In 1997, he became a partner in Ellicott Mills Brewing, a brewpub in Ellicott City. But he cashed out in 2004 when “it became apparent that it was never going to be more than a restaurant.” In November, he opened Gunpowder Falls Brewing in New Freedom, Pa., just across the Maryland border on Interstate 83. “We’re in the middle of a cornfield,” he says. He shares his building, a large warehouse, with a machine shop and a cheerleading school.
The brewery includes a tasting room that offers food from a nearby restaurant, Juliana’s in the Village in Shrewsbury. You can buy his beers there by the pint, six-pack, case or keg. His two brands, Gunpowder Falls Pilsner and Dunkel, are also available in the Baltimore area.
Virga says his Pilsener is in the Bavarian style, full of spicy German noble hops (including the Hallertau Mittelfruh used by Sam Adams) but with more of a malt balance than the hoppier north German Pilseners. He describes his Dunkel as copper-colored, full of caramel and biscuity flavors from the specialty malt.
Both beers are modest in alcohol, around 5 percent by volume. Virga concedes that fans of higher-alcohol, more aggressively flavored brews might be disappointed: “To do a bock or a doppelbock would tie up my tank space for a year.”
Virga says he’s “champing at the bit” to extend his range throughout Maryland and into the District. The bottleneck is production. His lagers receive four weeks of aging, twice what a typical ale requires. With help from two part-time assistants, Virga turns out one 14-barrel batch per week. He doesn’t harbor sky-high ambitions.
“I just want enough volume and enough support so I can do this each day and the next,” he says. Until the brewery becomes self-sufficient, he retains his day job as a CPA: “I go to prison in the morning, from 10 to 6, and then I get work release.”
Meanwhile, the Stewart brothers — Andrew and Bill — are trying to revive their Bardo Rodeo brewpub in the Trinidad neighborhood of Northeast Washington, a few blocks from the bustling Atlas District. For much of the 1990s, Bardo was a mainstay of Arlington nightlife, a funky automotive-themed bar with the back end of a Plymouth Fury jutting out of the plate-glass window. After Bill moved the brewing equipment to Rappahannock County in 1998, the watering hole morphed into a beer bar called Dr. Dremo’s Taphouse. It lost its lease and closed in 2008.