hunter and hiker, but building a new brewery presented challenges he’d never encountered before. “We’re in Rockbridge County, and we hit rock, so that was a test of wills, which took time and money to solve,” he said. “In addition, operations demanded tall ceilings for the assembly line to encompass the massive silos, in addition to the monster fermenters, and of course a spot for a tasting bar,” he added.
Crandall has initially hired 11 employees at the new Rockbridge Outpost brewery, which is partially surrounded by six acres of dense trees with a view east for 20 miles to the Blue Ridge Mountains . He has already solicited a bounty of crops, including hops and barley, from local farmers to help grow his craft beer portfolio, so that the resultant beers will reflect the terroir of these exquisite surroundings.
Plans are underway to make growlers available at Whole Foods Market, said Crandall. These growlers are a good deal: each holds a little less than a standard six-pack, and the glass jugs can be re-used for multiple fillings.
Devils Backbone has also made a name for itself as a live musical entertainment destination and for its mountain bike, road bike and running competitions. They regularly feature local bluegrass and folk bands, as well as some southern rock and even hip-hop. Taking their endeavors to the next level, Devils Backbone created the Concert Grounds at Devils Backbone with an outdoor stage and amphitheater showcasing events such as the Blue Ridge Oyster Festival (held in April). For the first time this year, DBBC will host the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest on August 18th, with camping, music and a collection of the finest Virginia Craft breweries competing for the Virginia Beer Cup.
To learn more about Devils Backbone Brewing Company, or about the upcoming Virginia Craft Brewers Fest, visit www.devilsbackbonebrewingcompany.com.