Rappahannock County’s first nanobrewery, and possibly the first B&B-run brewery in Virginia, is now making beer.
With plans to brew a barrel of ale a week, Sperryville innkeepers Kevin Kraditor and Sherri Fickel, along with their brewing partner, David Litaker, are deliberately starting small — but the important point is . . . they’ve started.
Just over a week ago, with a federal beverage-production permit and Virginia ABC brewery license framed nearby, Hopkins Ordinary Ale Works — the partnership’s brand-new community-supported brewing (CSB) operation, built over the last several months in the former basement utility room of Fickel and Kraditor’s Hopkins Ordinary Bed & Breakfast — started brewing its first two barrels of beer in shiny new steel vats.
Ten to 14 days later, if all goes well, the contents of the two portable fermenting tanks proudly described to a visitor last Friday — one an India Pale Ale (IPA), the other a brown ale — will be decanted, chilled, on tap and ready for your growler.
Your growler — a half-gallon, insulated stainless steel beer container — is what you get when you sign up for a share at the Ale Works. For a six-month stretch, you can fill it up at Hopkins once a week for $420, or every other week for $240. The Ale Works plans to produce enough beer to support 60 members.
And for guests who stay at the B&B upstairs, the list of choices for the usual complimentary beverage now includes . . . fresh beer.
“Fresh beer is an amazing thing,” says Litaker, whose home-brewing hobby over the past six or so years coincided with Kraditor’s similar interests going back about three years, leading the two to experiment, test, tweak — and save — recipes ever since.
“I remember the first time I ever had fresh beer, and it was a completely different experience,” says Litaker. “It kinda spoils you forever — like having cream in your coffee for the first time.”
In Virginia, as across the nation, the public’s taste for small-batch beer would explain the burgeoning microbrewery industry. In Rappahannock, which hasn’t had a (legal) brewery for a very long time, Hopkins Ordinary’s is the first — although another microbrewery, and brewpub, is in the works in the River District, adjacent to Copper Fox Antiques (see the story that starts on A1).
It took about a year to get the Ale Works into operation, Fickel says, from the day last November when she, Kraditor and Litaker sat at a table upstairs and decided on the scale and style of their operation — produce about a barrel (31 gallons) a week, always offer three house brews — an IPA, a dark ale and a blonde Belgian-style ale — plus a monthly and a quarterly brew. Litaker adds that a big part of the plan is to be attentive, and responsive, to the clientele’s tastes and feedback.
So after the Ale Works becomes fully operational (later this month, the partners say, though they’re hesitant to name that date), Kraditor says there will always be five beers — three house brews, a monthly and a quarterly brew — available for tasting and growler fills.
The Ale Works will be open about three hours every Wednesday and Saturday and otherwise by appointment, Fickel says. Customers can taste and consume the beers (probably at about $4 to $7 a pint) at the stand-up bar, made from cherry that came from Litaker’s Slate Mills farm — where he also grows hops used in the Ale Works brews.
Kraditor says most of the brewery’s malted barley will come from Rick Wasmund’s Copper Fox Distillery, and the trio plan to use mostly local ingredients, including herbs and fruit. (Apples from Jenkins Orchard went into a hard cider they plan to mix into a hybrid they’re calling Saison du Pomme, likely to be the first quarterly offering this fall.) Other beers in the works have distinctly local names as well as flavors (Little Devil Blonde, Rappahannock Dubbel, White Oak Winter Ale, Hazel River Brown).
Fickel says they sent their first batch of spent barley to Belle Meade Farm, where it will be consumed (or likely has been already) by chickens and turkeys, and will continue to offer the entirely edible (or compostable) byproduct to local farmers.
A bumper crop of persimmons this year along Hawlin Road, near Litaker’s place, will probably find its way into a persimmon-flavored beer. “Sherri and I were out there collecting them,” Litaker says. “I think we deprived some foxes.”
“With David and Kevin’s home-brewing experience,” says Fickel, “they’ve really enjoyed the creativity of it, the experimentation — the chemistry. This is actually a highly scientific job, and it’s fascinating. And the creativity results in your own recipes and your own flavors . . . and, as David said, we’re going to be very sensitive to our clientele and their tastes, and what they want. At our size and volume, we can be eminently flexible.”
“Nimble,” adds Litaker.
Fickel says the Virginia ABC officials they’ve worked with have said they know of no other B&B-owned brewery in the state. There are other similar-sized nanobreweries nearby — Crooked Run in Leesburg, BadWolf in Manassas — but the basic appeal of small-batch breweries will always be just that: they’re small, they’re local, and they’re all a little different.
Even with the prospect of a brewpub opening sometime next year just down the road at the River District complex, Fickel says, “We are just very excited.”