Listen to the Podcast: Click here to go to Episode 10 – Riding at Little Bennett – Interview with Dave Blackmon – Smoketown Brewing Station on Soundcloud!
Finishing up the 2017 MoCo Epic felt like a big achievement. Arriving at the Finish Line we were wet, tired, saddle-weary. The event is not a race. It is set of organized rides of varying distances covering many different routes on single track and roads in Montgomery County, Maryland. The rides are orchestrated by the local IMBA chapter, MORE (Mid Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts), to promote the trails, raise funds and generally provide a fun MTB experience. Riders choose their distance and start at times determined by the distance, with the riders going the longest (75 miles) starting earliest. There are plenty of well-stocked and fun aid stations along the way with each providing an array of goodies beyond just energy bars and carb replacement drinks.
Riders Sample the Goods at an Aid Station at a Trailside Road Crossing
We opted for the 40 Mile distance and with the wet conditions it felt like 80! We slipped and slid and maneuvered our way along the route, spending lots of time at the aid stations to check on bones and bikes.
I took a tumble on a wet bridge – leaving a nice v-shaped bruise on my ribs that remained a reminder of that day for weeks – and we saw other carnage along the way. And, it was tons of fun! The relevance of all this to this episode of the podcast is what happened after the ride
Every rider is given a ticket for a post-ride meal and couple of beverages. Among the beverage choices were beers on-tap from two Maryland breweries. One of those breweries was pouring a hefeweizen, which seemed like a perfect refresher. That hefe was ‘German Crossing’ from Smoketown Brewing Station and it was awesome! It was being poured by the husband and wife team who own Smoketown. We chatted them up for a bit and learned they have a unique space in Brunswick, MD. Brunswick is small town along Potomac River with a road bridge connecting it to VA and the C&O Canal Trail. It sure sounded like perfect Trails2Ales material. Owner Dave Blackmon agreed to an interview. All we needed to do was hook into a good place to ride in advance.
Kevin did the research and we agreed to ride the trails at Little Bennett Regional Park in Clarksbug, MD. MTB Project describes one Little Bennett route, an approximately 8-mile loop, as “fast and fun singletrack trails through lush, wooded forests and colorful, open meadows. All-in-all, this is a great figure-8 loop with fun connecting trails throughout.” It sounded like a good option when we knew we had to be at Smoketown to meet Dave after the ride. We parked at a gravel lot off Clarksburg road that was directly at one trail head and across the street from another. There were already horses and hikers and a few MTBers on the trail. This was surprising because it looked like it could rain any minute and the temps were struggling to hit 40. The parking lot was small, accommodating about 6-7 vehicles and filled before we got on the trail. We were joined by Chris who scoped out a route on his phone, and we also referred to the MTB Project route. The trails were in decent shape and we were climbing almost immediately after leaving the parking lot. Trail markings were few and far between and those we did see were not ‘illuminating’. But with the main road within earshot and sometimes visible, we never felt lost. Leaves covered much of the trail, thick enough to hide some ruts and rocks and present the promise of a washout.
Still, we managed to avoid trouble and piece together a good route. The highlight was Dark Branch trail – a horseshoe out from a parking lot and that featured the flowiest sections and best set of turns we experienced that day. MTB Project contributor, Nate Fischer, wrote that the 8-mile route described in the app/on the site is “…fun, rolling singletrack over good hills with very little tech.” That’s a fair description. If you’re the kind who can find the pleasure in simply getting out on the trail, dirt under the tires – Little Bennett will meet your needs. If you are a beginner or helping others get into the sport, Little Bennett offers a good mix of climbing and descents to work on body position, pedaling, shifting and trail vision.
What you won’t find is anything you’d call ‘technical’ other than the occasional log pile. With its forested trails, the park might make for a great destination when you want to get out for a long spin and would appreciate some shade. And keep this in mind, the park asks, “Please help preserve Montgomery Parks’ trails. Avoid hiking, biking or riding on trails within 24 hours of significant rain, especially between. November and April.” Good advice for any trails, however we did note that Little Bennett seemed a bit soft even after a few dry days. That might have been because of the heavy layer of leaves or might be a year-round characteristic. It’ll take another visit to get some more data. We plan to get out there again when we
have more time to explore and see if we can extend the ride by looping back and catching some offshoot trails.
On a Sunday afternoon it took us just under 45 minutes to get from Little Bennett to Smoketown Brewing Staging. We lucked out with a parking spot right in front of the brewery.
As you hear Dave tell us in the podcast, the brewery is in what used to be a fire station. They’ve retained elements of the station including the red garage doors through which you can view the brewing equipment.
The space is simple, with communal tables in the front and bar in back with 8 or so stools for patrons. The décor is a mix of outdoor gear and nods to local organizations and other odds and ends. It’s enough to keep things interesting but also sends a message, “we’re here for the beer.”
One item of note is the cap sitting on top of a barrel in the main seating area. The cap is said to have belonged the building’s ghost. Yes, ghost. Walter Rice was the original building engineer and he makes his presence known time and again around the place. In fact, Smoketown invited a paranormal expert as a guest speaker to share ghost stories at an event where they also invited “anyone that has a story to share about their own Walter ghost sighting.”
Smoketown Brewing Station plays up the local connections in other ways, too, including the names of their beers. Their location overlooking the river inspired the name of their flagship IPA called “Potomac”. Brunswick was once the hub of the B&O Railroad whose engines were stoked by men who shoveled coal to keep them fired. These coal dust-covered fellows were sometimes called Ashcats. And thus Smoketown offers “Ashcat Pale Ale”. And that hefeweizen we were so taken with at the MoCo Epic? It is called “German Crossing Hefe” in reference to the ferry crossing connecting Brunswick to nearby Lovettsville along the Potomac River that was once known as the “German Crossing”.
Smoketown Brewing Station reflects Dave’s easy-going demeanor. He is affable and low-key yet clearly driven to be successful by providing a high-quality product to his customers. Though he didn’t set out to use the space as a brewery, when he got prompted to do so he ran with the idea. What is clear is he took no shortcuts with the most important part: producing great beer.
Take a look at Brunswick on the map. You’ll see there are a few riding options about equidistance to Smoketown as Little Bennett. And Dave mentioned some trails being planned or in development nearby which we’ll need to look into in a few months. We opted for Little Bennett because we had not ridden there and it was convenient to where we started the day. Wherever you ride, if you head to Smoketown Brewing Station after, you’ll be comfortable in your riding attire. With their location close to the C&O, they attract campers, hikers and others who walk in straight from the trail. In nice weather the outdoor seating area provides a way to keep enjoying the fresh air while also enjoying a fresh beer. As for food, Smoketown offers some giant soft pretzels, often has a food truck available and nearby restaurants deliver.