My mom and her partner in crime, Harold, moved to the Northern Neck of Virginia, the land between the waters of the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers, nearly ten years ago. A sleepy, rural finger of land so many miles away from the madness of D.C., I-95, and the silliness that is national politics, the Northern Neck has a long farming history, and a deep local attachment to the waters that surround it.
We’ve watched as the area has gathered a bit of attention from tourists and Washington refugees seeking peace and an affordable home–of course, we count ourselves among these new residents, as many families have lived here for centuries, quite literally. Each town slowly boasts more of its own restaurants, artisan shops, and accommodations, including the village nearest to us, Montross.
For Mother’s Day, we stopped at one of the latest entrants to the local scene, the Montross Brewery. With its big “LOVE” letters right on the Kings Highway in town, you can’t miss it–but since as yet it’s only open on Friday through Sunday, you want to make plans to ensure that you don’t. I’m a big believer in the ability of the craft beer movement to offer opportunity in even the smallest, most out-of-the-way places–unlike growing wine, you can source the ingredients for–and brew your own–beer anywhere in the U.S.
We timed our approach to sync with the brewery’s opening time of noon on Sunday, and we first ordered a pizza from the other side of the historic building in which the tasting room resides. The thin and crispy cheese pizza made the perfect light lunch for us as we sampled through a paddle of five brews on tap, plus the homemade ginger ale. Matt and Wayne were both in the tap room to oversee our selection–Matt let us know that we just missed the Angry SOB IPA (a miss for me, but one we’ll rectify on my next visit home). But the remaining tastes offered us a good idea of the brewery’s range and style. The focus is on using local ingredients where possible, and themes from around the Northern Neck (like the Oyster Stout, which I also hope to try next time).
On this tasting, though, we started with the Ginger Ale (non-alcoholic), brewed with fresh ginger and lemon, which came through strongly on the nose. The taste featured a simple-syrup-like sweetness, with a little bit of aftertaste almost like Stevia. Mom really enjoyed it; it fits in with the sweeter Vernor’s ginger ale that she normally drinks. I favor a spicier ginger profile, but still found it refreshing.
The first of the beers we tasted was the Berry Farmer Sour (4% abv), appropriate for this time of year when the strawberries ripen all over the state. Smelling the sour was like sticking your nose into a fresh box of berries, complete with a bit of the basket. On the palate, it’s definitely a sour, with a tart strawberry taste, and a cider vinegar aftertaste. It reminded me of a berry kombucha, and we also found it well made.
The second beer, the Islander (3.6% abv), was brewed with oranges in a Belgian Wit style, so lots of coriander coming through on the nose along with a whiff of yeast. The mouthfeel was creamy and also tasted a bit of rye, with orange peel to round out the flavors. A natural haze makes this a classic wit bier to me. Nicely done.
Third up was the Staffer Passion Fruit Blonde (5% abv), which we had a feeling would be the least interesting to us, given our natural inclinations, and we were right. It’s a pleasant, lager-like, neutral beer with a rich mouthfeel but not much to it in terms of flavor. Cold on a hot day? Sure.
One of our favorites was the fourth beer, the Trailblazer Dubbel (9% abv). I smelled grape must on the nose, with rich raisins on the palate. It’s clear amber brown color matched those tastes, which finished with a burnt caramel aftertaste–pleasantly so. A strong contender for a full pint had we not had a drive up to Baltimore ahead of us!
Last but far from least was our other favorite, The Boss Blueberry Oatmeal Stout (5.25% abv). To me, more maple came through on the nose rather than blueberries–but maybe I was just conjuring pancakes. The caramelized oats on the palate balanced out nicely, and the hazy deep brown color we found inviting. A well-rounded paddle overall, and good things to choose from. Not to mention the fact that the outdoor seating is dog-friendly, with water bowls provided. The tasting was $8; the small cheese pizza was $7.
We look forward to returning!