Northern Virginia has a thriving culture of craft beer makers. You can find exotic sours, hoppy IPAs, and beer flavored with fruits from local farmers. There are beers for every taste.
How does craft beer differ from the large brewery beers like MillerCoors or Anheuser-Busch-InBev? Craft beer is considered beer that is produced in small batches. The National Brewers Association qualifies a craft brewery as one that produces six million or fewer barrels of beer annually. This craft beer movement is particularly powerful in Northern Virginia. The region has seen the rise and expansion of small breweries, and there’s a growing influence that brewers have on their communities. A new brewery often brings prosperity to a neighborhood.
But let’s get to the fun part. One way to explore craft breweries is from the comfort of your bike seat. Just off the W&OD Trail in Purcellville are Dragon Hops Brewing and Belly Love Brewing Company. It’s hard to resist the Buddha logo T-shirts at Belly Love. Closer in to Tysons are Caboose Tavern and Bike Lane Brewing & Café, also right off the W&OD Trail. Probably the brewery with the most awards for innovation and creativity in the region is Aslin Beer Company in Herndon, with a second location in Alexandria.
One of my favorite breweries is Crooked Run Brewing with two locations—the cozy Leesburg tap room in Market Station and a second, much bigger location in Sterling. I asked co-owner Jake Endres about his foray into the beer making business. He told me how he and his partner Leland Rogan used money from a Kickstarter campaign to open Crooked Run Brewing in Leesburg back in 2013. What I love about Crooked Run are the panoply of terrific sour beers on the menu. “An interest in sour beers is increasing,” says Endres. “We produce high fermentation sours and quick sours in cans. These beers are really cool, and we do a new one at least once a month.” I was never an enthusiastic beer drinker until I was introduced to the wide array of tart sour beers at local craft breweries.
According to Endres, one reason Crooked Run has so successfully ventured into experimental beer making is the benefit of their location next to South Street Under, a bakery specializing in the best focaccia sandwiches I’ve ever had. “There’s a lot of yeast in the air. Just having a multitude of different yeast and bacteria around is helpful,” he explains. Crooked Run Brewing also works with Catoctin Creek Distillery to source oak barrels. Jake says he’s in the process of developing a Crooked Run hard cider.
The Sterling location of Crooked Run Brewing is more than just a craft brewery. The new building includes a bar called Nectar that uses its own homemade cold-pressed juices to make craft cocktails. They sell food, wine and cider as well, which is nice for your friends who aren’t beer aficionados. Crooked Run hosts live music on the weekends at both spots. “We found great local musicians that play regularly for us—blue grass, jazz and funk, it’s pretty cool to see what people are liking,” Endres adds.
Another notable brewery that should be on your radar (it’s also adjacent to the W&OD Trail) is Old Ox Brewery. Owner Chris Burns has a huge following among the cycling set and offers space for triathlon training in his huge production area. Old Ox Brewing has a partnership with the Smithsonian, for which they brew their famous FestivALE Farmhouse Cherry Ale in conjunction with the National Cherry Blossom Festival. You can sample this Old Ox beer at the Tidal Basin outdoor market and at the Smithsonian Museums, including Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum in Chantilly.
If you want to learn a lot about local breweries, download the Fairfax County Breweries Field Guide called “Locally Poured.” You can find this brewery passport in a print version too, at the Fairfax Visitors Center and participating breweries. Currently, nine breweries in Fairfax County have joined forces to help you navigate your options, especially if you’re creating your own brew tour (you must have a designated driver to do this). As you move from brewery to brewery, check in with the Visit Fairfax app to receive a branded key chain that entitles you to discounts at local breweries on future visits. It’s a cost-effective way to determine what your favorite craft beer is. For residents in Loudoun County, check out the LoCo Ale Trail website for a similar program.
Another way to learn about beer is through the NOVA Brew Tour. The tour includes sampling of up to 16 different beers, VIP access to four beer stops, a beer pairing with fresh baked pretzels, and roundtrip transportation from Crystal City. Reston Limo offers brewery tours that you can custom design.
Julie McCool is a local travel writer who has written about local craft beer in her Fun in Fairfax Virginia blog (funinfairfaxva.com). Her recommendations are to: “Explore at a leisurely pace, because breweries are casual, relaxed places, so there’s no need to hurry. Many of these breweries can be reached on bikes or a city stroll.” So make a plan to go craft beer tasting (with a designated driver), collect your friends, and then go tip back a cold one. Cheers!
CLOSED Dragon Hops Brewing
130 E. Main St., Purcellville, VA 20132
Belly Love Brewing Company
725 E. Main St., Purcellville, VA 20132
520 Mill St NE, Vienna, VA 22180
Bike Lane Brewing & Café
11150 Sunset Hills, Reston, VA 20190
Aslin Beer Company
257 Sunset Park Dr, Herndon, VA 20170
847 S Pickett St, Alexandria, VA, 2230
Crooked Run Brewing
Sterling Taproom: 22455 Davis Dr. Ste 120, Sterling, VA 20164 | (571) 375-2652
Leesburg Taproom: 205 Harrison St. SE, Leesburg, VA 20175 | (571) 918- 4446
Old Ox Brewery
44652 Guilford Dr, Unit 114
Ashburn, Virginia 20147