By Jennifer Buske
For the owners of Old Ox Brewery, beer has always been a family affair.
President and Co-Owner Chris Burns has turned the home brew experiments that began in his garage into a full-fledged brewery in Ashburn where everyone from his parents and wife to 10-year-old son work to create an ever-changing array of beers now found throughout the DC, Maryland and Virginia region.
“We would open the garage door — didn’t matter if it was raining, cold, snowing, hot or humid — and have a brew day,” Burns said, noting it was his dad, Graham, who really got the family started with brewing. “All the family members would get involved, neighbors would stop by and friends would come in from out of town. … It was a great way
When the Burnses opened Old Ox Brewery in June 2014, the beer scene was just emerging, but now Loudoun boasts more than 20 breweries on the LoCo Ale Trail, which is the largest beer trail for any county in Virginia.
“More and more breweries are opening and the movement to eat, drink and buy local products supports many different types of business models,” Burns said. “I can say that we did not expect to have more than 20 in such a short time. We’re only two-and-a-half years old and we’re considered a ‘grandfather’ of the group.”
Old Ox Brewery will be just one of several breweries participating in FeBREWary — a monthlong promotion with DC101 to highlight Loudoun’s booming beer scene.
“The LoCo Ale Trail was created to position Loudoun as a premier East Coast beer touring destination, and partnering with a major market radio station for FeBREWary is just one way to present our rapidly growing product to a larger audience,” said Jackie Saunders, vice president of marketing for Visit Loudoun. “The diversity of our beer product and proximity to the nation’s capital make the trail a beer enthusiast’s must-do in Northern Virginia.”
Loudoun offers an unparalleled beer scene, where plant meets pint and visitors can sample more than 200 beers any given week at diverse locations including everything from farm breweries growing hops on-site to industrial-style tasting rooms.
“Our inspiration comes from everywhere. It could be as easy as chatting with another brewer, or trying a different ingredient and thinking up a way to utilize it.” -Adrien Widman, owner of Ocelot Brewery Co.
Loudoun’s craft beer scene began in 1989 with Old Dominion Brewing Co. While the business has since merged with another national brewery in Delaware, it gave many local brewers their start in the industry, including Matt Hagerman and Favio Garcia, who opened Lost Rhino Brewing Co. in 2011.
Virginia legislation has also changed over the years, making it easier for breweries to open their doors. In 2014, new legislation specifically paved the way for farm breweries to open in western Loudoun — a region known for its wineries, winding country roads and rural landscape. Today, the agricultural side of beer production is an integral part of Loudoun’s overarching beer story, and farmers like the Zurschmeide family at Dirt Farm Brewing are growing not only hops, but peaches, cherries and other products on-site as ingredients for their beer.
In 2015, the agriculture side of the industry got another boost when the Mid-Atlantic’s first commercial hops processing operation opened at Black Hops Farm. Located next to Vanish Farmwoods Brewery, the facility features tours by appointment so visitors can truly see how the hops get from the plant, processed and into their pint glass.
To help connect the modern tasting rooms in Loudoun’s urban eastern corridor with the breweries situated on farms and pastures in the rolling countryside, Visit Loudoun — the county’s tourism organization — launched the LoCo Ale Trail in 2015. Similar to the “DC’s Wine Country” brand, the LoCo Ale Trail brand positions Loudoun as a beer destination and promotes Loudoun’s breweries as a trail that provides visitors with numerous ways to experience the craft beer scene.
“Visit Loudoun has been awesome!” Ocelot Brewery Co. Owner Adrien Widman said. “The way they have worked with all of the breweries in the county and have helped to not only promote us, but also help with getting over certain hurdles has definitely contributed to why we all have such a great community among us in the industry.”
Widman’s brewery is part of the Dulles Corridor, which highlights industrial-style tasting rooms located in eastern Loudoun. Wanting to focus his life on something he was passionate about, Widman opened Ocelot in April 2015 and creates a beer menu that pleases his palate. India Pale Ales are a consistent find at the brewery and they strive to make various versions utilizing different techniques and ingredients.
“We focus primarily on beers that we want to drink. We have no flagships brews, so we are not burdened by constantly maintaining a certain brand or flavor,” Widman said. “Our inspiration comes from everywhere. It could be as easy as chatting with another brewer, or trying a different ingredient and thinking up a way to utilize it.”
The Dulles Corridor where Ocelot is located is just one of several beer regions to explore. Visitors can check out
visitloudoun.org to find other options including a bikes and brews itinerary featuring stops along the Washington and Old Dominion Trail and a farm breweries itinerary connecting people to all the places growing hops and products that are used in their beers.
“From the manufacturing type breweries like Beltway, Lost Rhino and Old Ox to the bucolic farm breweries like Vanish, Dirt Farm and Barnhouse — there’s something for everyone and exploring the different breweries is just a lot of fun,” said Old Ox’s Burns. “And of course, everyone should stop at Old Ox to enjoy one of our beers.” ML