A visit to Lovingston’s newest farm-to-table brewery, Woodridge Farm Brewery, makes for a fascinating—and definitively multi-tiered—aesthetic experience. Beyond producing what may well be the most locally crafted beer in the state, the property is downright pretty. Perched atop the central hillside of a rolling 300-acre farm, the brewery’s wrap-around porches open onto Nelson County’s famous Blue Ridge views. Second is the building itself. With walls, beams, floors, log-siding, bars, decking boards, window frames, et-cetera, made entirely of lumber gleaned from the farm, the place is so rustic and grandiose it feels plucked from the pages of Hemingway.
Yet, there it is—big lacquered tree-trunks for interior supports; floors featuring 12 species of meticulously puzzled-together hardwoods; massive single-slab bar tops with matching stools; the list goes on.
“I hand-selected, cut down, cured and fashioned just about every piece of lumber in this building,” said owner Barry Wood. “I remember the trees every board in that flooring came from, I can tell you just where they used to stand.”
Here emerges a theme: Not only does Wood prefer to keep things local, he takes pride in doing them himself.
Regarding Woodridge’s beer, the philosophy has been taken to its extreme. Marketing his brews as ‘Dirt-to-Glass,’ Wood says the company’s product is as local as it gets.
The process began about five years ago when Wood was approached by a local Nelson County distillery about growing barley. “They were interested in getting locally-sourced wheat and they wanted us to grow it,” he said. “I thought it was a great idea and we started working to make it happen.”
Partnering with Virginia Tech and the University of Iowa, Wood joined forces with a team of agricultural scientists and consultants to research varieties of barley and other grains amenable to the climate and conducive to quality spirits production in the Piedmont. Along the way, something unexpected happened. He realized his research was a valuable for the brewing industry as well. He brought professional malter Cory Hall onboard and founded a malting facility.
“Everybody wanted to jump onboard, but they only wanted to do one beer a year with all local stuff,” said Wood. “[Which] didn’t do us any good, because we need to be malting upward of 4,000 pounds a week—in order to keep us going, we have to sell three times a year, not just once. And because you can get the stuff cheaper out west, for everything beyond a couple of specialties, that’s where breweries are sourcing from for the rest of the year.”
The answer to Wood’s problem soon presented itself. With the passage of SB 430—a 2014 law essentially allowing Virginia farmers to open small-scale breweries (15,000 barrels or less) on the rurally zoned properties where they live—Wood decided to take what he’d learned malting and growing wheat and open his own brewery.
“Aside from that final thing, I had all the pieces to the puzzle,” said Wood. “So when the law was passed to allow farm breweries, opening our own place was a no-brainer. Instead of stopping at the malting facility, we decided we were going to take things right from the dirt all the way to the glass.”
Sourcing spring water, wheat, yeast and herbs from the farm, and doing all its own malting and brewing, Woodridge’s beers constitute a nearly closed-circuit product. With hop-yards installed this past fall, aside from coffee, chocolate and other such necessary imports, next year’s process will feature ingredients grown entirely on-site. “Our mission is that every beer we offer to patrons is going to be made from ingredients found right here on the farm,” said Wood. “It can’t get any more local. It can’t get any more unique.”
According to Wood, every step is infused with the same tender loving care with which he approached fabricating the building. “It takes a little more blood, sweat and tears to make beer this way,” said Hall. “Everything is a lot more time intensive and demanding. We grow our own rye and oats, two types of barley and four types of wheat—all of which took almost five years to figure out how to do. I hand-turn the [grains] during the malting process and that can take upward of two weeks. It took me two years to perfect the process.”
Spearheading the trend SB 430 kick-started, Woodridge appears to be the most advanced of the dozen or so farm-to-brew operations that have sprung up across the state.
Wood and his Woodridge crew say they hope customers will fall in love with the landscape, pretty building, beer and the locally grown, locally produced farm-to-pint product.
“We’re a throwback to how beer was made here 200 years ago when communities had farmhouse breweries and where everything was done local,” said Wood. “You can sit up on the porch and see next year’s beer that you’re going to drink growing out there in the fields. We think that’s special. We think that’s the experience.”