I went on a craft brewery tour in Loudoun County, Virginia. And I had a great time.
As a DC resident, I enjoy much of what this city has to offer—particularly when it comes to the craft beer scene. With several new Washington-based breweries starting in the past few years, how could I complain? DC Brau, Three Stars, and Atlas all have a wide array of delicious offerings.
But alas, there’s always more beer to try. In seeking to get away from the DC craft brew bubble, a couple Sundays ago I joined a microbrewery bus tour through Loudoun County, Virginia. The company that offers the tour (Reston Limo) bills the trip as something for people who enjoy beer, and not as a booze-cruise-on-land type of day. The logistics of the tour were incredibly convenient. I took the Orange Line to the East Falls Church Metro station, where Reston Limo picked us up. Easy.
From there, it was onward to beer tasting bliss in the Commonwealth.
Old Ox Brewery
Best Beer: Session IPA. I genuinely can’t wait for the Old Ox Session IPA to hit store shelves. The body was cloudy with an unfiltered feel. There was plenty of spice, citrus, and floral tastes. I’d compare this beer to Victory’s Swing session saison, but better.
Runner Up: Belgian Blonde (pictured). A friend, who accompanied me on this trip, said this was the best beer she’d ever tried. I liked it as well. There were sweet fruity notes, which helped pair with the mango cupcakes.
Our first stop of the day was at Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn. This place is so new that the beers don’t even have names. Although we were one of the first tour groups to ever come through the facility, that didn’t stop founder Chris Burns, Brewmaster Kenny, and the rest of their team from pulling out all the stops.
We were greeted with generously-sized tasting glasses already waiting on the bar, along with cupcake pairings from Jennifer’s Pastries (also in Ashburn). There were only three beers on offer—a Belgian blonde, a session IPA, and a full-strength IPA. The different cupcakes and beers were matched up perfectly. The tasting room itself was great as well, with open garage doors that allowed for an outside patio feel without diminishing the brewery atmosphere. Kenny provided wonderful insight into his brewing philosophy on the tour, while also allowing us to smell (and even eat) an assortment of hops.
At the end of the facilities tour, I had a chance to chat with Chris about the future of brewing in Loudoun County. Suffice to say, he’s pumped: “Loudoun County is ready for a dozen or so breweries, seeing as how San Diego County has 85 breweries alone. I’m excited to see what happens.”
Lost Rhino Brewing Company
Best Beer: Saison d’Anomalie. Part of the Genius Loci series, this old-world saison was wheaty, cloudy, and bright, with subtle notes of fruit on the back. This beer is perfect for summer.
Runner Up: Smokey & the Rhino. This rauchbier was light and smokey at the same time. I didn’t think that was possible, but Lost Rhino pulled it off. The mesquite smoke added a peppery aspect I haven’t tasted in smoked beers before.
Our next destination was Lost Rhino Brewing Company. As a more established brewery (the three year anniversary is June 11), Lost Rhino offered a full food menu in their tasting room to accompany about a dozen draft beer choices. The tasting room ambiance was lively and resembled a bar-restaurant more than a brewery. The lunchtime crowd consisted of families and beer connoisseurs alike.
After grabbing the first tasting, Favio Garcia, one of the founders, led our tour of the brewery production floor. He started out by mentioning how great it was to have Old Ox as a neighbor, and that he even used to work with some on the Old Ox team. I really enjoyed those kinds of backstories throughout the day. On the tour, Favio offered us several behind-the-scenes tasting opportunities, such as taking samples of the Native Son Ale (sourced from all-Virginia ingredients) and the Rhino Chasers Pilsner direct from the tank. We also had a close look at barrels of unprocessed hops.
Following the tour, it was time for lunch, so I ordered the four-beer tasting flight, a turkey avocado sandwich, and an absolutely massive pretzel. The sandwich was just OK, but the pretzel was spectacular. Perfectly crisped, pre-buttered, and served with spicy mustard, it was an excellent complement to the rest of my beer flight. My favorite beers are above, but as for the food, I whole heartedly recommend the pretzel (maybe two).
Beltway Brewing Company
Best Beer: Truck Stop Honey by Back Forty Brewing Company. This brown ale has a subtly honey flavor, but it’s more like a graham cracker than anything else. It’s there, but not too sweet and in your face.
Runner Up: Suite Dee by Beltway Brewing Company. An easy-to-drink session IPA, this beer was more floral and malty than the session at Old Ox.
The final stop of our craft brew extravaganza was Beltway Brewing Company in Sterling. The tasting room at Beltway included a bar with six beers on tap, several tables, and—drum roll please—foosball tables.
However, before starting any table games, founder Sten Sellier gathered the group near the bar and explained Beltway’s contract brewing business model. Sten and his team have a bit of an unconventional business model. They don’t brew their own beer. Instead, they brew beer recipes concocted by other beer enthusiasts. From home brewers with one perfected recipe to fellow craft breweries that have exceeded their existing tank capacity, Beltway brews for a wide variety of clients.
The contract brewing model was great news for me, because it meant that I’d have a wider variety of beers to try. In addition to client beers, Beltway Brewing also has two of their own available of tasting. In total, there were six beers on tap, so naturally I ordered a flight of all six. Among the offerings were a dark trippel, pale ales, and Beltway’s own session IPA and lager, but I liked Back Forty’s Truck Stop Honey Brown the best.
As our time at Beltway was winding down, I was able to talk to Sten about the Loudoun craft brewing environment. Like Chris, founder at Old Ox Brewery, Sten has a similarly optimistic outlook, due in no small part to the collegial relationships between brewers. “It’s a cool vibe,” he said, “A rising tide lifts all boats. There’s room for everyone in Loudoun.”
I’ll Be Back
To be honest, I had no idea what to expect from my craft beer adventures in Loudoun County. Other than flying into Dulles, I haven’t had much of an incentive to explore scenic Ashburn or sunny Sterling. However, the convenience of Reston Limo’s bus tour and the sheer quality of craft offerings convinced me otherwise. Considering the availability of other brewery tours in Loudoun County, I just might make a second or third trip out there in the near future. I mean, there’s always more beer to try.