Hoppin' Around No. 3: Front Royal Brewing Co., Front Royal, Virginia
Updated: May 25
Look for mountains, find beer!
Anyone who knows us well knows that we will take any opportunity to go for a hike. So, after a week working in Baltimore on a photo assignment, we took the long route home to New Bern, NC (enjoying our time away from the havoc wrought by Hurricane Florence) and stopped for a hike in Shenandoah National Park, starting from Front Royal, VA, the park's northern terminus on the Appalachian Trail. And guess what! We found a brewery!
We arrived in Front Royal to grab a quick bite to eat and provision for a short two day hike (our 7 week old son Duncan's first) to be greeted by a sign advertising a BBQ and craft beer festival happening TODAY! Excitedly, we stopped by but were turned off by the steep admission fee (on top of paying for food and beer!), but seeing a local brewery on the list of participants, we decided to go straight to the source. Off in search of Front Royal Brewing Co.
The 10 barrel brewhouse was founded in June of 2018 and is already a pretty sizable operation. The taproom and patio are also home to a full restaurant serving appetizers and fancy sandwiches such as a Smoked Duck Cuban or a SOBO Burger (a tip of the hat to the South Bound thru-hikers [*Shout out to Stiches, Smeercat, and Highlight!] who stop by the trail town seeking delicious beer close to the trail and have .a heck of an appetite -- We saw several and reminisced of our thru-hiking days and dreamed of future hikes as a new family. Duncan will have a trail name soon!).
The taproom also has a great vibe. Lots of raw wood and old fashioned filament light bulbs. The large bay doors line the taproom, allowing fresh air and sunlight to enter from the outdoor deck. Also, the doors are screened to keep out bugs and harsh sunlight -- Great foresight for an AT town! Also, the music vibes are pleasant. Popular, but not too popular music, that is loud enough without being too loud. Goldilocks.
For a young brewery, Front Royal Brewing Co. boasts a fairly large brewhouse... Large enough for plenty of production but small enough to maintain creativity and control. They have the capacity to brew 10 barrels at a time and store their beer in 7.5 barrel brite tanks. There is currently no distribution, as they only keg their beer, but they've installed a canning line and will eventually sell the cans in the taproom. So, this is the only place that you can taste their delicious beer!
The new brewery already offers a variety of classical styles. We started our visit as we do all brewery tours, by construction a flight. Each of their beers is served with a trading card, complete with description, ABV, IBU, name, and colorful icon. We tried a German style we had never heard of before that features a honey profile, brewed with local honey and molasses, two different IPA's (a rye and an experimental Trail Series IPA) and an American Porter (at 8.8%!). Everything was delicious, but for our specific tasting notes, keep reading!
The Major's Rye, Rye IPA, ABV 6.6%, IBU 77
Our notes: Slight malt sweetness with rye spicy snap up front but dries out quickly and leaves with a pleasant bitter aftertaste with no syrupy stickiness left behind. Not overly hoppy, but a nice hoppy bitterness left after the malty sweetness dissipates. One finger white head, lingered for a bit, then dissolved. Pretty dark copper in color.
Haupstrasse, Kottbusser Style, ABV 5.8%, IBU 24.4
Their notes: Kottbusser is a historic German style beer made from pilsner malt, wheet, and oats. The brewers used local honey combined with molasses to compliment the light malts. Hauptstrasse is German for Main Street, named after Front Royal's Main Street, its main street downtown. Hallertauer, Magnum and Sazz add spice and bitterness.
Our notes: All we get is honey on the aroma... In a good way! Like smelling a wet rock... Also in a good way! Not overpowering. No lingering foam. Earthy, woody aroma to it that almost reminds us of something aged in a white oak wine barrel or oaked with chips in the fermenter. Tingly on the tongue with a not too sweet honey flavor and slight hint of caramel. Lingering hop bitterness from the Sazz and Magnum.
Trail Series #1 BRU-1, Experimental IPA, ABV 6.4%, IBU 66.7
Their notes: As a trail town, it makes sense that they name their experimental program after the Appalachian Trail. Trail Series #1 is a single barrel small batch, with a single hop: Bru-1, a new hop variety developed by Brulotte Farms in the Yakima Valley in Washington State. The hop features pineapple, mango, and tropical aromas. Only two ingredients away from being a SMASH ale, Single Mash And Single Hop. This beer has two malts and an adjunct, 2 Row, Caramel, and wheat for fluffy head and nice mouthfeel.
Our notes: This beer is awesome. Slight citra aroma, coming from the West Coast hops. The Cascadian region prevails once more! The back end bitterness is very present.
Knight of the Valley, American Porter, ABV 8.8%, IBU 32
Their notes: This is an American version of a Baltic Ale, so we're anticipating it will be similar to Old Rasputin! 2 Row, Munich, Chocolate, and Brown Crisp malts. This beer is noted to pair well with dessert or as a nightcap or fireside sipper.
Our notes: Reaction to the aroma: "Oooooooooooooooo! This is thing is badass." Spicy dark coffee beans that almost dry your nose out. Stone the crows! Dark chocolate notes and black espresso. The finish is awesome! It evolves as you taste it. Dry, not sweet and not bitter. Tannish vanilla head. Just really, really good.
We declare our favorites!
Cody: Knight of the Valley. Rye IPA is a close second.
Emily: The Haupstrasse barely beats the Knight of the Valley, but only because it's sunny and warm and not a chilly fall day. But also I really love the porter. Apples and oranges. Don't make me pick.
During our tasting, we were comped a sweet potato cheesecake by one of the owners. Delicious! More cakey than most cheesecakes, which gave it a nice texture and less fatty sweetness. Pumpkin spice! Thank you!
Great brand new brewery in a trail town on the Appalachian Trail! If only this had been here when we thru-hiked. To all you thru-hikers out there, definitely worth the stop.
But don't take our word for it. Check them out yourself!
Front Royal Brewing Co.
PS. Attention thru-hikers! Front Royal is the new up and coming trail town. In the last year, the main street has gotten a complete makeover, including a brand new brewery (as detailed above), brand new outdoor supply store (with reasonably priced fuel), among other interesting attractions. But best of all, there is a room off of the brewery run by the outdoor store, brewery, and neighboring bakery, with all of the free amenities a hiker could desire! Including bathroom, shower, washer and drier (free!), hiker box, loaner clothes, and a locker system to lock up your gear while you enjoy the town!! Also, the town now runs a trolly to and from the trailhead north of Shenandoah. Where was Front Royal when we were hiking?!