By Tammy Tuck

Northern Virginia is in the midst of a craft beer explosion.

The area’s beer landscape has become as diverse as its geography, from farms growing their own small-batch ingredients to large-scale production breweries distributing to cities across several states. Wineries are adding shiny, new brewhouses to their pastoral grounds, while former homebrewers are setting up plastic fermenters in strip mall storefronts.

For these awards, only those that brew and pour beer on-site were considered. They were chosen from among the decades-running brewpubs and weeks-old startups that dot the Virginia landscape from Purcellville to Stafford. Together, these two dozen-plus breweries offer over 150 fresh beers in an impressive range of styles.

Our picks represent the best beers in a variety of styles—but only in this brief moment in time. In this growing scene, there are as many breweries in planning as there are currently pouring beer. And by the time this issue hits newsstands, new breweries will have opened. It’s a great time to grab a brew in NoVA.

Photography by Rey Lopez

Photography by Rey Lopez

Best Belgian Ale

Port City Brewing Company Colossal IV 9.5% ABV

The brewery’s fourth anniversary beer, appropriately a Belgian quadruple, is a strong, dark ale made with caramelized date sugar. Sweet fig, prune and chocolate aromas and flavors are offset by an understated roast finish.

Available in the brewery and at restaurants and bars.

Runner-Up: Forge Brew Works Belgian Blonde

Best Amber / Red Ale

Capitol City Brewing Company Amber Waves 5.6% ABV

The mild, American-style amber ale is brewed with Columbus and Cascade hops from the Pacific Northwest. Perfection lies in the balance between its caramel malt and citrusy, dry hops.

Available in the brewpub.

Runner-Up: Sweetwater Tavern Red Tape Ale

Old Bust Head Brewing Company

Courtesy of Old Bust Head Brewing Company

Best Black IPA

Old Bust Head Brewing Company Covert h’Ops 6.7% ABV

This IPA-stout hybrid, named after military intelligence operators who occupied the brewery’s Vint Hill building, is a masterful blend of bright, resinous hop and dark roast flavors with a distinct, bitter finish.

Available in the brewery in three different dry-hopped versions.

Runner-Up: Old 690 Brewing Company Old 690 Black IPA


Courtesy of Mad Fox Brewing Company


Best Imperial IPA / American Barleywine

Mad Fox Brewing Company Slobberknocker Barleywine 9% ABV

Citra hops and rich, sugary malts define this amber-tinted winter seasonal. The full-bodied brew, better for sipping than gulping, evokes candied orange slices. Don’t miss the oaked version barrel-aged in Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye.

Available in the brewpub.

Runner-Up: Adroit Theory Brewing Company TRENDY; Port City Brewing Company Maniacal IPA; Quattro Goomba’s Brewery Rye Not?

Courtesy of Crooked Run Brewery

Courtesy of Crooked Run Brewery

Best Imperial Porter / Imperial Stout

Crooked Run Brewing Imperial Biscotti Stout 9% ABV

As its name suggests, this full-bodied dessert beer actually tastes like a hot cocoa-dipped almond cookie. It is rich and sweet, with strong chocolate, nut and cream flavors.

Currently not available, though will return during the Christmas in July event and again this winter both in the taproom and for sale at retail shops.

Runner-Up: Mad Fox Brewing Company Crazy Ivan; Heritage Brewing Co. Lord Baltimore


Photography by Jonathan Timmes

Best Pilsner

Lost Rhino Brewing Company Rhino Chasers Pilsner 5.6% ABV

This golden-colored, Bohemian-style pale lager has a bready malt backbone followed by a bitter bite, thanks to spicy Hallertau and Saaz hops. Lost Rhino’s other ultra-refreshing Pilsner, Zlaty Rhino, contains all Czech ingredients.

Available in the tasting room and in retail shops.

Runner-Up: Mad Fox Brewing Company Praha Pils

backpack wheat

Courtesy of Adventure Brewing Company

Best Wheat

Adventure Brewing Company Backpack Wheat 6.2% ABV

Typical of German-style hefeweizens, this creamy-textured, well-balanced brew has a pronounced sweetness with a touch of banana and lemon and a faint tart finish.

Available in the tasting room and restaurants and bars.

Runner-Up: Lost Rhino Brewing Company Final Glide; Port City Brewing Company Optimal Wit

Howling Gale IPA

Courtesy of Fair Winds Brewing Company

Best India Pale Ale (IPA)

Fair Winds Brewing Company Howling Gale IPA 7.2% ABV

This early effort from Lorton’s production brewery showcases intense hop flavor without being overly bitter. Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial and Zythos varietals give way to grass, pine, grapefruit and pineapple.

Available in the tasting room and retail shops.

Runner-Up: Wild Run Brewing Company SMASH; Old Bust Head Brewing Company Graffiti House


Photography by Rey Lopez

Best Porter / Stout

Port City Brewing Company Porter 7.2% ABV

A simple style done extremely well, the black-brown concoction conveys baking chocolate and roasted coffee with hints of vanilla and caramel. It is medium-bodied, smooth and uniquely refreshing.

Available in the tasting room, restaurants and bars and retail shops.

Runner-Up: BadWolf Brewing Company Session Milk Stout


Photography by Rey Lopez

Best Saison / Farmhouse Ale

Adroit Theory Brewing Company Persona Non Grata 7.7% ABV

The addition of hibiscus tea and Mosaic hops to this light pink-hued ale yields a gorgeous, bouquet-like nose and tropical fruit flavors. It finishes dry, warm and wine-like with a slightly tart aftertaste.

Available in the tasting room, with a version aged in Opus One Winery red wine barrels, and in retail shops.

Runner-Up: Old Ox Brewery Saison d’Ox


Courtesy of Justin Damadio

Best Smoked

Gordon Biersch Brewing Company Rauchbier 5.9% ABV

Another well-crafted German beer, this traditional smoked lager is made with malt kilned over an open beechwood fire. The method adds a bacon-like peat character that is deliciously smoky and not overwhelming.

Available in the brewpub.

Runner-Up: Lost Rhino Brewing Company Foxey Brown; Old Bust Head Brewing Company Virginia Hop Harvest Smoked IPA


Photography by Rey Lopez

Best Brewery Overall

Port City Brewing Company

When Alexandria native and former wine professional Bill Butcher opened Port City Brewing Company in early 2011, only a handful of breweries were operating in Northern Virginia. Since then, the large production outfit has received an impressive amount of national attention.

Five of founding brewer Jonathan Reeves’ expertly made brews won medals at the Great American Beer Festival (the Oscars of craft beer)—two from his Colossal series of nontraditional, higher-alcohol hits. Port City’s success relies on Reeves’ lineup of mainly European and American standards, each beer accessible but unusually complex.

The beers are well-made and well-balanced, which speaks to the technical skill, the creativity and, perhaps, the restraint of the brewers. There aren’t any misses, and few breweries can claim that.

The brewery’s tasting room fills with 1,200 visitors every week—many of them regulars from nearby neighborhoods—for growler fills, live music, food trucks and community events ranging from educational classes and trivia to bike rides and yoga.

Port City reaches outside its taproom throughout the D.C. area’s restaurants and retail shops, as well as cities in five states and will soon be widely distributed from New York to North Carolina.

Runner-Up: Mad Fox Brewing Company Virginia veteran brewer Bill Madden’s clean German styles (try his unfiltered Kellerbier Kölsch), luscious IPAs and carefully conditioned cask ales top out a solid, wide-ranging beer program.



Photography by Erick Gibson

Best Tasting Room Experience

Lost Rhino Brewing Company

Since starting Lost Rhino Brewing Company four years ago, former Old Dominion brewers Favio Garcia and Matt Hagerman have partnered with other breweries, homebrewers, restaurants and even a science nonprofit to create a wide variety of classic and experimental brews.

Lost Rhino’s resident brewing scientist—yes, there is a scientist on staff—Jasper Akerboom has gone as far as collecting wild yeast from a fossilized whale bone to create beer.

This welcoming, playful spirit extends to the tasting room, where strangers mingle at communal tables as they sample from as many as 15 diverse beers. Limited editions like unique whiskey and wine barrel-aged brews are often exclusively poured at the brewery. There’s good food, too, from the on-site kitchen.

Crowds fill the brewery for regular events, including food pairings and monthly special-release parties for beers such as those from the Genius Loci series showcasing Virginia ingredients.

With enthusiasm for the atmosphere, and of course the beer, bubbling over, Lost Rhino will soon open a separate brewpub, Lost Rhino Retreat, in Brambleton Town Center.

Runner-Up: Old 690 Brewing Company A trek down a narrow, unpaved road will reward you with 10 rotating taps and an often lively crowd in this small farm brewery.


Courtesy of Flying Dog Brewery

Editors Note: On May 26, 2015 Flying Dog Brewery announced it is canceling plans to develop a brewery in Lucketts. “We remain excited about a farm brewery concept and we are still very much interested in developing the Farmworks concept if the right opportunity presents itself,” Ben Savage, chief marketing officer, said in a statement. 

Most Anticipated Opening

Farmworks Brewery

Farm breweries, legal in Virginia since last summer, are now opening across the state’s agriculturally designated areas. One will do something quite unique: focus on wild-fermented and barrel-aged beers.

A rustic outpost of Frederick, Maryland’s popular Flying Dog Brewery, Farmworks will be located on 5 acres of Lucketts’ Black Hops Farm, which will provide a range of brewing ingredients including hops from the mid-Atlantic region’s largest hops processing facility.

Equipped with a coolship to expose beer to airborne yeast and a cellar to condition beer at optimal temperatures, Farmworks will be able to craft earthy, tart ales and other wood-aged styles.

This refreshing alternative to the typical pale ale, IPA and stout roster will be a reality as soon as this summer.

Runner-Up: Sehkraft Beer Garden and Haus This Arlington addition from Westover Market owner Devin Hicks will have a 120-seat outdoor beer garden, 10 draft lines for housemade beer plus 30 lines for other breweries’ creations.

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Courtesy of Flying Dog Brewery

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