Mark Thompson, owner of The Brewing Tree
by Phil Galewitz
Mark Thompson is a pioneer in craft beer, helping to create one of the largest breweries in Virginia, Starr Hill Brewery. But today –three years after leaving the Crozet, VA brewery – Thompson is going big again by going small. He’s opened a new farm brewery called The Brewing Tree in Nelson County, about 45 minutes away along State Route 151, which runs along the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Even on a chilly Thanksgiving weekend, the spacious and inviting grounds welcomed us to sit by the outdoor fire pit while our pups played on the grass of the 5-acre property. Thompson, 52, graduated from James Madison University with a degree in biology then caught the craft brew bug while in graduate school in Portland, OR in the early 1990s. The name of the brewery comes from all the connections he’s made in the brewing industry and teaching others what he’s learned so they could brew better beer and even start their own breweries. When I tried a beer that I learned later was a guest tap and made by Champion Brewing in Ashland, Thompson pointed out that its head brewer, Levi Duncan, worked for him years back. After producing 25,000 barrels of beer at Starr Hill, Thompson’s goal is just 500 barrels at Brewing Tree in Afton, VA.
His focus will be on producing four core beers to be consumed only onsite – a Vienna Lager, a Weiss beer, a Golden Ale and an IPA. He has no plans to package or mass distribute. Thompson also plans to invite brewers from all over to collaborate on special, unique one-off beers. “I want to be small and creative,” he said.
With (well behaved) dogs allowed inside its taproom and live music a staple, the environment inside Brewing Tree is almost as welcoming as the mountain vistas and green pastures outside.
Since giving back is always important Thompson, and his wife, Gina, have a program called Pints with Purpose. Ten percent of each beer purchased goes to one of four non-profits that rotate every three months. When you buy a beer you get a wooden nickel and place it in a jar for the charity of your choice.
One of his core beers is called Chapter 2 IPA, a symbolic name for Thompson opening the next chapter in a brewing career in an intimate setting with focus on customer service. The farm brewery welcomes people of all ages and homemade root beer and lemonade are just the right touches.
Adroit Theory Brewing in Purcellville celebrates its 5th anniversary on Jan. 26 with Dawn of a Dark Day V. Owner Mark Osborne said the brewery will releasing 10 Barrel Aged Variants of its Dia de los Muertos Russian Imperial Stout. Bottles will be available in the days leading up to the Saturday event. A special collector’s case will include all 10 bottles, plus two exclusive bonus beers, and custom glassware.
The event will feature DJ music will and a Death Metal concert featuring Outer Heavens and Horrendous. Over 50 Adroit Theory beer and 50 beers from guest breweries including The Bruery, Burial, Reubens, Mumford, Kings, and Weldworks will be on tap. Tickets range from $40 to $50. https://www.adroit-theory.com/events
Dirt Farm Brewery in Bluemont, VA has put its 2018 Barleywine on sale on draft and 750-ml bottles. At 11%, this big beer brewed in January of 2018 has aged for 10 months in bourbon barrels. The result is a strong yet refreshingly smooth blend of sweet caramel, oak, and bourbon flavors.
Read about other VA Farm Breweries here
Devils Backbone Brewery has released Feliz Navidad, a smoked beer made in collaboration with Three Notch’d Brewing with all the proceeds donated to three hunger relief organizations Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, Nelson County Pantry, and Rockbridge Area Relief Association. The Mexican-inspired lager is a smooth 5.8%. brew that goes down easy and can get paired with just about any holiday meals. The brewery celebrated its 10th anniversary in November. Devils Backbone introduced Brut IPA, a champagne-like IPA that’s bone-dry beer remained hoppy and light.
DC Brau has brought back Turbo Boost Multiball, an experimental IPA quickly became a favorite among beer lovers throughout the district. Turbo Boost is available in 16-oz cans and on draft at the brewery, as well as accounts in DC, Maryland and Massachusetts.
Just in time for the colder, festive season, DC Brau has also produced Wake Up in the Future, a hefty imperial stout aged for nine months in wheated bourbon barrels at the brewery. Crushing amounts of chocolate malts and character from the barrel bring this prodigal stout home at 15.5%. Wake Up in the Future’s concentrated nose of raisin, orange marmalade, and black strap molasses gives way to a palate of roasted cacao, malted milk balls, and decadent Dutch chocolate interspersed through layers of toffee and vanilla.
Sugar Leaf is DC Brau Brewmaster Jeff Hancock’s take on a Hazy IPA for all the Haze-Heads out there. While not as hazy as other offerings, the beer has an attractive light golden color brimming with ample aromas of tropical honeydew, grapefruit, strawberry, pine and lemon. Sugar Leaf delivers a solid bitterness akin to levels of The Public Pale Ale at only 5.6%.
Halethorpe, MD-based Heavy Seas Beer Co., will continue its small batch brews in 2019, including a Hazy IPA twist on its flagship Loose Cannon, a Brut IPA, and a Barrel Aged Sour. The brewery will also introduce limited can releases to the program. The first 16-oz can release, a Triple IPA, debuted in 4-packs this month in celebration of Heavy Seas’ 23rd Anniversary. Included among the first experimental beer releases brewed in the newly added 15-bbl brewhouse were a Raspberry Sour, Honey Ale with cherries, and a dual sour release featuring Lemon Meringue and Cranberry Tart.
Heavy Seas is known for its wide variety of beers, particularly some stronger brews. But it’s now made its strongest beer ever – Schnee Boot, a dark, malt roasts with hints of cocoa, vanilla and fruits aged on bourbon barrels. It comes in at 13% and is part of Heavy Seas “Unchartered Waters” series.How about an egg nog-style beer? Old Ox Brewing in Ashburn, VA has brewed Dickens of an Ale, made with nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon. It’s available on draft and in 16-oz 4-packs.
Holiday season and Hardywood Park Craft Brewing in Richmond, VA go together thanks to their Gingerbread Stout lineup every November and December. The Caliente version of Hardywood Gingerbread Stout (9.2%) is made with cacao nibs, peppers, and more cinnamon and is sold on draft and in 500-ml bottles. This year there’s also a Hardywood Christmas Morning that is deep conditioned on Mexican Chiapas coffee beans.
DuClaw Brewing of Baltimore made its name with its signature Sweet Baby Jesus, chocolate peanut butter porter. Now’s its taking things up a level with For Pete’s Sake, a big roasted malt beer with rich notes of peanut butter and chocolate and subtle fruit and coffee notes for a strong 9%.
Dogfish Head’s new Viniferous IPA marries two Dogfish Head innovations – beer-wine hybrids (like Midas Touch & Noble Rot) and continually hopped IPAs. Its fermented with Riesling and Viognier grape must, and hopped with Hallertau Blanc, Huell Melon and El Dorado hops. The 6% wine-beer is available in the Milton Delaware brewery tasting room.
Port City Brewing in Alexandria in January will bring back Long Black Veil, a black IPA and Rauch Marzen, a smoked lager. A joint release party is scheduled at the Alexandria brewery on Dec. 21. One of my favorite holiday season beers in the DC area is Tidings, a Belgian style ale with special spices. This year, Port City is doing a Maker’s Mark Barrel Aged Tidings in collaboration with Rebellion, a bar/restaurant in Washington DC. To celebrate the brewery’s 8th anniversary, it’s brewing Colossal 8 Dopplebock, a strong lager with crimson highlights. The 8% brew will be featured at a 2-day brewery event Feb. 1-2.
Port City and Devils Backbone were two of 1,000 breweries that teamed up in a fundraising effort to support victims of the campfire in Northern California in November which occurred just a short drive from Sierra Nevada’s Chico headquarters. These breweries brewed versions of Resilience IPA, donating all the sales to the Sierra Nevada Camp Fire Relief Fund. The fire burned over 14,000 homes and killed at least 85 people.
“Our hearts go out to everyone whose lives have been upended by the fire,” says Port City founder Bill Butcher. “We’re so proud of Sierra Nevada’s leadership and are honored to join the breweries participating in the relief campaign. It’s a powerful example of the good that our close-knit industry can do for our communities.”
Port City will brew the IPA in early December and announce its tapping on social media and its website. Those interested in making further contributions can donate to Sierra Nevada’s relief fund: www.goldenvalley.bank/Community-Foundation.aspx.