How To Find Great Beer in Virginia’s Winery Scene
By Matt Fitzsimmons
How To Find Great Beer in Virginia’s Winery Scene
For years, Virginia’s wine and brewery scenes were separated by the red tape of ABC law; the former were only allowed to sell at the winery, and the later could only be sold at their tap room. But no longer! Now, you can visit over a dozen wineries that offer more than just wine.
This change started in 2015, when breweries were re-designated as ‘farm’ enterprises; the same license Virginia’s wineries use. Sensing an opportunity, Barrel Oak Winery owner Brian Roeder contacted the state legislature with a question; since both breweries and wineries were now considered farm enterprises, why shouldn’t they sell their beverages side by side? Luckily for both beer and wine drinkers everywhere, the answer was – Yes, they can!
The appeal of this setup is obvious; guests want option beyond wine. Given Virginia’s craft beer scene is exploding, there is definitely an ‘untapped’ clientele for additional sales. It’s also a huge relief for the winery owners who were once forced to guard against patrons from sneaking beer out of the taproom so they could enjoy a pint next to their spouse. Now, they can (legally) drink together.
Barrel Oak Winery & Farm Taphouse
Barrel Oak Winery (or as they like to call themselves, BOW) is about an hour west of D.C., right off I-66. Already known for its large outdoor space, wood fire pizza, and an assortment of sweet-to-dry wines, the taproom completes the scene. With a vibe like this, you don’t need to visit anywhere else.
Of course BOW is more than a winery/brewery; it’s a mecca for dog owners. I don’t have a fur buddy anymore but here I don’t need one; all I have to do is visit on almost any random day and I’ll almost certainly find plenty of dogs who are MORE happy to accept a belly rub. While lots of wineries claim to be dog-friendly, I’d say BOW is the MOST dog-friendly winery in all of NOVA.
Brian’s rationale for building the taproom is simple; “Beer brings husbands”. That may be an overstatement but it does show the demographic that seems to enjoy this new addition the most. But not just husbands visit here; whole families can grab a table with their snacks and drinks while enjoying live music outside.
As with many other wineries, in the near term BOW is restricting their number of visitors to ensure social distancing – so check ahead in case you need an appointment. But whether you visit in person or arrange a delivery, it’s easy to get your wine-fix. My favorite is the Petit Verdot, but my friends who want something light and crisp trend towards the Albariño or Chardonnay Reserve.
If wine isn’t your thing, favorites on tap include their Belgian-style beers, IPAs, and the Kolsch – but I’ll always go for the Stouts or a Dubble. Of course, wine lovers are open minded people who surely enjoy a beer, so you can try both.
Hillsborough Vineyards & Brewery
When it came time to pick sites for a vineyard, Hillsborough hit the jackpot. Resting on a hill at the base of Loudoun Valley, Hillsborough looks like what you’d think a winery SHOULD look like. Great views of the sunset. Long rows of vines in front and behind you. A picturesque stone farmhouse tasting room. Even before tasting anything – how can you not love this place?
The Baki family are the owners, with sons Kerem and Tolga filling the roles of winemaker and brewer respectively. Completing the trifecta is Kerem’s wife Asli, who runs the wine club.
I love finding wines that I haven’t tried before, so this place was a huge find for me. I hardly ever see white Merlot (it’s Merlot, but fermented without touching the grape’s red skin so the wine appears white) – but there’s one here. They also grow Roussanne and Fer Servadou, both of which are nearly impossible to find elsewhere in the state. But my favorite is probably the exceptionally bold-yet-smooth Ruby (a blend of Tannat, Petit Verdot, and Fer).
Tolga was already running Belly Love brewery in Purcellville before the change in ABC regulations, so adding a taproom to Hillsborough was an easy decision. He also knows how to appeal to a wine-drinking audience, as many visitors who otherwise shun beer seem willing to sample it here.
His secret weapon to win-over wine drinkers may be his incorporation of wine-themes and floral aromas in his beer. Belgian beers often have spicy, citrusy or fruit notes – not unlike wine. Tolga’s also brewed a farmhouse ale conditioned on grape must and an Imperial Stout made with their bold and fruity Onyx wine. But don’t expect any gimmicky beers here; the most important thing is simply to make a damn good beer…period.
Quattro Goombas Winery & Brewery
Quattro Goombas – an Italian term for ‘4 friends’ – is a winery/brewery combo near-ish Middleburg. The name is inspired by the founders; four close friends who shared a love of wine and must have thought “Hey, instead of buying wine…why don’t we make it!”. And voila! The idea for winery was born.
A trip to Quattro revolves around the trifecta of wine, pizza, and beer – which is definitely a winning combination. The pizza is a square-cut Sicilian style inspired by a pizzeria in the owners’ home town. But if that’s not enough, grab a Philly cheesesteak, reuben, or grinder. Needless to say, it’s impossible to go hungry OR thirsty here.
My last visit was early on a Saturday (prior to the pandemic) but the place was already getting busy. Fortunately the crowd inside the wine tasting area cleared out, and soon I had the tasting associate all to myself. Not only that, she very kindly allowed me to sample a few extra items that I might not otherwise have had. Score!
Unlike most other Virginia wineries, a significant number of Quattro’s wine are made with out-of-state fruit. So in addition to your traditional Virginia Chardonnay and Petit Verdot, you can find styles more closely associated with California and Washington State (but made here). If you love bourbon aged wines – try the bold, rich Tradizione. If not, go for the softer Vino Di Nonni, made with Zinfandel and other ‘secret family fruits’.
If you’re indecisive when it comes to ordering beer, you’re in luck; you can order flights so you can sample nearly everything. Right now they are IPA-heavy, but I’ve tried the entire gamut from milk stouts to pumpkin ales. Next time I may have to try the “People’s Pils” or their Belgian Wit.
Matthew Fitzsimmons is a wine blogger well on his way to visiting every one of Virginia’s nearly 300 wineries. Track his progress on https://winetrailsandwanderlust.com/.
With the rules for opening up the Commonwealth during the ongoing pandemic changing on an almost weekly basis, please check with your destination before you go to see what they are mandating at their respective locations.