The most relaxing places to sip a cold, refreshing beer, according to my recent research, include an Adirondack chair overlooking an old wooden barn on a family farm that dates from the 1830s and a picnic table where you can watch horses gallop through an adjacent pasture.
Wineries sell themselves as a back-to-nature day out, places harried city dwellers can have a glass of wine among the vines where the grapes grew. Meanwhile, most of the beer sold in America is made in factories packed with long, gleaming rows of enormous stainless steel tanks. Visit standout craft breweries around the D.C. area, and more often than not, you find yourself pulling into an industrial park.
The truth is, beer is just as much of an agricultural product as wine, made from hops, grain, water and yeast. There’s nowhere better to remind yourself of that than a farm brewery, where you can socially distance in the fresh air with a cold beverage in hand while looking over hop vines, fields and, yes, the occasional horse.
Farm breweries are a relatively recent addition to the local beer scene: Maryland created a specific license allowing farms to open breweries on their property in 2012, and Virginia passed similar legislation in 2014. Both require the use of “agricultural products” grown on the farm to be used in the beer produced there. For some farm breweries, that means wheat or barley, though most grow hops, as well as fruits and produce that add additional flavor.
There are now 14 farm breweries open in Maryland, with a dozen more in planning, while Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Control has issued almost three dozen farm-brewery licenses. Jim Bauckman of the Brewers Association of Maryland sees the growth of farm breweries as twofold: First, he notes, “older family farms are being passed down” to new generations of owners “looking for new ways to make, or keep, the farm profitable.” Also, he adds, the growth of agritourism has encouraged existing farms to get creative and add more amenities, such as breweries and wineries, for visiting urbanites. “The outdoor experience is very enticing to people,” Bauckman says. “People want to be outdoors, and see what’s going on in rural America. They’re looking for connections back to the land.”
If you’re looking to make that connection yourself, these farm breweries offer plenty of space. They can get busy at peak times, so some require advance reservations. Most welcome children and dogs, though they ask that kids stay at the table instead of running around. But even if you’re going solo, you’ll come away with a new appreciation for what goes into your glass, and a relaxing day spent out of the house.
Wheatland Spring Farm and Brewery
If any brewery has captured the imagination of the D.C. craft beer community during the pandemic, it’s Wheatland Spring, located an hour outside downtown Washington on a picturesque 19th-century farm. The beers coming out of its tiny brewhouse include a pitch-perfect Pilsener, a Kolsch with a welcome and flinty minerality, and ales fermented with wild yeast discovered on the farm. The owners believe in using classic hops and “estate” grain grown on the farm itself.
At the same time, the vast majority of beer drinkers in the area are not going to be as obsessed as some people — including me — with the idea that Wheatland Spring’s stunning new Helles Lager, Servus, is made with a mix of local malt and Bavarian barley from a single farm near the town of Aying, Germany, which combine to create the aroma of a perfect baguette. And you know what? You don’t have to be.
The atmosphere is remarkable. Visitors enter a weathered old barn and sit at tables made from knobby trees. Canvas sails shade picnic tables and Adrirondack chairs with views of the barn, the old corn crib — now home to the brewery — and freshly harvested fields. Families sit on haybales and around a firepit. The beer consists of styles that even the most casual beer drinkers know and will happily drink in the sun: Pilsener, a citrusy witbier, a hefeweizen with balanced clove and banana notes, an IPA with spicy hops.
Owners John and Bonnie Branding were inspired by farm breweries they visited while living in Bavaria. “Our approach is what I’d imagine if I was running a small family brewery 200 years ago,” John explains. “You grow what you can on your farm, and for everything else, you expand out in concentric circles: You’d source from your neighbor’s farm, and keep moving the circle out.” Last year, Wheatland Springs produced about 40,000 pounds of wheat from the farm; in June, John says, they harvested a little over half as much barley. All of Wheatland Springs’ cans show how much malted grain came from the farm, and how much from the wider region. The beers are brewed with water from the farm’s well — one of the most important items on the Brandings’ list when they fell in love with the place. “For us, it very much is and was a passion project,” John says. “We believe there’s a lot of value in small farms.”
Wheatland Spring celebrated its first anniversary in June, but its reputation really began to grow this spring. With the number of visitors to the farm drying up, the Brandings made the decision to can more beer, and began making weekly deliveries that extended inside the Beltway, and shipping to Virginia and D.C. They’ve made the farm more comfortable, too, limiting the capacity, even though you might feel 20 feet away from the closest guests, putting a gazebo in the middle of a field, and adding contactless pickup and payment. Reservations are suggested, especially on weekend afternoons, but walk-in guests are also welcome. “We’re trying to offer a great experience on the farm but have a sense of normalcy,” John says.
38506 John Wolford Rd., Waterford, Va. wheatlandspring.com. Open Wednesday through Sunday.
Waredaca Brewing Company
You can’t talk about Waredaca without talking about horses. Portraits of them adorn each of the brewery’s canned releases, and if you linger at your picnic table on a weekend afternoon, you’re bound to see a couple in the nearby fields. Sometimes, horses come right up to the fence next to the brewery’s grassy outdoor seating area, causing a stampede of cameraphone-wielding guests. “Horses were always a very important part of our story and our history,” explains Jessica Snyder, one of the third-generation owners of the Montgomery County farm, “so we decided to make it part of the brand.”
Waredaca — short for WAshington REcreational DAy CAmp — was founded as a day camp in 1932, and has been at its present location since the 1950s. The brewery is a much more recent addition, having opened in 2015. “We wanted to diversify the existing farm operation, which is a year-round equestrian facility,” Snyder says. Even after they settled on a brewery, Snyder says the family decided against converting some pasture to produce grain: “We could grow barley at the cost of not having as many horses on the farm.” You could bet your life savings on the result of that one.
Instead, Waredaca’s brewers make use of farm-grown hops and adjuncts, or products that flavor the beer: Lemon verbena is used in the flagship IPA, Thai basil adds enticing aroma to the White Flag witbier, and local strawberries and blackberries find their way into tart goses. The bold, hoppy Sampson double IPA gets its rich body thanks to Waredaca’s apiaries. (“Honeybees are terribly high maintenance, but they’ve been really good the last couple of years,” Snyder says.)
Waredaca has always been a place to linger outside over beers, especially if you score a table with a view of the pond and horse pasture. Despite everything going on in the world, it now feels more relaxing than ever. The number of outdoor seats has more than doubled since the coronavirus pandemic began, but the brewery says that its mix of picnic tables and Adirondack chairs are closer to 12 feet apart than the mandated six feet. Reservations are required, and can be made through Open Table for a two-hour period. Ordering from the table is a breeze, using flags to get the servers’ attention, and food is available from an on-site food truck, though you can also bring your own.
4017 Damascus Rd., Laytonsville, Md. waredacabrewing.com. Open Thursday through Sunday.
Mad Science Brewing
Pulling into Thanksgiving Farms in Frederick County can be a disconcerting experience: It’s a sprawling garden center with rows of potted perennials, ornamental shrubs and greenhouses, all featuring plants and fruit grown on a 56-acre family farm, as well as a market selling supplies and produce. But, at the farthest end of the building from the parking lot, there’s a taproom, making this the perfect destination for your lawncare-related weekend errands. “As far as we know, we are the only garden center and produce farm with a brewery in the United States,” says Mad Science founder Brian Roberts.
Mad Science opened to the public in 2015, but Roberts had started home-brewing a decade earlier, after his wife Louisa — part of the family that owns Thanksgiving Farms — “told me I needed to get a hobby,” he says. (Roberts, an Army veteran, is a scientist who works with vaccines and drug development during the week.) He began planting hops on the farm, and jokes that it took “two years of convincing my mother-in-law that she needed to add beer as another revenue stream to the business.”
Around 300 hop plants grow on a quarter-acre plot, but you won’t find tanks or brewing equipment on-site: Roberts brews the beers at Antietam Brewery in Hagerstown, where they’re also kegged and canned. The arrangement has been especially beneficial during the pandemic, allowing Mad Science to have a steady stream of cans for to-go sales. If all goes well, Roberts hopes to build out a brewery at the farm in the next five years.
Roberts is an unabashed hophead, using a wide variety of hops, including Nugget, Cascade and Columbus, to create punchy IPAs. The Agent Orange is a standout: a hazy IPA with pine, citrus and candied orange flavors, thanks to the addition of sweet orange peel, and caramel malt providing a sturdy backbone. Human Harvester, brewed with fresh hops, is malty and resinous, with a lingering bitter grapefruit note. Beyond the hops, look for Helles Belles, a lighter lager that Roberts regularly infuses with blackberries, peaches and other fresh fruit from the farm as a taproom exclusive, or the Prion Porter, a delightfully roasty dark beer with six kinds of malt.
Mad Science’s outdoor seating is attractive and pleasant, surrounded by lush shrubs and trees, and some of the shaded tables have views of the fields across the road which, according to a historic marker on the property, look much the way they did when soldiers camped there during the Civil War. Local food trucks serve lunch on weekends. There’s a playground out back for younger visitors, who can also meet brewery dog Sinnamon and the garden center’s chatty parrot, Chico. When you do leave, don’t be surprised if you find yourself carrying potted plants back to the car along with a four-pack of beer.
1619 Buckeystown Pike, Adamstown, Md. madsciencebrewing.com. Open Saturday and Sunday.
Manor Hill Brewing
Manor Hill is probably the most familiar farm brewery for Washington-area beer lovers, as cans of its juicy IPA and dry, quaffable Grisette farmhouse ale are found in bars and liquor stores in D.C. and Delaware, as well as across the Free State. The farm that Randy and Mary Marriner initially envisioned as a way to supply food to their Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia has become so much more than when it opened in 2015.
You can’t forget that Manor Hill is a farm and brewery: The dramatically long one-lane driveway rolls past fields on either side, and every car turning into the parking lot passes rows of trellises covered with climbing green hops. And yet, when you actually settle down at the Howard County brewery, most of the tables are arranged in the middle of a parking lot right outside the tasting room, as if you were at a suburban restaurant in the midst of Phase 2 of the coronavirus reopening.
The tables are well spaced, but the seating area is loud and lacking atmosphere. The best spots are farther away: Walk past the resident food truck, and you’ll find a path leading toward a grassy area with umbrella-shaded picnic tables. (Veterans know they’re allowed to bring their own chairs and blankets to spread out in the grass, in case all the seats are taken.) Just be warned that capacity is limited, and no reservations are taken. If the farm fills up, as it regularly does, you’ll be given the option of either coming back later or purchasing cans of beer to enjoy at home.
On a recent visit, most of the taps were filled with “limited release” beers, including Jousting Windmills: Fruity Peppers, a thick, smoothie-like fruited sour that balances the sweetness of citrus with Trinidad Scorpion peppers; Ginger, a well-balanced tropical New England IPA; and the just-released Festbier, a bready, traditional Vienna lager. Flights are no longer available, but it’s hard to complain when 12 of the 14 drafts are $6.
When I first wrote about Manor Hill for The Post in 2015, the Marriners weren’t planning a tasting room at the brewery, preferring customers to go to Victoria instead. I’m glad they changed their minds and opened the farm to all.
4411 Manor Lane, Ellicott City, Md. manorhillbrewing.com. Open Friday and Saturday.
Old 690 Brewing
One of the pioneers of Virginia’s farm brewing movement, Old 690 opened a few months after Virginia legalized farm brewing in 2014. They already had more than 300 hop plants in the ground, and plans to grow more fruit.
You can still see the hop vines and an expanded garden on the 10-acre farm, near the converted barn that serves as a welcoming, no-frills taproom. The choice seats are on the shady veranda, the wide, flagstone covered patio that holds both umbrella-covered tables and a firepit, and a wide green lawn where kids run and play while parents chat and look on from nearby tables.
The menu at Old 690 attempts to cover all the bases: hazy IPA, tangerine hard seltzer, a milk stout brewed with Lucky Charms, a resiny pale ale. The standout drinks made the most of fruit, including a sour ale with pineapple, passion fruit and peach that looked like a beach drink and tasted closer to a piña colada, and a mellow Margarita Gose spiked with blackberries and lime. A strawberry blonde ale sounded like a throwback to the microbrews of the new millennium but smelled like freshly picked berries and had a soft, sweet flavor that avoided being too cloying. (Speaking of retro drinks, there’s a Raspberry Wheat ale, too.)
If you move in craft beer circles, Old 690 is not a name you might not have heard for a while. But sitting on that patio on a Sunday afternoon, sipping on fruited beers and chatting without having to talk over piped-in music, was a relaxing escape from some of Loudoun County’s more hyped breweries, and a pleasant detour from the real world.
15670 Ashbury Church Rd., Purcellville, Va. old690.com. Open Friday through Sunday.
Bear Chase Brewing Company
You might not expect to find a farm brewery at the top of a mountain. At Bear Chase, the awe-inspiring view down into the rolling hills and fields of the Loudoun Valley is all most people are thinking about after grabbing a beer from the taproom or the numerous satellite bars and sinking into a comfortable Adirondack chair, kicking back to enjoy the breeze and kill a lazy summer afternoon.
And yet Bear Chase is a farm brewery, albeit one that doesn’t play up that it grows hops, cucumbers and squash to put in its beers, and even the strawberries and other fruit for its Bear Claws line of canned hard seltzers. (They, like other Bear Chase products, are only found at the brewery, so you’ll have to purchase six-packs to share with friends who love Claws-related products.)
I confess: I completely forgot about the farm products, until one of the taproom staff told me they were located down the hill, below the sloping lawn. That makes sense, as you wouldn’t want anything to get in the way of the view.
Bear Chase’s beers are handled by Charles Noll, whose extensive résumé includes Franklins Brewery in Hyattsville as well as Harpoon Brewery in Massachusetts. After only a year in operation, Bear Chase’s Oktoberfest won the gold medal in the Marzen category at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival. That’s something to consider when you’re looking for a place to spend a day outside with beers and a view of the changing leaves in the coming months, and especially if you want to do it with acres of space for kids, dogs and family to gather.
33665 Bear Chase Lane, Bluemont, Va. bearchasebrew.com. Open daily.