A little over a year ago I was out at Barrel Oak Winery picking up the wine barrel that we had “bought” through our membership in their Barrel Cru club. Some sidebar conversation led to the revelation that just as the experience-based locale had expanded its vineyards with patios, pizza, and even sangria over the prior few years, a long-gestating project by owner Brian Roeder to open their own on-premise brewery and taproom was nearing fruition. While it would take until almost Thanksgiving of 2016 to have the grand opening, Brian’s explanation that Barrel Oak Farm Taphouse, or BOFT, was a serious though not primary venture for the company was shattered when BOFT shocked the entire VA brewing community by winning a Gold Medal for its IPA at the 2017 VA Craft Beer Cup. While BOFT was certainly on my radar to re-visit after moving back from my year out in Kansas, I would now be doing so with a raised eyebrow, if not raised expectations.
We Went There: Barrel Oak Farm Taphouse (Delaplane, VA)
Beers Available: 6
On-Site Food: Pizza
One of the more unique details about BOFT is that it is the first brewery in VA licensed to operate and serve under the same roof as the winery operations. The idea was always that craft beer fans who didn’t necessarily enjoy wine could grab a pint and saunter over to join wine tastings with the rest of their group. At other locales nearby who do produce both, the mixing of the two is explicitly verboten. I could tell immediately that Brian’s original plans – to have four beers, mainly flagships with one rotating/seasonal option – had already changed with a menu which went beyond a Kölsch, IPA, Stout, and summer beer. I was surprised but also happy to see a Hefeweizen and a Belgian Singel, though it was a bit confusing to see “Golden” as the name of the Kölsch given how one would normally then expect an Ale, not a Lager. While I was also a tad disappointed to see that the elusive, newly award-winning BOFT IPA wasn’t available, I do give the team props in putting out a second version. Remember, the planning that would go into a near constantly rotating lineup is of a different order of magnitude than the supply chain/brewing schedule of primarily flagship beers.
But ok, enough about the first observations. It’s really about the beer, isn’t? SPOILER ALERT: We liked a few of them.
Beer 1: BOFT Golden (Kölsch)
This was a good start. Kölsch is a fickle beer; too hoppy makes for bad Kölsch in general, while too crisp kills the delicate nose. What I got was both buttery and grassy, indeed a good balance between the different elements. I love getting butter in my Kölsch, to the extent that it’s my beer of choice when making beer bread above other, seemingly more flavorful styles. This would be BOFT’s patio beer when a white wine won’t do it for you.
Gut-check Score: 7.2
Beer 2: BOFT Summer Ale
Summer Ales are a difficult style to group together. They range from sessionable IPAs to fruit-forward Belgians. BOFT was going for zesty white pepper and floral creaminess. I did indeed pick up a surprising amount of zest that was more spice than acidity, so whoever wrote the tasting notes was paying attention. In addition to some mild bitters, I got a lot of apricot on the nose as opposed to any floral characteristics. That may have been the one thing here that struck me: with both a Singel and a Hefeweizen on the menu, I wasn’t looking for any more fruit. Still, it’ll have its fans.
Gut-check Score: 6.7
Beer 3: BOFT Singel Ale
The surprise beer on the menu. It was also much maltier than I expected, something the appearance should have indicated up front. It almost felt out of place, but it wasn’t a bad beer by any means.
Gut-check Score: 6.1
Beer 4: Hefeweizen
It’s really hard for American brewers to get Hefeweizens right. It just is. Blame the local ingredients, blame the Reinheitsgebot if you must, but the whole “it has to be banana and clove, and nothing else!” mantra is totally misguided. They’re more guidelines than actual rules, unless one is judging in a competition. To me, a Hefeweizen is a rich beer out of a bottle that pours zesty from the tap. The yeast should hint at banana, the body making you work to get the clove. Don’t hit us over the head with it. The BOFT version has plenty of banana, more dry than spiced, and sadly a little bit flat. It’s the one beer I was really hoping for more from, but my German heritage is a bit perfectionist when it comes to Hefeweizens in this regard.
Gut-check Score: 6.0
Beer 5: BOFT Stout
Good. Really good. This lactose-forward stout has a lot going for it, and was my immediate favorite of the whole bunch. Coffee, milk chocolate, and indeed very creamy. I came in thinking it would be very hard for BOFT to beat my love of the Barrel Oak wines, but man did this one come close. This is their evening-by-the-firepits beer, and honestly, could make its way onto draught lists throughout the region if they chose to scale it up.
Gut-check Score: 8.6
Beer 6: BOFT IPA version 2
So it wasn’t the elusive v1.0. Having gotten to taste that version at the VA Craft Brewers Fest a few weeks later, I actually very much prefer the newer one. The nose poured nice and dank, the tropical fruit lending a guava, almost dragonfruit type sweetness to the affair. Some assertive resins late in the finish, but overall it’s fairly mild for 55 IBUs. Of all the beers I tried, it felt like they swung for the fences more on this one, and came quite close to another true standout. I also liked it more as I let the taster come to room temperature, so don’t be afraid to order it and spend a long time sipping to tease out some extra fruit.
Gut-check Score: 7.9
Of course, the great thing about BOW/BOFT is that once our tasting flight was done, my buddy and I rejoined the families out among the picnic benches. I snagged a bottle of BOW’s Cabernet Sauvignon, always one of the better big red wines in the Commonwealth, to go along with crackers, cheese, and an idyllic sunny day. The kids ran around and said hello to all the dogs (ours tangled himself up under the table and just waited for food to drop) and threw rocks into the pond. That’s the idea for the property, though, isn’t it? A little bit of something for everyone, just hanging out and enjoying a nice afternoon. While one might personally hope the beer goes to 100 in the coming months, it’s a decent start to have one or two flagship-type beers that you can rely on for days when wine doesn’t quite put the lotion on.