The brew brothers’ back-to-Rapp movement

Pen Druid isn’t just a brewery to the people of Rappahannock.

Lain (left) and Van Carney chat up customers at the bar.

For the three brothers, Jennings Carney, 38, Van Carney, 36, and Lain Carney, 33, it’s also been a place that’s attracting other young people to the area, some driving over an hour just to have a beer at the brewery, which is a little under a year old.

The brothers made a long trip back to Rappahannock as well, traveling back to their hometown to open a business in 2015 after spending 10 years touring the U.S. and Europe with their neo-psychedelic rock band, Pontiak. After producing 11 albums, they decided to open the brewery about a mile and half from Woodville — the town where they grew up (on a family farm named Pen Druid).

“It was really important for us to come back here to start the business,” Van said.

“It’s been nice after spending so much time on the road touring, to kind of shift focus in terms of creativity and what it is we’re doing,” Jennings said.

Visitors of all ages visit the rustic scene of Pen Druid, which has been open for a little under a year.

Van said he hopes one day he and his brothers will be able to live in Rappahannock again, but for now they live in Fauquier County, mostly due to the housing prices in Rappahannock.

“We’re trying to live here, there’s not a lot of housing stock here, it’s expensive, it’s hard to live here,” Van said.

Van and his brothers aren’t the only ones who want to move back. Jennings said he’s come across people from his generation that want to come back to Rappahannock, but can’t because of limited resources.

Only about 12 percent of the county fits into the Carney’s age group — residents between the ages of 20 and 34, according to the U.S. Census for 2010, when county residents between 50 and 64 accounted for 26 percent of the population. In the Foothills Forum’s recent Rappahannock Survey, about 17 percent of respondents were in the youngest category of 18 to 34 years old; 49 percent were 55 or older.

The biggest challenges young people face in the county is housing, work and communication, Van added, pointing to internet access as a need for everyone in the county.

People congregate at the bar for wifi and wild fermented-style beer brewed by the Carney brothers.

“People increasingly really require the internet … to work, to make money, I mean paying your bills online, it really helps,” Van said.

In the Foothills survey, about 57 percent of respondents said internet was very important to their business. The three brothers were already aware of the need, and Van said they were able to get the Comcast to install a hub nearby for their own business.

Artisanal barrels are an integral part of the brew-to-bar process.

The brothers also knew they wanted to keep the production aspects local. They ferment their beer with yeast from right outside their production area, using wild, naturally occurring yeast and bacteria to produce the beer. About 90 percent of their malt comes from across the street at Copper Fox Distillery, and do their fermenting in wooden barrels they obtained from Copper Fox and local wineries, Van said.

“My 20-year goal is to be getting all of these things that you make beer with … from, if not the county, locally,” Van said.

Everything that’s produced in their manufacturing plant is what’s sold to their customers, Van said. Since opening in August 2015, they’ve produced about 34 different beers, but Van said the brothers will focus on producing about a dozen different brews.

The varying brews attract young people from out of town to have a beer sitting on the brothers’ German- and Czech-style picnic tables, which are narrower than American picnic tables, Van said, and bring people closer together.

Not everyone will drive an hour and a half for beer and atmosphere. But Erica Olmsted, 31, of Arlington, and Mark Saylor, 34, of Manassas, said they have made the trip four times.

“There’s a lot of great breweries in Northern Virginia in the area where we’re from and none of them do anything quite like this,” Saylor said. “It’s definitely unique.”

Saylor added that when he and Olmsted plan a drive out to Pen Druid, he looks forward to it all week. The Carney brothers’ personalities, and their willingness to talk to each customer, is a big draw, too.

“It’s worth the destination because they’re doing something different,” Olmsted said.

Reporter Julia Fair’s internship is underwritten by Foothills Forum.

 

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