As the brewing industry matures, breweries are finding it increasingly more necessary to differentiate themselves, and farm breweries have that unique “wow factor” built in(in my opinion).
This past week, as a part of the Craft Brewers Conference, we joined in on a brewery tour of four distinctly different breweries thanks to the Brewers Association. The first two on the tour, Dirt Farm Brewing and Vanish Farmwoods Brewery were exemplary versions of farm breweries, while the latter two, Old Ox Brewing and Ocelot Brewing resembled breweries who could be found in any industrial park in any town.
We’re not complaining, but there’s less to set them apart from the crowd. There’s too much good things to be said about each of the farm-based breweries, so we’ve split this post up into two parts. On with part 1: Dirt Farm Brewing.
We boarded the bus in downtown DC and headed out for the hour-long trip to the Virginia countryside. Upon arrival at Dirt Farm Brewing, our tour bus was greeted with a narrow, steep, meandering road up to the top of the hill where the brewery and taproom sat. Freshly made apple-cinnamon doughnuts greeted us as we walked into the farmhouse-styled taproom.
Start with a farm
In Loudon County, to own land, residents are required to farm at least 10 acres. The Dirt Farm Brewing family started out with just a farm in 1993, added a winery in 2006 and started the brewery in 2012. From deciding to brew beer to opening day it took around 3 years.
So why start a brewery on top of this hill in Virginia? Owners Janell and Bruce Zurschmeide were thinking of starting another winery, but after a trip to coastal Delaware to visit Dogfish Head, they were determined to “sell their own case of beer for $50.”
From in-laws owning the winery next door to siblings running the agricultural farm across the street to their nephews holding down the brewhouse, Dirt Farm Brewing is a family business.
Starting a farm-based brewery in rural Loudon County wasn’t an easy process. Originally, no state or local zoning existed for farm breweries. So Dirt Farm joined forces with other brewers to get SB430, the farm brewery bill, passed in January 2015 for the Commonwealth. They also helped amend Loudon County’s local ordinances to allow for a farm-based brewery.
“What do we [have] to make beer here?”
Farm breweries have a very unique existence, where they can utilize not only products available to all brewers, but also their own agricultural produce. At Dirt Farm, they are experimenting growing barley, but already use a range of produce from the family farm across the street in their beer. To continue in the family business trend, Bruce and Janell’s nephews are the ones in charge of brewing. Their beer definitely shows off the fruits and produce they have available. One of our favorites was Fluster Cluck, a golden ale with all the leftover fruit from the valley added in.
The view doesn’t hurt
It’s hard to completely explain the view from Dirt Farm’s patio. While they’re only a couple hundred of feet up above the valley floor, you can see for miles and miles. Farms and greenery are in every direction, with nary a city in sight. Only off in the distance, along the horizon, the skyline of Washington D.C. can be seen. The setting for drinking beer couldn’t be much better.
If you find yourself in Washington D.C., rent a car and head out to Loudon County to visit Dirt Farm, it’s worth the trip.
In our next part, we’ll explore Vanish Farmwoods and Black Hops Hop yard.