Thursday, February 15, 2018

☸️ Barrel Oak Farm Taphouse, Delaplane

Six beer samples set in a bowed wood plankBarrel Oak Winery has been a mainstay among Virginia Piedmont wineries for a decade. A few years ago, winery co-owner Brian Roeder sought to re-purpose a shuttered Warrenton bookstore as a taphouse, theater, and family entertainment destination. Those plans fell through, but he realized his taphouse dream by building out a seven-barrel brewery and tasting room adjoining his winery, all in the same building. What was once a wall beyond the left end of the wine bar is now a doorway to Barrel Oak Farm Taphouse, which we visited this past weekend.

There were six beers on tap during our visit, covering a wide variety of styles. From left to right, above: a pilsner, pale ale, stout, Belgian dubbel, IPA, and a saison. Sampling was done from light to dark.

The facility’s iconic stance upon a hilltop sets it apart from the surrounding trees and vineyards. It’s a big, beautiful building surrounded by green most of the year. The wood construction and finish of the wine tasting bar, seating and gathering area is remarkable. The main room soars to a second floor ceiling over most of the space. Designed to accommodate large crowds, the building is often filled on weekends during warm weather months.

Fortunately for beer lovers, the winery’s design and materials were carried through to the Taphouse. We visited the taproom on the main level, while the brewhouse sits directly below. That puts both wine and beer production in the basement, keeping the main floor and a balcony open for seating and gathering spaces.

Before getting into our experience at Barrel Oak Farm Taphouse, I’ll note that our flights of everything on tap were complementary. We didn’t expect that, and were thankful for Brian’s generosity and hospitality when we went to settle our tab. I’ll also note that Barrel Oak manager and all-around host, Bob Grouge, is a long-standing local friend.

Bob met us at the door, and pointed out features of the Taphouse as we enjoyed our samples. Brian stopped by for a chat and a beer, as well. Importantly, our Untappd beer ratings were logged before our tab was comped. I don’t usually include Neal’s ratings in my writing, but since these turned out to be freebies it’s better to be forthcoming with all details of the visit. You’ll find mine here, and Neal’s, here.

Our thanks to Brian and Bob.

The Taphouse, opened in 2017, is a homey, wood-lined space with a bar running along the right side. Tables and chairs are scattered about the left side, and patios sit just outside the left and far walls. Seating is available outside, as well. The bar is standing-room only, but a well-placed bar step (rail) keeps things comfortable. A cold room sits behind the backbar, and taps serve from there. The bar staff were friendly and communicative.

A wide variety of styles and straight-up production technique are part of BOFT’s merchandising. You won’t find wild yeast, barrel aging, adjuncts or infusions among their beers. The advantage is that beer fans get an unmasked impression of brewmaster Jonathan Staples’ craft.

I’m particularly fond of straight-up production, because brewing with flavor modifiers is often done poorly and can mask errors in the brewing process.

(One notable exception from our recent experience is Twinpanzee Brewing of Sterling, which I wrote about.)

We had a positive experience with BOFT’s beer. Of the six sampled, I gave three a four-star (very good) rating, and one a five-star (great) review. None received less than a three-star (good) rating.

The highlight of the visit for me was BOFT IPA, a complex rendition of the style redolent of aroma hops, with flavor that begins with tropical fruit, moves on to citrus, but finishes with a clean crispness. This is a delicious IPA, not a palate-wrecker. Mild malt is evident through the middle of a mouthful and lays very briefly on the tongue after a swallow.

BOFT IPA won first place in the 2017 Virginia Craft Beer Cup Awards for IPAs. It’s worth a growler fill to take home and contemplate. At the very least, beer fans will enjoy a slowly sipped pint to fathom as the beer loses its chill and gains flavor.

Their Saison Brune was one of the milder I’ve sampled of this style. Belgian ale yeast imparts less of the clove flavor typical of the strain, but is a still prominent feature of this beer. Malt undergirds the entire profile, which gave me something more to like about it. The combination of malt and mild yeastiness yields a peppery flavor without any hop buzz. Good for a couple of pints back-to-back.

Another standout was Piedmont Station Pils. There’s a flavor lurking deep among the maltiness that makes this more than the average pilsner. I couldn’t identify the extra flavor I was tasting, but that unknown funkiness added dimension and an extra star to its rating.

Make the pilsner your first among the tasters unless they have a kolsch on tap, so its unique flavor stands out. Non-beer fans will appreciate this brew for its drinkability—some beer drinkers don’t care for pungent hops or even bready malt—so we found something on tap here for everyone.

Grove Lane Pale Ale employed what appears to be English hops. At least that’s how they came across to my palate, and I welcomed them. American craft pale ales often seem brewed to go toe-to-toe with IPAs, which is unfortunate. IPAs should be boldly flavorful, while pale ales can (and in my opinion, should) afford to be made milder and more approachable. Kudos to BOFT for doing just that.

One Taphouse feature touted by Barrel Oak is allowing wine drinkers from the larger tasting room to bring their beverages and mingle with beer drinkers, and vice-versa. As Bob pointed out, two hightop tables along the other side of the Taphouse were laden with mixed glassware. One party had glasses of wine, the other of beer.

Virginia’s ABC laws being what they are, this is surprising, and very welcome. Bob informed us that since they grow their own hops, though not enough for full production, BOFT is considered a farm brewery, and so they may legally mix their products.

If your group of friends rarely gets together en masse for an outing because some don’t care for beer, and others don’t drink wine, Barrel Oak has that problem solved.

Poker chip bearing a dog image used for beer discountsOne final note about the tasting rooms and grounds of Barrel Oak: all are dog-friendly. In fact, you’re encouraged to bring your leashed four-legged family member along for a visit. We visited on a cold, rainy day, yet there were a handful of dogs in evidence.

That’s a plus for me. I love dogs; my wife, Kelly, and I have two, and I feel more at home and relaxed in their presence. For me, allowing and encouraging visits with your dog is a plus for Barrel Oak, and something I’d like to see at other outdoor-related breweries. Bald Top Brewing in Madison, Virginia comes to mind for this reason.

Barrel Oak Winery has been a destination for wine tasting and events for a decade. The Farm Taphouse adds another dimension and more reason to visit.

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