By Paul Keily | Photos by Amanda Causey Baity
With many craft breweries opening throughout the county and the surrounding area—and as Virginia
is becoming a major force in the national craft beer movement—it can often be hard for a brewery to distinguish itself. Ornery Beer Company, which opened this August in Woodbridge, is unlikely to have any such problems.
A Polished Pub
Ornery Beer Company is the first brewpub to open in Prince William County. A brewpub is simply a combined restaurant and brewery. Owner and founder Randy Barnette said, “I found that this area had lots of great restaurants and lots of great breweries, but that no one was combining the two locally. In other parts of the country, I saw a lot of brewpubs mixing great food, great beer, and a casual environment, so I decided to bring one to this area. I like to use the term ‘polished pub’ when describing Ornery. We are very bar-focused here but also have a chef making nachos and meatballs using locally raised pork.”
The wrap-around bar is Ornery’s focal point. When you first walk in, the first thing you will notice is the bar with 17 taps. Four of the taps are old-style cask taps, meaning the beer is stored in wooden barrels rather than metal kegs. Wine is also available on tap, making every serving taste like it has come from a freshly opened bottle. If beer and wine aren’t for you, then you can order mixed drinks or a draught root beer or cider.
Behind the main bar are several sets of couches next to the beer holding tanks. This area is perfect for either lounging with friends or watching a game on the wall-size projector. Adjacent to the entrance is a dining area with booth seating for those who may want a bit more privacy.
Ornery doesn’t have just one bar; behind the dining area is a second smaller bar (it still has 17 taps, though!). This barroom has two garage-type doors that can open to let some air in while still protecting customers from the elements.
Barnette said, “My vision is to create something between a Buffalo Wild Wings and a Sweetwater Tavern. It all started when I met head brewer Chris Jacques at NOVA Brewfest about a year ago.”
The Brewer’s Background
Jacques got into brewing beer by accident. “I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in college and after trying a bunch of different courses, I met with my advisors,” he said. “They told me to try out the food science program at the University of Rhode Island. After I started that program, we were working on yeast propagation studies for smaller breweries. We were working with John Harvard’s, a brewpub chain centered in the Northeast, and I was offered a position to help with brewing there. After I had graduated with a BS in food science, I hounded them for a job and I became an assistant brewer. I stayed with them for ten years. My first brew was on a 15-barrel system, like the one we have here. In
my 15 years of brewing, I’ve never homebrewed!”
After leaving John Harvard’s, Jacques went on to work for Harpoon Brewing, a national production scale craft brewery in Boston, Mass. He then moved to this area and worked at Rock Bottom, a national brewpub chain, in its Arlington location.
What’s Behind the Name?
“The name ended up being a secondary concern,” Barnette said. “I had a long list of names, but I wanted one that would capture the casual, irreverent, and fun tone we’re trying to create here. I was handing out anonymous surveys with lists of brewery names. I added Ornery Beer Company to the list, after the head brewer of Mad Fox Brewing Co. in Falls Church [Barnette is an investor in Mad Fox] called me ornery. That name just kept floating to the top, because it’s a little quirky, and it’s a great conversation starter.”
Jacques added, “The cool thing about being local is that we can cater to the local taste. For example, maybe the national trend is in pumpkin spice beers, but the local drinkers hate pumpkin spice. We want to be Woodbridge’s brewery, not just Randy’s and my personal brewery.” The brewery creates and sells the only amber oat ale in North America, called Occoquan Oats.
Food and Beer, Finally Together
Head chef Evan Buchholz comes from a beer-focused family. His wife is the general manager of Port City Brewing Company and he is an avid home brewer. Buchholz started out creating pizza at American Flatbreads, then moved to Rosa Mexicano in DC. “I have a Latin background in my family, so it was a unique experience to make handcrafted, authentic Mexican cuisine. Then I got the opportunity to take a job at Rustico [a brewpub in Alexandria]. My experience there really taught me how much I love beer and food and how to bring it all together.” Buchholz earned his culinary degree at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute.
Buchholz sees his job as “elevating pub food to something that goes really well with the beer and vice versa. Like if we have a smoked porter, we would serve it with something that would really emphasize the smoky flavors like some some lightly grilled chicken.”
Ornery Beer Company is located at 14389 Potomac Mills Road, Woodbridge. For updates on the beer menu and events, visit ornerybeer.com.
Paul Keily ([email protected]) serves as Prince William Living’s online submissions manager and also substitute teaches in the county.