Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. (Roseland, VA)

Tucked in the Blue Ridge Mountains, there is a lovely mountain lodge  where the creators thought of every detail before opening last November to serve house-brewed beers. We finally got a chance to check out Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company, which is just south of Nellysford at the intersection of Route 664 and 151. On the edge of a development in the making, this is the flagship business for the Village at Glen Mary.

It’s modern beam and local stone construction, accented by recycled corrugated metal roofing and recycled wood from a variety of sources, make the building a work of eco-friendly art. The metal adorning interior walls comes from a 1900’s dairy barn in Urbana, MD while the tables and booths are distinctively crafted from wood recycled from a horse barn in Uppersville, VA. The wide floor boards were pulled from a tobacco barn, while the stone is local river rock. Taxidermied wildlife has been provided by Nelson County hunters and sportsman – all local mammals, with the exception of a moose from Maine. It’s a 3-million dollar investment and every dollar shows in the perfect detail.

My first impression of this over-sized building and perfectly detailed wood and stone work was that it would be a typical tourist-oriented steakhouse that serves house beer. But when I walked in the door, the first thing I smelled was mash – not wood smoke or grilled meat as expected – milled grain on the boil! That’s a promising sign for a microbrewery!

We were seated at a table near a gorgeous fireplace and under a handcrafted metal chandelier – the metal shaped into hops vines and grain. Large windows created good lighting and beautiful views of the mountain surround. The staff were courteous and attentive, not just to us, but to every detail. They kept the place tidy and ready for guests to come.

The beers were very good. Nothing blew me away, but I wasn’t disappointed by anything on our table.  Devil’s Backbone offers half-pints and several taster flight option (only 2-oz of each, though), so we opted for half-pints. We tried:

  • Wintergreen Weiss (4.7% ABV, 13 IBUs) – light, balanced and full of banana and clove aroma.
  • Eight Point IPA (5.9% ABV, 60 IBUs) – seemed like more of a Pale Ale; very light in color and on the maltier side; not a lot of hop aroma. 
  • Alpen Bock (6.9% ABV) – drinkable and smooth with a touch of roastiness and a subtle hint of butterscotch.
  • Dead Bear Imperial Stout (8.5% ABV) – full flavored brew, despite a quiet nose; ends with hints of dark chocolate and espresso.

The food was outstanding, and there were so many interesting things on the menu that we didn’t try. D had the fish and chips – the fish was prepared with a hint of chili powder prior to deep frying, and arrived in the shape of little fish “fingers”; the fries were substantial and tasty. I had a cream of spinach and bacon soup paired with a winter beet salad, made with roasted watermelon, spiced pecans and goat cheese. There were several other plates I would have liked to try, but I was working on a light appetite.

There is a wonderful description with a beautiful photo on a local blog, and I’m sure as the March 16 Grand Opening week approaches, more information on this place will come out. Certainly if you find yourself in Nelson County, VA, stopping by Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. is worthwhile (but don’t forget Blue Mountain Brewery, which is just up the road on Rt. 151 – just as Devil’s Backbone is beautifully extravagant, Blue Mountain is fabulous in it’s simplicity!)


The Road to Asheville

We’re on the road again – traveling to Asheville, NC for Brewgrass (we made the papers before we even left home!) Last night we had dinner at Cally’s in Harrisonburg, VA, and stopped for a few $3.00 pints at Blue Mountain Brewing Company in Afton, VA.

Every beer we had was enjoyable, but the one of special note is Summer Haze Dry Hopped Pale Weizenbock(at Blue Mtn.), which was rich and spicy with clove and well balanced by the hops, yet retained traditional banana and bubblegum notes.

We’re looking forward to the rest of our trip – eating some good “Q”, tasting some great beers and visiting our Asheville friends and fellow beer travelers. Hopefully I’ll find a moment to log in and write about it, but if you don’t hear from me, assume I’m having way too much fun!

Too Long (?) in Asheville

What was supposed to be a travel day turned out to be a day with friends instead and we ALMOST stayed another night!

After my post this morning, we said our good-byes with our hosts, and drove into town for brunch, where we were greeted by James and Michelle. A tasty smoked trout and goat cheese omelet and a strong cup of organic coffee was my choice at Over Easy Cafe. It was delectable! Everyone seemed to enjoy their food, and the company was engrossing, so we stayed together for a few more hours.

As predicted, we walked up to Bruisin’ Ales for some shopping, and then back down to Barley’s for a glass of Valdez, which turned out to be glasses of Pisgah India Pale Ale, Pisgah Valdez, Pisgah Red Devil and Foothills Sexual Chocolate (BTW- anyone wondering where this name comes from should check out this video) – shared, of course. Can you tell that we like the Pisgah just a little bit?

On our way into town I mentioned to D that we visited most every place we could over the course of our three Asheville jaunts (Catawba was a miss, but I did meet brewer Scott Pyatt on Thursday at Barley’s), and while we’ve had Green Man brews at the Tasting Room, we’ve never been to Jack of the Wood. In talking with James and Michelle, we were reminded that this is one of their favorite places to go, and it wasn’t hard talking them into escorting us there.

Our short stop ended up lasting us all afternoon and into the evening. The atmosphere at Jack of the Wood was so captivating. In addition to spending hours talking to our friends, unexpectedly being joined by Philip (to whom we said our good-byes on Saturday night at the party, and again on Sunday a Bruisin’ Ales) and listening to an Irish jam session (featuring the sqeezebox, tin whistle, bodhran, fiddle, mandolin and others), we just really liked the place a lot. The beer line-up includes all Green Man products (ESB, Pale Ale, IPA, Porter and Imperial Stout) and a nice list of guest taps. (I particularly liked the chalkboards on the ladies room wall, where we could scratch notes to each other, and the hidden “Dora the Explorer” figurine; the staff were also pleasant, friendly and attentive.)

Finally, around 7 PM or so (and reluctantly because the bagpipes had just joined the jam session), we headed out of town with  a short stop at Earth Fare for some parting groceries and a vegan dinner of chickpea salad (imitation tuna salad) and a live green salad, along with some not-so-vegan spicy tuna and avocado sushi and a yogurt for the road.

So here we are outside Bristol, crashing for the night, and reflecting on how wonderful Asheville was. Yes, we stayed too late to reach our target of Horniblows Taproom in Raleigh, but today was much more fulfilling! Thanks, old and new Asheville friends (Melissa, John, Joey, John, Michelle, James, Julie, Jason, Philip, Chris, Trish, Mark, Terri, Jason…I’m forgetting names, which means I need some sleep) for making this a memorable trip!

Blue Mountain Brewery (Afton, VA)

Just a few miles from Rockfish Gap entrance to Skyline Drive, we found Blue Mountain Brewery and Hops Farm – a brewery and pub with a real farm look to it! 200 hop vines adorn the font of the property (nothing growing on this visit!) The building is anchored on one end with a large barn-like area for the brewing, and long extension with a welcoming large front porch. It was dark when we arrived, and the warm glow of interior lighting streamed from the multiple windows and doors.

Inside there was an angled bar with seating for 8, and 8-10 tables of varying sizes with bench seating. Comfortable couches and chairs provided seating adjacent to the fireplace, and we noticed a little sitting nook in the back (next to the kitchen) that looked like it just jumped out of an episode of Trading Spaces. Beer literature and brewing books were placed on coffee tables and shelves. The yellow walls and warm lighting made the place feel very welcoming, and the high ceilings gave an illusion that the place is bigger than it really is.

Blue Mountain Brewery was packed when we arrived, but we did locate two seats at the wood-topped bar, which wasn’t too high, and didn’t have a lip, so I could actually eat at it! Pints on a Wednesday night are $3.

  • I was disappointed to learn that the Full Nelson Pale Ale, listed as being available on draft on February 20, was not (maybe after Feb. 20?!?!), so I had it in a bottle. At 60 IBUs, made with a blend of four different hops (Nugget, Cascade, Centennial and Columbus), this had a nice bite to it. 
  • D started with an Evil 8°– a Belgian-style dubbel that was rich with candi sugar and hints of chocolate and dark fruit. It was probably our favorite of the three beers we tried.
  • He also had an Irish Dry Stout, which was served on nitrogen. It was dark and clean, with a thick tan head. Absolutely true to style, this was slightly roasted and light in body. Not my favorite style of stout, but brewer Taylor Smack has done a fine job creating it.

It was a real tease to sit at the bar, looking through large glass windows right into the brewing area, watching them bottle the Dark Hollow Artisanal Ale (a bourbon barrel aged stout), knowing that we wouldn’t be able to buy/taste it.

Our bartender was certainly not a waitress. While the rest of the staff seemed to be very good, she was inattentive and could perhaps use some beer etiquette training.  For instance, since my beer came in a bottle, she opened the bottle and put it in front of me.  Then she proceeded to ask if I wanted a glass.  Do I want a glass?!?!  Can I drink it any other way? I tried to ask her a few questions, but she seemed very disinterested in the customers until someone came in with whom she held hands and chatted for some time.  Hmmm.

But we were generally impressed by the food menu. For instance, we started with the Puree of Parsnip Soup. It was AMAZING! With little flakes of dried sage and drops of truffle oil, this was a perfect starter on a cold night.  It is one of the best soups I’ve had in awhile. There were plenty of interesting things on the menu – the fruit and cheese board looked tasty and generous, and highlighted local cheeses. There was a roasted veggie pizza that I wanted to photograph! The crust was so very thin that it looked like a sand tart cookie. Every inch of the pizza was covered in goodness – a cilantro pesto, roasted yellow squash and zucchini, onions, mushrooms, mozerella and tomatoes – and the whole thing was littered with dollops of goat cheese and sprigs of fresh cilantro.

We had sandwiches on ciabatta bread instead. D really enjoyed his sandwich made with Kite’s Virginia Ham. I enjoyed the contents of mine (avocado, sprouts, tomato, hummus, cucumber), but suspect the bread was toasted on a surface where the ham had been, because my veggie sandwich had a liquid smoke flavor to it (I just ate it without the bread, and with a side salad, this was plenty filling for me!)

Overall it was an enjoyable experience, but it would have been more fun if we could have talked to some of the staff or the brewer (understandably, he was very busy.) Perhaps we will get back another time. This was out of the way, but a nice side trip!

Photos to come later… We’re off to Winston-Salem, and D is already a little antsy at the time I’ve taken to post this.

Queen City Brewing (Staunton, VA)

Just off Interstate I-81 is the historic little town of Staunton, VA.  Brick sidewalks line the rolling hills of the downtown area, and old buildings appear to be restored into useful locations for the locals.  And tucked off on the north-west side of town is a great little spot called Queen City Brewing, which is Staunton’s first brewery since Prohibition.  We found it on Wednesday afternoon, and it’s taken me this long to post about it.

This place has a fabulous set-up for both brew-your-own and vint-your-own.  One wall was lined with the large glass bottles of wine in the making…it was so pretty to see all of the different colors with gentle back-lighting, and reminded me of the days when my father used to create his own homemade wines.

The brewing area was most fascinating – set-up like one of those supper kitchens (where busy working people can pay to create meals for the family that are easy to heat and eat). Just like finding all of the ingredients chopped and ready, this place has multiple barrels of malt, multiple brew kettles ready with mash paddles all lined up, water lines…pretty much anything a person would need at each workstation.  On our visit, there were two parties bottling, and the process appeared to be going very smoothly.  One couple was working together – this was her Christmas present to him.

Wade, the head brewer (and one would assume owner and creator, although we never confirmed that information) offered us each three samples in little plastic cups.  There were twelve styles, and we tried the following:
+ Bavarian Bock
+ Scotch Ale
+ King Rabbit
(an IPA/Tripple hybrid at 9% ABV)
+ Brass Rabbit IPA (very Brittish in style – made with Fuggles and East Kent Goldings, and dry-hopped with Cascade)
+ Queen’s Milk Stout (this was a thin…)
+ Imperial Stout (increased malt and hop flavor)

We made a mixed six-pack of 12 oz bottles containing Brass Rabbit IPA, Imperial Stout, King Rabbit, Scotch Ale and White Rabbit Apricot Wheat, then headed out of town.


I’ll need to get back online to edit this later, but wanted to post about our two visits yesterday while heading south toward Asheville.

Queen City Brewing – a microbrewery, brew-your-own and vint-your-own site in the very sweet city of Staunton, VA!  Wade makes all of the beers for sale, and we were able to have samples of three each.  It was a really great building with lots of “your own” activity going on, and a bottle shop in the front.  Hopefully I have time to post more about what we enjoyed there at a later time.

Foothills Brewing – Winston-Salem is a lucky place to have a brew pub with such amazing beers and fabulous people to serve it up.  We had a wonderful dinner, really (really!) enjoyed 6 oz samples and a few full glasses of terrific beers (to be named and described later!!), and we really appreciated the time Che and Ben took to talk to us, even after their shifts ended.

Back on the road…updates forthcoming!

Capital Ale House, Richmond VA

What could be better than a 28-page beer menu with full annotations?  We made Capital Ale House a stop on our trip down I-95, and it was absolutely worth the wait.  We sat upstairs (street level) where 30 taps and two hand pumps awaited our decision.  Downstairs, an additional 10 taps are available, and there are many, many pages of bottled beers, as well as a page of wines, and, unlisted, three macros.

The food menu was equally pleasing.  We each had a vegetable soup – mine a vegetarian vegetable full of chunky veggies, broccoli and chickpeas, and D’s was a thick, creamy chicken vegetable.  And for dinner, I enjoyed broiled Rock Fish with asparagus and rice, all prepared with a peppery citrus sauce.  He had a fried oyster sandwich on very crusty bread.

But this is a blog about the beer!  So, here’s what we had (one each with dinner, and one each for our dessert):

  • *  Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye (ABV 8%) – I loved this strong ale!!  It was an amber IPA with assertive hop, but such a well balanced flavor.
  • *  St. George Winter Stout (ABV 7.6%) – D let me taste this, and it was all about the roastiness…  A very nice beer.
  • *  Avery – Czar Imperial Stout (ABV 13%) – The more this warmed, the more it reminded me of a barleywine.  It was so full of candy flavors and spice, including dark flavors like molasses and anise.  It was warm and complex.  A fabulous dessert beer that could only be sipped.
  • *  Legend Brewing – Imperial Stout (ABV 8%) – This was D’s dessert beer.  I was not nearly as enjoyable as the others because it lacked balance.  But I found a lot of pleasure in the unexpected hop aroma and initial hop flavor.  It unfortunately didn’t blend well with the other flavors (the annotation described it as a “food fight in your mouth,” but I think it’s just a small but serious conflict.)

Before choosing our dessert beers, we had already made a decision to share a St. George Cask IPA (5% ABV) – winner of a Gold medal at the 2000 Beauty of Hops English Ale Awards.  It was cask-conditioned, and since all cask beers at Capital Ale House only come in 20 oz servings, we planned to share (most other beers come in small and large, so we had smalls (50-cents off each small went to charity that night!))  The unfortunate part of this story is that we missed out on this lovely treat.  The tap was kicked and something less appealing was on…

Our waitress sent us home with a menu since the menu changes weekly.  We’ll be reading an enjoying for a long time, and looking forward to our next visit (there is a second location, and soon to be a third, so we should get back!)