August 23, 2014

A Beer Grows in Wine Country

by Sarah Searle, photography by Sarah Searle

There are local beer makers, and then there’s the Corcoran Brewing Company — where hops are grown on site and pumpkins for the seasonal ale are picked by hand just up the road. If beer has a terroir, this is it.

“It’s all about making beer people love,” says Corcoran Brewmaster Kevin Bills.

Guests at the Waterford brewery park their cars right next to several long rows of first-year hop plants, the third largest hop planting in the state of Virginia. Within three years, Bills hopes to grow all the hops used in Corcoran beers on site. His malt will be sourced from barley growers in the Northern Neck of Virginia. Bills plans to roast some of the barley himself beyond the “pale malt” form in which it arrives to toastier malts necessary for certain brews. Bills carefully sources ingredients for his brewing, focusing on incorporating local products wherever possible.

Bills began home brewing in college, growing continuously more serious about the hobby over the years. Bills was growing hops at his Purcellville, Va., home and creating original seasonal brew recipes when Jim and Lori Corcoran, owners of Corcoran Vineyards in Waterford, Va., decided to take the plunge and start a brewery, inviting Kevin on board as the brewmaster. The brewery is in a separate building on the same property as the Corcorans’ winery and vineyards, making it the first winery-brewery in the state.

For many, western Loudoun County evokes images of horse country or rolling vineyards, but not microbreweries. As a “nanobrewery” in Loudoun County, there may be limitations in terms of the available audience for boutique beers. “A lot of the crowd that comes in is the wine crowd,” Bills acknowledges. He sees this as an opportunity, though, striving to make “balanced, drinkable, smooth beers” that are accessible not only to beer geeks, but to those who may not have as much experience with the various brews on draft at Corcoran Brewing Company.

The success of that philosophy is evident in the chatter from crowd that fills the “beer barn” at Corcoran. Appreciative choruses are overheard: “I thought I didn’t like stout, but I love this one,” and, “Usually IPA is too hoppy for me, but I could drink a few glasses of this.”

Production at the brewery was kept low initially, with a system that allows brewing of one half-barrel at a time. The brewery is only open one day a week, offering tastings and filling of growlers (half-gallon jugs), but no glasses of beer or bottling for distribution. Even with these limited hours, though, the brewery is so popular it has had to close down on two separate to make more beer to keep up with demand. Expansion of the brewing facilities is already underway, mere months after the brewery’s late July opening. The 500 square feet of extra space and new 3.5-barrel brewing system (as compared to the current one-barrel system) will virtually triple the brewery’s production.

The wee size of the brewery allows visitors to view the entirety of the brewing facility as they taste, an unusual experience for anyone who has visited larger breweries where guided tours are required to see the equipment. The brewery will keep to on-site tastings and growler fills for now, with the possibility of distribution to a few local restaurants.

Bills tries to keep six beers on tap at any time. At press time, the brewery was pouring “Wheatland,” a light American Hefeweizen with subtle malt and hops; the “P’ville Pale,” a moderately hopped pale ale; “LoCo IPA” (Loudoun County India Pale Ale), a darker-than-usual, strongly-hopped ale; “Catoctin Ale,” an English-style pale ale; “Corky’s Irish Red,” an Irish-style red ale; and “Slainte Stout,” a smooth, chocolaty stout.

Look for a seasonal Christmastime brew and an alcoholic fermented root beer in future months. The brewery’s tagline, “great beer with a LoCo [Loudoun County] attitude,” is a tongue-in-cheek but apt encapsulation of the atmosphere: fun and friendly, but with a serious focus on expressing the flavor of the western Loudoun area in the glass.

If you go:
Corcoran Brewing Company is located in Waterford, Virginia
Hours:  12 noon – 5 PM, Saturdays.
corcoranbrewing.com

Sarah Searle is a Virginia native and D.C. resident.  A public health professional, her writing spans food culture and politics, wine, rural economy, and agriculture.  She writes about the life lived around seasonal and garden-driven food at her blog The Yellow House (www.casayellow.com).

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Comments

  1. Todd says:

    We followed your lead and visited Corcoran Brewing in order to film this video:

    http://www.virginiawinetv.com/2012/03/winemaker-series-corcoran-brewing-and.html

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Todd—Late commenting on this, but that’s awesome! Happy to see you stopped by. Lori and Jim and Kevin are all good folks. Cheers —-S

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