In the 20 years since Bill Madden started brewing beer here, Northern Virginia has undergone its Great Beer Awakening. And Madden has presided over much of it during stints at several of the region’s taprooms—Capital City Brewing Company in Shirlington, Founders Restaurant & Brewing Company in Alexandria and Vintage 50 in Leesburg—before launching his own Mad Fox Brewing Company in 2009, with locations in Falls Church and Glover Park in D.C.
What were we drinking a decade ago versus now?
The question 10 years ago was, “What’s your lightest?” So kölsch was big. Now the question is, “How many IPAs do you have?” and “Do you carry sour beers?” We now have millennials who have grown up always having craft beer available.
Is Northern Virginia a beer leader?
We were pretty much at the forefront in Virginia. Old Dominion Brewing Company started in 1989, and we’re at the forefront now with the most successful award-winning breweries. Port City got Small Brewing Company of the Year at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival. Devils Backbone received a similar award two years running. Ten years ago, I knew every brewer and their owner. Now, I don’t know even half.
What’s on tap next for the region’s beers?
I think IPAs are here to stay. Sour beers are a growing industry trend, and besides that, I think we’re all trying to figure out the next big thing. I hope it’s session beers. Sessions are lower alcohol with full flavor. It’s more about savoring the flavor as opposed to getting stupid.
M.E. Swing Company is celebrating a century of influencing the DMV’s coffee culture and 20 years of doing so from Alexandria, says Mark Warmuth, owner since 2006. The longtime bean roaster opened its hip Del Ray coffee shop and storefront in 2013, where cuppings and pour overs epitomize changes to Northern Virginia’s coffee culture over the past decade.
What are we sipping now?
Pour over coffee has become wildly popular. A customer comes in and orders a specific lot of coffee. It’s ground, dosed and brewed per cup as opposed to a big-batch brew sitting on a counter for an hour and a half.
Grinding the coffee right in front of the consumer creates aromatics, and then brewing the cup right there makes it that much fresher.
How has our coffee culture evolved?
There’s more of an understanding or expectation from consumers of where the coffee is coming from—and not just a focus on “Is it Colombian coffee?” but “Who’s doing the work? Where is the farm? Who is the farmer?”
There’s still a big market of coffee consumers who just want it hot and want caffeine, but I’d say awareness is on the uptick.
We’re seeing more hybrid shops where it’s not just coffee but another alternative beverage or sandwiches at a higher level. We are starting to see the merging of coffee and alcohol in a lot of shops. Starbucks locations are serving beer and wine now, so it’s only a matter of time.
The Zurschmeide family had farmed in Loudoun County for a dozen years before deciding in 2006 to grow a new type of business alongside you-pick produce. Bluemont Vineyards’ first vines were planted soon after, and now the team
can barely keep up with demand for homegrown wines, says winemaker Jennifer Shailor, who joined the tasting room in 2009.
Virginia wine has taken off this decade. Any growing pains?
There is a challenge to keep up with growing the grapes because it does take about three years to even get a crop off the vine that you can use for wine. That’s really one of the ways Virginia is going to continue to progress and get a name for the wine industry, when we really have the vineyards to back it up.
What have we learned so far?
Everyone is figuring out the best practices, what we should and shouldn’t grow. Vineyards talk about ripping things out [that didn’t work] to put in petit manseng or cabernet franc, petit verdot or viognier.
Merlot, I think, is one grape that gets overlooked in Virginia. For reds, it does very, very well here.
How have consumer mindsets changed?
Toward the beginning [of the past decade], people automatically had this stereotype that Virginia wines are not going to be good. That’s going away. They are more in tune with the varietals and what to expect from each vintage.
When our tasting staff travels, it’s surprising to hear how many folks know of Virginia wine and are excited to try it.
( January 2016 )