Ramble On

Monday, April 18, 2016

Visiting Swover Creek Farm Brewery

On Thursday I found myself out in the Valley on brewery and hops business – I’d scheduled a meeting in Winchester but it was moved to Woodstock.  From Winchester I had planned to visit my friend Jonathan up in Lucketts Mill, but I canceled that due to the longer drive after Woodstock.  Instead, I took a drive over to Swover Creek Farm Brewery.

The last time I went to Woodstock, I didn’t make it.  Mary was with me and we were on the way to the new Woodstock Brew House, but we hit a buck that totaled the car.  We hadn’t ventured back since then, although I’d still like to go check out the brewery.

Over the last few years as I have gotten involved with the hop yard and now that we are beginning to plan the brewery, I met the proprietors of Swover Creek.  They have a hop yard on the property and were early members of the Old Dominion Hops Co-op, and they eventually moved forward opening a farm brewery on the property.  It’s a pretty inspiring story that matches my aspirations.

With time on my hands, I checked both Woodstock and Swover Creek and found that Woodstock wasn’t open until 4pm, but Swover Creek opened at noon, so I decided to take the drive out to Swover Creek.  This neck of the woods also has a favorite vineyard of ours, North Mountain, which I written about before – and they are growing hops as well, but whenever I am there, I remind myself that the big mountain to the west is North Mountain, and that’s West Virginia.  It’s close enough that you could almost reach out and touch it.

Once I got there, I ordered a flight, highlighted by the Red Clay IPA and the Coffee Stout (on Nitro!).  There were a couple of locals in the tap room, so I struck up a conversation with a few of them (I was in my farm shirt with the logo, which I have found opens doors in the industry).  They were useful contacts that I hope to have a chance to talk with further.

Proprietor Lynn was in the tap room and offered a brewery tour, which I gleefully took advantage of – they also shared some farm-made andouille sausage and zucchini relish that I couldn’t resist.  I learned their story of starting with a half-barrel system and growing to the current 3.5-barrel system that fills the brew kitchen – the story is on their web site, which is linked above.  Obviously, there was a lot of perspective to be gained to an aspiring brewery operator!

I took away some good lessons from the visit and shared them with my partners at Hawksbill Brewing, David and Kevin.  Very helpful insights that are going to help us stay on track as we continue to make our own progress on this journey!

Now back to the tasting - so far I've found that every one of the Virginia breweries I visited have at least one memorable offering, and Swover Creek was no exception.  The Red Clay IPA came highly recommended by the brewtender, and I was not disappointed.  But an even more pleasant surprise awaited with the Coffee Stout (on Nitro!) - it's a style that is trending right now, and I am quite fond of it, but also there is this technique of using nitrogen gas during tapping.

I'll do some research for a future post, but it is said that using Nitro was pioneered by Guinness (who doesn't love a Guinness?) but we are finding it used more and more by craft brewers in Virginia and nationally.  Heck, we're even using it during our pilot brews - by coincidence we just did a Coffee Porter pilot and put a 5-gallon keg on nitro! 

All in all, I had a lucky day.  My business meetings went well, and time will tell if they were successful.  But the real luck came because the meeting moved and I had some found time - and I had an opportunity to meet some great people at an up-and-coming farm brewery!

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