Rappahannock County’s Gems – Sperryville and Little Washington
Although the first part of this winter was pretty mild compared to past winters, we were finally hit with bone-chilling temps as well as assaults by snow and the infamous Canadian Clipper in mid-late February. As I write this, the daytime temperature is 46 degrees…the only time it has been above freezing the past week and the forecast for the next 7 days only call for two days above freezing, but no higher than 40 degrees. March is a transition month, it can be nasty or it can be mild, but remember that the first day of spring is March 20th and the Washington Nationals opening day is at home on April 6th against the New York Mets. Spring must surely be in the air and that is why we have flowers on our cover and our road trip is to the foothills of the Blue Ridge.
I have written about Sperryville and Little Washington in Rappahannock County before but there is a lot going on there these days. Although the town of Sperryville is short on size, it certainly makes up for it with the energy and creative nature of the locals. My friends Sherri Fickel and Kevin Kraditor, owners of Hopkins Ordinary, along with their partner David Litaker, have recently opened the Ale Works at the Bed and Breakfast. Kevin has taken his five-year-old-hobby of brewing his own beer and he and wife Sherri decided to take it commercially.
Teaming up with David, who grows hops, a growing trend in Virginia, the trio began to produce a limited amount of small batch beer for public sale. Using their one-barrel brew house, they are making a variety of beers over the course of the year, including their three standards: Innkeeper’s India Pale Ale, Hazel River Brown, and Little Devil Blonde (my favorite). They will be adding monthly and seasonal beers to keep up the variety. On my recent visit the other two beers available were the Saison Noire, Belgian-style farmhouse ale with a twist: dark with bittersweet chocolate notes brewed for making it through the “dark season”. The other was the Main Street Stout, a jet black stout that has a healthy addition of lactose or milk sugar, resulting in a smooth, creamy mouth feel with a coffee-like flavor. Centennial hops add a faint citrusy character that underlies the roasted barley malt addition. The beers are made with local barley that is malted by their neighbors at Copper Fox Distillery and feature local, seasonal ingredients whenever possible, such as hops, honey, fruit and herbs.
All of the beers are sold on site by the taste, the pint, and the growler fill. If you stay at the B&B you are invited to visit the brewery and taste what they have on tap and enjoy fresh beer during your stay. Choose between a complimentary tasting or pint of your choice. The Ale Works in the cellar is open between 4 and 7 pm on Wednesdays and between 1 and 6 pm on Saturdays or by appointment. If you are a beer lover, you can join their Community Supported Brewing (CSB), a membership of sorts that allows you to come to the brewery every week or every other week to pick up your pre-paid beer. You choose how frequently you want a growler (1/2 gallon). The 6-month price for a weekly pick-up is $420; and for a bi-weekly pick-up it is $240. A free stainless steel growler ($30 value) is included with your CSB membership.
Running through the middle of town is the Thornton River, which passes near the B&B and then meanders under the bridge and passes behind Copper Fox Distillery. Now, you want to talk about creativity in a laid back manner, well Copper Fox is the place. Owned and operated by master distiller Rick Wasmund, Copper Fox Distillery was opened in 2005. Before starting the distillery, Wasmund apprenticed for six months with Scotch distiller Bowmore on the Isle of Islay in Scotland. Housed in an old apple warehouse, Wasmund has combined old world charm with modern distilling techniques. Copper Fox uses Virginia barley grown specifically for the distillery. Copper Fox is only one of two distilleries in the U.S. that hand malts their barley. Apple and cherry wood is used to provide smoke during the malt drying process in a special room at the distillery. He apple wood is sourced from a local farm after the trees have become unproductive, about 20 years. After distilling, the whiskey is aged in old bourbon barrels. The whiskey is then put into an accelerated aging process by “chipping”, adding a sachet of small chunks or “chips” of charred wood, to the aging barrel. Using this accelerated technique, Copper Fox whiskeys are aged for twelve to thirteen months. Scotch Whiskey is aged for a minimum of 3 years and Bourbon for 2 years. Wasmund once sent a whiskey chip-aged for six weeks to the Scotch Whiskey Research Institute, who guessed it had been aged for seven to eight years.
About six or eight months ago Virginia began to allow tastings at distilleries. Since 2005, Copper Fox has grown from their Wasmund’s Single Malt Whiskey to include a Rye Whiskey, VirGin, a gin with floral notes, and what starts it all, Wasmund’s Single Malt Spirit and Rye Spirit. All of the whiskeys produced are filled and wax dipped by hand with their distinctive burgundy colored wax. In addition to this stable of offerings, Wasmund is also producing Belle Grove 1797 Whiskey. It is based upon the same Virginia grains and recipe used two centuries ago by Major Isaac Hite Jr., founder and owner of Belle Grove Plantation. The Distillery also produces a high end Rye Whiskey that is blue wax dipped.
Copper Fox Distillery is a family run business, and inside these rustic trappings you will find the nicest and most knowledgeable folks. Ranked as the number one attraction in Sperryville by Trip Advisor, Copper Fox Distillery is worth the trip.
If you are an antiques type of person, across the lot from the distillery you will find Copper Fox Antiques…”30,000 square feet of antiques, gently used furniture, architectural salvage and collectables all under one roof. Located in one of Copper Fox’s building is Valley Green Naturals. You may have heard of them, as the products are available at local Whole Food stores. Owner and founder Cynthia DeVore recently moved her processing facilities from her farm in Amissville to Sperryville. In an effort to be more self-sustaining, DeVore began using some of the plants that she and her husband grew on their farm to make soaps. People tried them and liked them, and as they say, the rest is history. In the beginning Valley Green products were only available on line but has since worked their way into boutique stores as well as Whole Foods and internationally. Continuing the interaction of Sperryville businesses, Valley Green Naturals makes a whisky bar soap using Wasmund’s Whiskey and a liquid Gin soap using Wasmund’s VirGin. Not only is the manufacturing done in Sperryville, but they offer retail sales as well. Stop in and meet these ladies…they got it going on!
Right across from Valley Green is River District Arts and is sometimes referred to as the Rappahannock Torpedo Factory. Founded in May 2011, river District Arts is an eclectic group of more than a dozen artists working in a wide variety of media and styles including oil, watercolor, photography, ceramic and collage. They are the heart and soul of River District Arts. Also in the building is El Quijote restaurant serving a wonderful selection of tapas and traditional Spanish cuisine.
A new nine-hole par three golf course began construction last fall and is scheduled to open around mid-July of this year. The golf course is basically the front lawn for the new Headmasters Pub. This is a very casual place for good libations and comfort food. Schoolmasters Pub is part of a huge building called the Sperryville Schoolhouse. Over the years this building has served many purposes, but today it houses Schoolhouse Antiques, which has a huge selection of antique furniture. Next to the Schoolhouse is Heritage Hollow, a retail store for Mike and Molly Peterson’s home raised Beef, lamb and pork products. Heritage Hollow raises 100% grass-fed stock and utilizes farming methods that promote the natural movements and grazing patterns of livestock. Next to Heritage Hollow is the Coterie Shop, which translated means a group of like-minded people who share a common ground. Founded by Jen Perrot and Patricia Brennan, the store offers a special shopping experience featuring local and regional crafted goods and unique items.
Behind the Coterie Shop and across the river is the popular Thornton River Grille. This is a casual dining experience with excellent food.
About 5 miles from Sperryville down Route 211 is the town of Little Washington. It is actually named Washington, Virginia and is the first of 28 towns with that name in the United States. It is nicknamed Little Washington to avoid confusion because of its proximity to Washington, D.C. Little Washington is best known for its’ internationally renowned five star Inn at Little Washington. A popular destination for Northern Virginians and Washingtonians, the town is developing new characters.
Alexandrian Jackie Bogle-Meuse has been a resident of Rappahannock County for some time and has recently opened Little Washington Spa in town. On the day I was there, Liz Mandross, owner of Mystique Jewelry in Old Town Alexandria was there for her facial. The more folks you meet in Little Washington, the stronger you begin to realize the Alexandria connection. Local Alexandria lawyer Mark Allen recently opened an office there. Furniture maker Peter Kramer has been making world class-one-of-a-kind furniture in Little Washington since 1970. (See this months’ Personality Profile.)
If you are looking for something to eat in Little Washington there is the laid back town Café (just like a diner would be in Mayberry) or Tula’s Off of Main. The Café is a throw back to the early years. It is a comfortable place, with good food at very reasonable prices. This is the kind of place my parents dined at. Tula’s has recently opened and is the sister restaurant to the Thornton River Grille. Great dining experience with a limited menu, but with plenty of good choices. They have covered all of the bases. The bar next door is spacious and usually full of local characters. The bar was designed and built by Peter Kramer.
To get to Sperryville and Little Washington, make your way to Warrenton and then take Route 211 west toward the Blue Ridge Mountains. You will come to Little Washington first and then 5 miles farther down the road is Sperryville. The drive takes a little under 2 hours. Along Route 211 there are a number of wineries to visit and all are well marked.
Take a Road Trip this spring and stop in at these places and tell them The Old Town Crier sent you!
Written by: Bob Tagert