By Marianne Weaver
Virginia is fast becoming a prime destination for lovers of craft beverages, and the Prince William County
Office of Tourism (also previously known as Discover Prince William & Manassas or the county’s convention & visitors bureau) has developed a strategy—the Steins, Vines and Moonshine Trail—to draw visitors to Prince William.
“The number of breweries and distilleries has exploded in the past five years,” said Ann Marie Maher, director of tourism for Prince William County. “Today’s consumers and visitors seek unique experiences and the Steins, Vines & Moonshine trail will hone in on what they are seeking—to taste, to smell, to see.”
The trail is open to all craft breweries, wineries and distilleries in the greater Prince William region. Today, the trail is composed of 13 breweries, two distilleries and four wineries/tasting rooms.
“We recently hosted two trail kick-off meetings with trail members to discuss advertising ideas, a passport that will gamify the trail, and an annual festival,” said Maher. “We see the trail being a great add-on reason why visitors would want to come to our destination. After visitors have seen one of our iconic attractions, such as Manassas National Battlefield Park or the National Museum of the Marine Corps, we anticipate they will make time to finish off the day with a glass of rosé, craft brew or artisan cocktail at one of our incredible trail sites.”
Tim Hoke, CEO of Woodbridge-based Heroic Aleworks, was among the participants at that first meeting. “One of the best things about the beer, wine and distilling community is how supportive and inclusive all of us are,” he said. “We all take a lot of pride in the products we make and love sharing them with our customers and with each other. The trail is such a great way to highlight all of these great brands.”
Virginia has a long history of beer brewing beginning in 1607 when, according to the National Park Service, Jamestown colonists served beer at their first feast. George Washington also served beer and porter to guests at Mount Vernon.
More recently, beginning in 1984, microbreweries—those that produce less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year with 75 percent or more of their beer sold off-site—started to spring up nationwide. According to the Brewers Association, by 2016, Virginia was home to 164 craft breweries, producing 257,645 barrels per year.
“We have a unique situation where you can go to a few locations, and we don’t serve the same beers at both,” said Sarah Meyers. “At the BadWolf pHunk House, there is something different every time. At the BrewHouse, we have lots of tables and patio seating.”
Recently, the couple partnered with Jonathan Kibben and Chris Sellers, owners of CJ Finz of Manassas, to open BadWolf Public House in Downtown Historic Manassas. “All of us grew up in Manassas, we love how Old Town has evolved, and we are excited to be a part of it,” said Kibben. “What sets us apart is the concept: We are a farm-to-table style restaurant and craft brewery in one. On the restaurant side, our kitchen focuses on fresh ingredients and locally sourced products. In our brewery, we do the same.”
As BadWolf was expanding throughout Manassas, on the other side of the county, Randy Barnette was working at a Woodbridge restaurant while investing in a Falls Church brewpub. “I felt a more casual brewpub in Woodbridge would be a smash hit,” said Barnette, owner of Ornery Beer Co. “Since we opened Aug. 17, 2015, we have gone from being the first brewery in Woodbridge to now the fifth brewery. It adds some pressures to the business, but the community of breweries here is a bunch of great people.”
He said Ornery stands out from the crowd by offering traditional ales and lagers that pair well with their chef-driven, scratch menu. And the experts must agree: Since opening, Ornery has won two medals at the Virginia Craft Beer Cup and was named the Best Kolsch Ale in America in 2016 at the Great American Beer Festival.
As more brewers convert their home brews into viable businesses, competition among the establishments might seem fierce, but not so, according to the proprietors. “We are not competing against each other,” said Aaron Ludwig, operations manager of Tin Cannon Brewing Co., Gainesville. “Realistically, it is us against Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors. I don’t expect the brand loyalty that Budweiser gets.”
Visitors to Tin Cannon, he said, can sip on a wide variety of beers, ranging from light blonds to hoppy double IPAs and dark porters. And while they’re in the tap room, he said he’ll ask them if they’ve
tried other brewers in the region. “I ask them if they tried BadWolf or Heritage,” he said. “If I convert a mega beer drinker to a craft beer drinker, that helps us all. We support each other.”
Sean Arroyo, CEO of Heritage Brewing Co., which opened in a converted industrial park in Manassas in December 2013, said his brewery prides itself on its roots. “We’re a veteran-owned and operated brewery, so Heritage honors the great people who came before us to fight for and build the country we love today. Our brand is Americana-focused, and our flagship brews reference American history and icons,” he said. “We pride ourselves on making something for everyone. From the craft beer enthusiast
looking for the exclusive small batch to someone who’s never ventured into the craft brew realm, we have a beer that fits every palette.”
Like Heritage, Brew Republic Bierwerks is a veteran-owned brewery. However, unlike most craft breweries that are located in converted industrial parks, Brew Republic has found a home in the upscale Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center.
“We are right in the middle of things. People see our sign and come in,” said Ryan Heisey, co-owner and minister of operations, adding that unlike most others in the trail, Brew Republic doesn’t rely on food trucks for cuisine, but rather on its own kitchen. “Our food is developed to pair with our beers. It is an eating and drinking experience.”
Josh Fournelle, co-owner of Water’s End Brewery in Lake Ridge, agreed that the shopping mall location was key in drawing in patrons. “Our goal was always to be situated in a retail location where we could become part of the surrounding community,” said Fournelle. “When we found our current space, we didn’t fully realize how great the location was. We’ve since been able to meet hundreds of customers, many of whom we now consider friends. They live in the surrounding community and give Water’s End its neighborhood craft taproom feel.”
Creating a community was also a key for the owners of Heroic Aleworks. But they don’t define their community by location, but rather by shared interest. “Heroic Aleworks is a very unique brewery,” said Hoke, who has been part of the trail since its inception. “We like to think that we are a center of gravity for the larger nerd/geek community.”
The owners have tied their love for comics with their dedication to brewing. “We work hard on making the best beer we can, doing interesting and challenging styles, and bringing a story to life with our characters and our comics,” he said. “We sold our comic book for the first time at AwesomeCon in D.C. We’ve carried that into our tap room and create new characters for every beer we make. It’s tough to stand out in craft beer, but we think we’ve done a pretty good job of both being original and being true to who we are.”
Two newcomers have signed on to the trail even before opening their doors: Sinistral Brewing Company and 2 Silos Brewing Company. Stacey Perry, who founded Sinistral with her husband, said the name is a nod to her husband/head brewer. “Sinistral is an archaic word for being of or from the left side,” she said. “Since Blane is left-handed, we wanted to play into the uniqueness he brings to our beers.”
After a two-year search, they found the perfect location for their seven-barrel, 3,500 square-foot brewery/taproom/beer garden. “Like us, a lot of the other places on the trail are family-owned businesses that are producing really fine quality products. We don’t necessarily consider ourselves any different from any of them. We’re making great beer in a really cool space, too,” she said. “We are eager to welcome our friends and neighbors in the community to share our beers, our taproom and courtyard beer garden space in Historic Downtown Manassas.”
Just outside of Historic Downtown Manassas, the Villagio Hospitality Group has developed a “destination brewery campus” on the eight-acre site of the historic Thomasson Barn at Innovation Park in Prince William. The Farm Brew LIVE Campus will be home to 2 Silos Brewing Co. packaging facility, tasting
room and company store; The Black Sheep: whiskey + wine + noshery; and The YARD Beer & Sound Garden featuring The Pit Barbecue.
“Prince William’s plan for Innovation Park aligned with the concept of Farm Brew LIVE and 2 Silos Brewing,” said Meredith Arnest, Villagio director of brand development. “The Thomasson Barn created the winning combination with its history, intrigue and beauty.”
Forrest Morgan, co-founder and head brewmaster of 2 Silos, said he has converted the 1929 dairy farm barn into a place where the complete beer cycle—from the agriculture to the brewing process—can be visible and revealing, reinforcing the path from farm to pint.
“At 2 Silos Brewing Co., we pride ourselves on brewing beers that we love to drink,” he said. “Our beers are unique, big character brews featuring bold flavors that defy traditional styles and expectations.”
According to the Virginia Wine Board, the commonwealth has a long history of producing quality wines, dating back to 1873 when a Virginia Norton wine was named the “best red wine of all nations” at the Vienna World’s Fair. But Prohibition struck in 1920, effectively shutting down the entire business.
“From 1920 to the mid-1970s, there were no wineries in Virginia,” said Chris Pearmund, managing partner of Effingham Manor in Nokesville, who has 30 years of experience in the Virginia wine industry. “In the 70s, rules changed, so you could grow grapes and operate a winery. In 1979 there were only six
wineries, but by 1995 there were 46 Virginia wineries.”
There are four wine stops along the trail: Aroma Wine Tasting, Effingham Manor Winery, the Winery at Bull Run and the Winery at LaGrange.
Arthur Lampros, owner of WineStyles of Montclair, said during the past decade local wineries have pushed to create high-quality wines that can compete on a world stage. The new beverage trail, he said, could be the way to draw in new customers.
“First, you need a driver, so people can visit the wineries and really enjoy it,” he suggested. “Reach out and ask the wine maker about his process. Dig into the techniques they use because they are all different. There is some real talent here.”
The Winery at La Grange, situated on 20 acres in Haymarket, has set up their main tasting room in an 18th-century manor house. The winery is best known for its reds, including the Meritage, Cabernet Franc Reserve and Petit Manseng, and French-styled chardonnay whites.
“I am looking forward to bringing in new customers and introducing them to Virginia wines—the artistry and craftsmanship taking place in their backyards,” said Alexandria Scadden, club sales director. “We are family and pet friendly. We offer later hours during the weekend. We have historical tours of the house and vineyards and educational tastings that include information on the whole process of making wine, growing grapes, and the effect it has had on our state.”
Effingham Manor Winery has a different strategy for drawing business to its Nokesville property.
“Effingham brings in not just local agriculture and local wine, but also a facet of American history and colonial history,” said Pearmund, who added the property features a 250-year old plantation house, an old brown sandstone blacksmith shop, smokehouse and former slaves’ quarters. And although Pearmund
said he wants local students—from elementary through college— to visit and tour the historic property, the winery is intended for adults.
“We want to be more like Mount Vernon in that we are not looking for droves of people,” said Pearmund. “Kids are allowed, but we don’t want to be a family winery with tons of people. We need to protect the place.”
He added that unlike other wineries, he doesn’t have any intention of bringing in food trucks. “We will have food that works–cheeses and sausages,” he said. “We want to make it a higher-level winery
experience that doesn’t make it a family outing.”
Effingham offers chardonnay, Traminette, rosé, Norton, merlot, Meritage, sparkling wine and King’s Ransom Reserve for tastings and purchase.
Although Virginia has deep roots in moonshine, distilleries have only recently begun to spring up in this region. Two distilleries— KO Distilling and MurLarkey—have joined the trail.
KO Distilling was the first distillery to set up shop in Manassas since Prohibition ended in 1933, opening its doors to the public in September 2015 with two gins and a white (unaged) whiskey. Since that time, they’ve expanded the selection to include a barrel finished gin, an aged wheat whiskey, and an aged rye whiskey.
“While many people think [the name stands for]‘knock out,’ our two co-founders Bill Karlson and John O’Mara are the “K” and “O” in KO Distilling,” said Peter Mowery, customer experience director. He hopes the trail helps visitors sample their way through the region: “The trail provides a literal map for us to send our customers to visit other breweries, wineries and distilleries, and vice versa.”
The owners of the second distillery, MurLarkey Distilled Spirits, started laying the groundwork for their distillery in 2013 and then spent about three years raising capital and securing permits before opening their Bristow distillery in 2016.
Cousins Thomas Murray, Michael and James Larkin, along with George “Papi” Zwetkow, Marc Cucchiaro, Ian Purcell, James Curry, Jesse Puckett and Paul Roberts, joined forces to create the
distillery that honors their forefathers with nod to the cousins’ grandparents, Bill and Katie Kelly.
“The name is a combination of three family names: MURray, LARkin and KEllY,” explained Jim Curry, director of marketing, who has been friends with the cousins for many years. “We chose this location for its proximity to Jiffy Lube Live. And we want to be part of the trail because there are a lot of people coming from D.C. to do the winery and brewery tours.”
Maher said her team and the tourism business partners are looking forward to unveiling the trail this fall.
“Our craft breweries, wineries and distilleries have been fantastic to work with, and they are very excited with our plans,” said Maher. “The Prince William County Office of Tourism plans to work with the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park, as well as Fauquier and Stafford Counties, to expand upon the trail as a regional artisan collaboration that will encourage visitation to the region’s locally owned art galleries, craft beverage and agri-tourism sites and farmers markets in addition to boutiques, restaurants and bed and breakfasts.”
Marianne Weaver ([email protected]) is a freelance editor and writer. She earned a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and an MJ from Temple University.