The best way to experience Blue Mountain Brewery is to sit outside on the large, trellis-covered patio on a sunny day. Winding hop vines climb staked fences along the edge of the property. Beyond them rise the rocky peaks of the mountains in Shenandoah National Park. Take that view and throw in a delicious Full Nelson Pale Ale that's brewed a few feet away using hops from the vines you're looking at. Now add a pizza topped with sausage and cheese that come from farms on the other side of the valley. Together, they are the perfect reminder that you're far from Washington.
The four-year-old Blue Mountain Brewery has been making inroads in the D.C. market: Northern Virginia bars are beginning to put the full-bodied, crisply hopped Full Nelson on tap, or occasionally carry the seasonal Dark Hollow, a rich, potent imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels.
But Blue Mountain's Afton brew pub shows off a much wider range of beers: The refreshing Kolsch 151, which won a third-place medal over dozens of competitors at last year's Great American Beer Festival, doesn't make it to the D.C. area that often. The same goes for the complex Mandolin, a sweet, malty biere de garde that combines Belgian Trappist yeasts and German hops. Thankfully, you can bring home fresh draft beer in a growler (prices range from $7.50 to $20), or grab a six-pack from a cooler near the bar.
Free tours of the small brewery are offered on weekend afternoons, but if you're curious about the locally grown hops or the styles of beer crafted by brewer Taylor Smack, you can learn just as much by grabbing a seat at the bar and ordering a sampler of six draft beers for $5. The bartenders are laid-back and helpful, and if you're lucky, Smack himself will hang out to chat.
-- Fritz Hahn (July 29, 2011)