Nothing is ever easy. Nothing at all. With all of the fantastic flavors within the Fifty States, we also have to put up the blanket of mediocre taste. Sometimes that mediocre taste is closer to home than we would like to admit; DC, Maryland and Virginia are no exception. But melancholy taste, does, occasional, turn out to have a silver lining.
I had been working for a while on a three part series on a group of breweries in Prince William and Fauquier Counties - Heritage Brewing Company, Bad Wolf Brewery and Old Bust Head Brewing Company. This is a group of breweries I had heard a few good things about and decided to investigate them more fully during DC's Craft Beer Week.
Old Bust Head Brewing Company leads the group - modern, comfortable, relaxing - on an easy stretch to kick off a late afternoon or early evening after a long day. Its layout is evenly divided between an ample tasting and dining area and a brewing room. It probably seats 50-75 people and is rather full on a Friday and Saturday nights. The tasting room is also supported by an exterior seating area, which gives its an additional 20 seats. The brewery is in the rest of the developed space but it appears to be rather substantial, given the number of beers on tap. The total number of taps is roughly 10 beer with samplers of four. However, as I discovered, the beer is rather the downfall. It is OK, but nothing really sets it apart. I had sampled the English Pale Ale, the Wildcat, the Old Jail Pumpkin Ale, and Old Imperial Gold Cup and found them good but ultimately wanting. Nothing really set these beer apart, not even themselves, and that becomes a common theme among these breweries.
Heritage Brewery Company is next up. Great effort here on all front, especially recycling, but again, the beer is short. From the counters to the beer lights, to the water recycling used to bring life to the beer, this operation has all the hallmarks of an operation that will, in my opinion, be the one who makes their mark in the craft beer world. The real question is though, can this life be carried over to the actual brewing of the beer or will it fall short. After an 8 sample run through of beer (7 regular serving and 1 barrel aged) , which in retrospect is probably a bit much, I was undecided about the quality of the beer. The beer was just not that good and that is sad for a beer that is run through a fairly complex fermentation process. The barrel aged as great, but I have come to expect that. The rest were just kind of OK. Not bad, but OK. (When I got to try them in the context of the Virginia Craft Brewers a week later, the barrel aged was again the acceptable one and the others seemed worse, not better.) So again, great place, nice surrounding, just OK beer.
Bad Wolf Brewing Company gets a pass in this round because I did not go there.
For the most part, they are just OK. They have the IDEA of what they want to be and the beer they wish to
serve, but their idea and its realization are on two different levels.
The Old Bust Head Brewing Company has a very good understanding of what they will need to do both in terms of their tasting room and the amount of beer they will need to make available, but it is really a question of whether they have put the two together. They understand what a brewery is and what a brewery can become but they
have not really put the two together. They have a nice seating area,
but when it comes down to it, their beer is just not living up to their
potential. The Heritage Brewing Company is taking things just a little bit slower, and I would say more judicious, but they need to focus on the beer itself and getting it knocked into shape. Its just rather bland and one or two above average brews but that is not enough in the growing marketplace that both brewers find themselves. They lack the overall outstanding character of a true standout place.
You don't need to be big or have nice seating as much as you need good beer, a wide range of good taste and different flavors of beer. That is one advantage that brew pubs and importers of good beer, such as Churchkey and Meridian Pint, have and that is they can switch up their brews when things change. The Old Bust Head Brewing Company and Heritage Brewing Company can sell their beer now, but what will it be in a year or two?
So, when I opened the email on Friday morning, I noticed a piece from a friend who wanted to know whether I was planning to do an article on breweries as there was one appearing courtesy of the Washington Post. I clipped on the link and I was floored: here were the three breweries I was planning to do: Old Bust Head Brewing Company, Heritage Brewing Company and Bad Wolf Brewing Company. I quickly skimmed to article and did not know what I wanted to do. I put the paper down and went about my chores for the day. But I didn't stop thinking about it - how do I step up to the Washington Post and their Weekend Session review of the three breweries..
The next day I was finishing up some chores and heading out from the Springfield Town Center when it hit me - I could do breweries from the northern part of my search area and work my way down to the south. Abandon the two breweries was a lot of work, but I needed to get out from this Washington Post story. I knew of one brewery that I had heard some really good things about, so I raced home, gathered my camera and laptop, and set off to find Purcellville, VA.
The Adroit Theory Brewing Company has the rich flavor of beer which is the hallmark of a fine establishment. Wind blowing, I found it in a office park and ventured in. I immediately recognized this place for what it was - an oasis. The seating area was full, not plush and I sauntered up to the bar. The place was bubbling with excitement for a Saturday night and this energy never went away. I stayed there for 3 hours, marveling at the excitement and the "move them in, move them out" traffic that ensued. After finding a seat, I ordered a Zero - a coffee flavored IPA, and engaged with service staff and the people. Yes, the people responded to my question just like I was anybody. At Heritage Brewing Company, I was occupied by the sales manager and Old Bust Head Brewing Company it was less than that. People were friendly, engaging, and talkative. The place took on a light and airy environment. This is what I had been searching for so long.
After my Zero, I ordered a group of four samples, 3 oz each, of the samples still left on the menu. The El Dorado, the Squash Blossom, the Experimental - Lavender and the Legion - Red Wine Barrel Aged Belgian Stout were what was on the menu and provided the breadth of the experience the brewery sought on its audience. They were delicious, each being a unique take on what the brewer saw as a different take on the environment. The El Dorado was the most straight-laced single malt to date. The Squash Blossom was exactly the opposite, bold and fruity but not dominantly so. The last two, the Experimental - Lavender and the Legion provided the most fuel for debate. The Experimental - Lavender will creep up on you, slowly winding around your taste buds with ever more lavender flavor until with it finally disappeared. The Legion, which you could have with a steak, assaulted your taste buds, ending with a red wine flavored charge. Three layers of taste, each different, and each necessary. I was so impressed with the Legion that I actually brought a bottle home and I am saving it for a special occasion.
This was it, I had found my perfect little brewery. The Adroit Theory Brewing Company made me stand up and take count of me as a beer drinker. It was not sensing little differences in the brews, such as Old Bust Head Brewing Company and Heritage Brewing Company were forcing us to go through with the promise of something big at the end, it was forcing me, no, luring me, to take that adventure with each change of the glass. This is what makes drinking beer great, never knowing what is in the next swig, assured it is great, but never tied to it. Adventure is just another glass away and the Adroit Theory Brewing Company will take you there.