It’s no secret that many residents of the District of Columbia (including myself) usually wouldn’t be caught dead in the suburbs, particularly Virginia (yes I’m from West Virginia, move along now). The Potomac is a great divide. However, when Steve Quartell of City Brew Tours reached out to me and Mrs. Barred in DC and invited us to check out their recently launched NOVA Brew Tour, we jumped on it. This tour, which launched just in mid-September, complements CBT’s already popular van tours of breweries and beer bars in DC, and is held every Sunday.
Pick-up is at very Metro-accessible spots near Crystal City and Tysons Corner Metro at 10:30a and 11a, respectively (Lyft to Crystal City is less than $15 from downtown). From there, the driver/tour guide (Steve is currently leading the tours but will be training others) led us in a 14-passenger van on a fun-and-informative-as-hell late morning/afternoon of drinking beer. During the drive to the beer spots in the Reston/Sterling area near Dulles Int’l Airport, guests get some rules (“Don’t suck the fun” and no drinking in the van) as well as a great crash course on the history of beer in the world and the U.S. (never had a tour guide before credit the role of enslaved African Americans in the history of alcohol production) that I’ve never received in the many tours I’ve taken previously. We were also queried about our beer preferences to help the guide pick out our drinks for the day. [Note: the following schedule and stops are subject to change at any time.]
First stop for us was Lake Anne Brew House in the eponymous planned community/man-made lake district (the first one in Reston, built in the mid 1960s). It was pretty cool to visit a part of the DC area that I’d never heard about. The nano-brewery (or “pocket brewery”) owned by husband/wife team serves basically only on premises (including for sale via growler) and is located in a former residential condo. I was a big fan of the blonde beer, the graphics/spatial layout (designed by one of the owners) and learning about the ingenious way the other owner vented out the CO2 in the tiny brewing area. Steve gave us a crash course on the pre-fermentation brewing process while there. While tasting three beers, we also snacked on a massive tasty pretzel from neighboring shop Nordic Knot [Note on some tours, the first stop may be Caboose in Vienna]
From there, we had a beer tasting lunch at Fireworks Pizza (locations in Courthouse, Leesburg, and wherever we were in a nice shopping center in Sterling). There, Steve gave us tips on how to pair some great beer from other parts of Virginia (Ardent (honey ginger spiced ale) and Vasen (hazelnut coffee milk stout) from Richmond, and Three Notch’d (40 Mile IPA) from Charlottesville) with a very substantial spread of pizza, wings, grilled cheese, and salad.
Next, Sunday tours usually goto Dynasty Brewing in Sterling but since we were just on the preview tour to get a feel of things, we ended our beer sampling at Rocket Frog Brewing, a long-in-the-works spot from a few brothers in a Sterling office park. There we sampled among other beers, a very good helles lager and a brown ale (Wallops Island). We learned about the name (a frog that went to space when a rocket lifted off from NASA’s base in Wallops Island a few years back), as well as the fermentation process. Finishing up there, we headed back to our pick-up point in Crystal City quite satisfied with our exploration of the NOVA beer scene. We got back around 3p (full tour ends around 4:30p so a solid day out).
Definitely recommend this tour for beer fans to easily check out part of the region you probably rarely or never stop in, and beers that don’t make the DC market (as our guide pointed out to us, there are way more people in VA suburbs than live in DC so they’re not missing out on a huge market for the headaches of distributing across jurisdiction). The full tour includes up to 16 tastings of beer, a fresh-baked pretzel, a full beer paring lunch, and a koozie. The normal cost is a quite reasonable: $115/person ($10 tip added automatically for groups of 4+), but for a limited time only, Barred in DC readers (or other people who find this on Google) can use code NOVALAUNCH for a very strong $45 off.
[Note that CBT offered this preview tour to us at no cost, but a positive review (or any review whatsoever) was not a condition of going on the tour. Though you should always be skeptical of any stranger who writes a review, of course.]