My wife and I have been frequenting Barrel Oak Winery for six or so years now, even joining their Barrel Cru winery club and stashing away bottles for (increasingly) special occasions. First bursting onto the scene in 2007, BOW has grown about four-fold since and expanded both its facilities and offerings to include food, kids’ areas, and even a companion winery at the John Marshall estate. It was with little surprise, then, when on a recent tasting visit the staff explained that the new bar area being added on was actually for beer. The addition of craft beer to Barrel Oak’s services is even less surprising if one takes into account the relative dearth of craft beer in the little triangle between NoVA, Purcellville/Leesburg, and Winchester. Ahead of their grand opening we sat down for an exclusive chat with Brian Roeder, the owner of Barrel Oak, to discuss his plans and visions for their newest expansion.
Of course, if you’re interested, you can check out BOFT’s grand opening this Thanksgiving weekend! The first three beers will debut on Friday, and the last (a Porter) should follow on Sunday. Hope to see you there!
First Look: Barrel Oak Farm Taphouse (Delaplane, VA)
Scheduled Opening: August 2016
If you’ve not heard of Delaplane you’d be easily forgiven as it’s better known for wine and equestrian events. Even then, the Barrel Oak idea isn’t original as nearby Quattro Goomba near Middleburg also doubles as a winery, but the tasting concept certainly is. Through some fairly judicious legislative interpretation, the Taphouse (or BOFT) is allowed to pour beer under the same roof as the wine tasting room so long as two conditions are met: 1) the beer and wine production areas are separated, and 2) the hops used for brewing are grown on the premises. By meeting both conditions, BOFT is the first joint beer and wine tasting room in the Commonwealth. A long-gestating idea, Barrel Oak has actually been growing both Cascade and Bulletproof Hops on their farm since 2014.
Even then, getting to this point hasn’t been easy. According to Brian, the licensing process was begun back in January and estimated to last 156 days per the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau, or TTB, but due to a glut of existing permit requests from the preceding months BOFT’s application blew past that estimate around the end of June. Luckily that has suited Brian’s plan as the production facility, located directly underneath the tasting room, was only scheduled for completion for late June/early July. Clearly, the timing for all the parts of the process were aligned from the beginning.
Going back to 2014, Brian met with local restaurateur Jonathan Staples to discuss the idea for a 100% in-house farm brewery. While Jonathan eventually flirted with Flying Dog as well before going in his own direction up in Lucketts, Brian still had some intriguing customer feedback from the winery. While pairs such as my wife and I were onboard with the wine, apparently other wives lamented their own spouses’ general disinterest in wine. What could be afternoons spent at the winery were relegated to tastings and to-go purchases instead. So when Jonathan pitched the idea of a brewery, Brian saw it as a perfect fit with the other hospitality services for revelers and families, this time aimed at men in particular.
This business concept is what separates Barrel Oak from other wineries and vineyards in Virginia and elsewhere. For someone who readily issues the disclaimer that he’s “not a beer guy,” Brian and wife Sharon have sought to position Barrel Oak as a purveyor of hospitality services which happens to also make (award-winning) libations. With the overwhelming majority of Virginia wineries focused first and foremost on foot traffic for sales, customer retention metrics such as time on site necessarily drive the levers of entrepreneurship. BOFT is the same way: the goal is to keep everyone at Barrel Oak, not put bottles on shelves or kegs in bars. It’s a supplement to everything around it and vice versa – how many other places have a storytelling and music area for kids so that mom and dad can chill with an adult beverage and nosh on a wood-fired pizza?
All that said, as with the wine it wouldn’t matter if the beer didn’t keep you coming back. Just off the main wine tasting room you’ll encounter another rustic, farm-style barn area, this time with antique beer cans affixed to the wall and a modern tap system to let you know you’re in the right place. Barrel Oak has brought in regional beer expert Eric Plummer to curate three flagships and one rotating brew. Given the family aspects of the farm and the casual nature of most guests, Brian and Eric’s strategy is rooted in both simplicity and approachability so you won’t find any sours or palate-melting IBU counts. You will find diversity, though: a Kölsch, West Coast IPA (more Sierra Nevada than Stone, mind you), and Belgian Dubbel constitute the flagships. The first seasonal will appropriately be a Witbier, with a spiced Pumpkin Ale following suit in the Fall.
The double tap setup sees tasting flights as the main draw with a mid-sized 3 oz. pour of each draught. Additionally, 12 oz. tumblers and 13.5 oz. tulips for Belgian styles will be available for purchase. The 7 BBL brew system will output just enough on a weekly basis to allow for growler fills, and a regular glass as well as pewter-adorned growler will be available to take home.
Interested in checking out BOFT? Keep on the look out for two events, a soft opening and an RSVP-only party. The soft opening is aimed, well, at people like you who may either work in the beer industry or just geek out over all things beer. You’ll get to try the initial offerings, put your feet up on the patio, and munch on a few goodies. The private party will be a more formal affair that focuses on the larger Barrel Oak concept as much as the beer (of which there will still be plenty!)
Barrel Oak wants you to keep coming back, of course, and to incentivize that two discount programs will be available straight out of the gate. First, $50 will snag you 10 poker chips each of which is good for a 12 oz. pour (beers served in the 13.5 oz tulip will cost an additional $1). That will come out to around a 25% savings over regular pricing. Additionally, a $225 Growler Club will net you twice that amount in growler fills. Brian and the staff also want you to tell them everything you like (or hate) about the beer – over the first year, BOFT intends to incorporate customer feedback into potentially tweaking recipes, guiding the rotating tap releases, or even swapping out styles.
What you’ll get at the Barrel Oak Farm Taphouse is a bit different than what you’d normally get at a farm or production brewery. Heck, we’ll probably have to update our brewery visit primer if this whole concept of beer and wine under one roof takes off. Brian has been moving full throttle for too long on this vision to bow before the whims of industry, and all puns aside the aim of a 7 BBL/1,000 pint per week setup is to allow folks who enjoy beer more than wine the same experience as the thousands who already flock to Barrel Oak each week. The explicit goal is to try everything once and settle on a favorite that you know will be there the next time you come back. No experimentation, no exotic hops or wild yeasts, just good beer in a great atmosphere. Oh, and make sure you bring your dogs, too!