HAPPY HOURS IN VIRGINIA
Take a spirited visit to Loudoun County’s growing winery and brewery scene
LEESBURG, Va. — The rolling hills around this historic town and county seat northwest of Washington, D.C., have long been known as horse country. Jackie Kennedy famously rode with the Piedmont Fox Hounds in nearby Middleburg, and even today there are more horses than houses in Loudoun County, which was settled in the mid-1720s and still feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital. But times are changing. While the Colonial rowhouses and Georgian estates still give off an air of old money and fox hunt teas, these days, you’re more likely to find the roads around Leesburg teeming with younger, hipper types on the hunt for a different type of animal: wine or beer tastings.
There are more than 40 wineries both large and small on the Loudoun Wine Trail, many of which offer live music and food pairings along with tastings in gorgeous settings. The oldest, Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, dates to 1984 and is situated in a 130year-old barn with panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains — a perfect backdrop for a fall leaf-peeping weekend trip within easy driving distance of Pittsburgh. Or maybe you’d rather drink hard cider while noshing on pulled-pork sandwiches and baked beans with candied bacon from Cork Belly BBQ. Then the tiny familyowned Corcoran Vineyard and Cidery in Waterbury would be just the ticket.
For those more interested in the growing craft beer scene, the county’s LoCo Ale Trail now counts 23 local breweries. Four are right downtown, while twice as many are conveniently located right off the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail, a 45-mile trail that runs from Washington, D.C., to the quaint town of Purcellville. As one who bikes, usually hard, I believe there’s something to be said for being able to quaff a cold one mid- or postride, while the sweat is still rolling down your back. Some call it quenching your thirst; I call it a reward for a job well done.
Then there’s Delirium Cafe USA, which just opened on South King Street. It brings to Leesburg’s historic main street a heady offering of Belgian and local beers, along with bragging rights. It’s the first of the famed beermaker’s chain of international cafes to open in the U.S. (the original is in Brussels). Its rotating draft list boasts a dizzying array of choices, including hard-to-find Delirium products along with ales and triples from other Belgian brewers.
But there’s more than liquid entertainment. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a decent meal in Leesburg — a $3.50 slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie at Mom’s Apple Pie is one heavenly breakfast, and the killer charcuterie board at Lost Creek Winery feeds two for lunch. If, like me, you
can never accumulate too much stuff, Loudoun County also boasts terrific antiquing. Wespent the better part of a Saturday cruising Route 15 in and around the tiny hamlet of Lucketts, picking through old junk in search of lost treasures. Some of the best picking is at the Old Lucketts Store, which dates to 1879. You’d be hard-pressed to walk away without a least one gem in your pocket (I’m now the proud owner of a vintage commercial bread pan).
Lucketts also is home to the “Potomac” cluster of wineries that includes the boutique (and pet friendly) Fabbioli Cellars, where you can sample wines either under a sun sail overlooking the vineyard, in a windowed tasting room or in the cellar itself. (For a guide to the region’s wineries, visit tuskieswinetrail.com).
While more wine than you can possibly taste in weekend, is an obvious attraction, my husband and I actually were drawn to the area because of its bike trails. Visitors have their choice of two stellar paths on which to drink in fall’s colors, which are expected to peak in early to mid October: The Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) canal path that connects to the Great Allegheny Passage in Cumberland, Md., and the W&OD Trail, which climbs from Leesburg over Catoctin Mountain before reaching Purcellville. The latter is paved, so if you own a road bike or just like to go fast, expect a smooth ride. Watch for equestrians on the adjacent horse path and occasional deer.
That’s how we started our Leesburg adventure — pedaling 10 miles to Purcellville for a lazy if somewhat sweaty lunch at Magnolias at The Mill. It’s also how we ended it, with a ride from Point of Rocks, Md., to abolitionist John Brown’s Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, where the only thing more amazing than the view of the town below from St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church was that of two crazy kids rappelling down the southern face of Maryland Heights, a 300foot vertical cliff that towers over the Potomac River.
Purcellville also is home to the county’s first (legal) distillery since before prohibition, and it’s a beauty. Located in a former car dealership, Catoctin Creek Distilling Company awes with its handsome tasting room, which features exposed brick walls and huge picture windows that offer a glimpse of the distilling process. I’m not a whiskey drinker, but a tasting here — you can only try one flight on each visit — almost made me wish I was. If you prefer beer, there’s always the IPA at Jack’s Run Brewing, a craft microbrewery named for a nearby creek that first appeared on a map way back in 1749.
Other nighttime hotspots are the outdoor patio at the funky Vino9Market in nearby Paeonian Springs (there’s barbecue and live music on weekends), and Macdowell Brew Kitchen, which in warm weather has a hopping, popular outdoor “beach” area with sand and fire pits. And of course, head to Delirium to get a taste of Belgium’s top export. (Traveler’s warning: The Delirium Tremens, at 8.5 percent alcohol, must be approached with caution, or with a designated driver.)
Gretchen McKay: firstname.lastname@example.org,, 412263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay
At Breaux Vineyards in Purcellville, Va., 18 grape varieties are planted over 100 acres.
On Friday evenings, the outdoor "beach" at MacDowell Brew Kitchen in Leesburg, Va., is a hot spot for happy hour.
The Washington & Old Dominion Trail travels 45 miles through Northern Virginia and takes its name from the railroad whose trains ran along the right-of-way from 1859 to 1968.
At Fabbioli Cellars, visitors can enjoy a tasting in one of the winery's outdoor seating areas overlooking the vineyard.