Blue Mountain Brewery and Barrel House

Brewing the best in Nelson County

151 Brew Tour

Along its 35 mile route from Afton to Amherst, Virginia Route 151 passes through the lush forests and idyllic countryside of Nelson County. With stunning views of the Blue Ridge and a rural landscape still only gently disturbed by human development, this quiet corner of the Commonwealth offered the perfect mix of terroir and atmosphere to cultivate a cluster of successful vineyards and wineries at the turn of the millennium.

Among the crowds that sought out the splendor of Nelson County wine country were Taylor Smack, then brewmaster at South Street Brewery in Charlottesville, his wife Mandi, a publisher, and their friend Matt Nucci, the director of franchise development for local coffee chain Greenberry’s Coffee. The three became regulars at Veritas Vineyard and Winery, where they were inspired to develop a unique business plan that would offer beer lovers the kind of rural retreat then still only available to oenophiles.  Their idea would become Blue Mountain Brewery.

The three partners were energized by the opportunity to launch what at the time was a unique venture for Central Virginia – a production brewery, bar and restaurant located “off the grid”- so labeled not just for its country setting, but for its deep integration with its natural landscape.  The original brewpub and restaurant, which opened in 2007 just south of Route 151’s northern terminus at US 250 in Afton, sources its water from a natural mountain spring that originates on its property, and uses a rainwater capture system to irrigate its on-site hop farm.  

The hop farm yields enough Pacific Northwest Cascade and Centennial hops to contribute to the brewery’s flagship Full Nelson Strong Pale Ale, as well as an annual limited-release Harvest Celebration Ale.  Hop cultivation is overseen by hop guru Stan Driver, with whom the brewery partnered to form a cooperative that promotes hop production on small farms throughout Virginia.

In 2011, the Smack Family opened a branch brewery on another parcel of land in Arrington, VA in Southern Nelson County known as the Blue Mountain Barrel House, with its own line of barrel-aged and bottle-conditioned brews produced in a unique double thread system inspired by the traditional British “parti-gyle” method.  

In this ancient practice, born out of frugality, the same grain was used to produce two distinct beers by running off the mash for a strong, dark ale, and then re-mashing the same grain to produce a lighter beer that was altogether watered-down and less flavorful.  Taylor Smack’s specially-engineered double thread brewing system allows a nuanced adjustment of the flows from a single mash tun into two inline 15-barrel brew kettles that results in worts of varying gravities that go on to become “sister beers.”

The fact that Blue Mountain is both a production brewery and a full-service bar and restaurant means that its payroll can run over 100 employees in its busiest seasons, and its location in the heart of Nelson County attracts not only visitors but an enthusiastic and talented staff from Charlottesville and the Shenandoah Valley to Nelson.  The microbrewery’s staff forms a vibrant culture that for Nucci is the most gratifying aspect of his work for the venture. “A lot of these people hang out outside of work, which I think is cool.  It’s because of us that they’re all together.” A trip down the 151 Brew Trail would not be complete without a stop at Blue Mountain Brewery to see this culture in action first hand.