Nelson County, Va., may be best known as the home of Wintergreen Resort, for its vast outdoor recreational opportunities and access to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail, or for its wineries.
But, today, the county, which is 150 miles from Washington, D.C., is also home to a burgeoning industry of craft breweries, distilleries, and cideries.
One reason for the trend is that the water is sublime and the mountains offer protection from climate extremes. Many of the businesses use locally grown ingredients. Each offers its own core brands and seasonal products, enticing visitors with tasting rooms, beer gardens, tours, restaurants, live music, events, wedding venues, and stunning scenery. A common link is the passion the crafters have for what they do.
Start your exploration at the Nelson County Visitor Center in Lovingston, where you’ll find brochures and directions. Nelson 151 and the Brew Ridge Trail feature many sites.
Breweries on tap
The Blue Mountain Brewery, which opened in 2007, was a pioneer in Virginia’s craft beer industry. The craft beer movement took off after a 2012 law allowing retail sales of beer on brewery premises. Among other “firsts,” Blue Mountain introduced the rural brewery model of growing some ingredients on-site to remind people that beer is an agricultural product.
“We started the revolution … now everyone is doing it. That’s awesome,” said the brewery’s Taylor Smack.
The brewery has a 650-person restaurant capacity with indoor and outdoor seating. It has expanded to include the Blue Mountain Barrel House, where you can see the production operation and trellised hop yard, and the renovated South Street Brewery in Charlottesville.
Another large operation is the Devils Backbone Brewing Company’s Basecamp Brewpub & Meadows. The complex includes indoor and outdoor bars and dining, a “shanty” featuring spirits and cigars, a breakfast café in a former train depot, and a distillery and lodging in the works.
Families and dogs are welcome at the Wild Wolf Brewing Company, which has an outdoor beer garden with a waterfall and fish ponds. Mother-son duo Mary and Danny Wolf oversee a restaurant in a former schoolhouse, sports bar, brewing facility, pavilion, event center formed from old tobacco barns, and hop yard weeded by chickens and ducks.
At Wood Ridge Farm Brewery, admire the view from porch rocking chairs or the tap house skillfully crafted by Barry Wood from timber on his historic family farm. His operation is self-sufficient in cultivating everything “from the dirt to the glass.”
“You can watch the ingredients grow from your bar stool,” said brewer Chris Firey.
Enjoy spirits and cider
The county’s distilleries range in size.
At Woods Mill Distillery, the atmosphere is casual. Visit the cozy tasting area and ask distiller Jim Taggert questions directly. He’ll explain the science in the production area and seek feedback on products in development. Taggert’s partner’s wife, Nancy Fletcher, offers a woman’s touch with potpourri she created for the gift shop from botanicals in the still.
Distiller Christine Riggleman operates Silverback Distillery, while her husband, Denver, runs for governor. “They call me the ‘Hooch Mama,’” she joked. A chainsaw-carved silverback gorilla greets you at the door of the facility, which uses geothermal technology and has three bars.
Gareth Moore’s Virginia Distillery Company is so new that its single-malt spirits are currently aging in barrels. Sample cocktails, tour the whiskey museum, and have your picture taken by the double copper stills. For $10,000, you can join the Cask Society and purchase your own barrel of whiskey.
Learn the merits of hard cider in Blue Toad Cidery’s tasting room, which overlooks a cider barn and lawn picture-perfect for weddings. Owner Todd Rath also runs the Rockfish Valley Inn.
A boardwalk leads to Bold Rock Cidery, where you’re rewarded with a vaulted-ceiling tasting room, cider museum, and exquisite view.
Nelson Co. Tourism: nelsoncounty.com