Workhouse Arts Center Brewfest: More Options, More Fun
Few events offer the perfect confluence of mountain biking fun and beer tasting opportunity as does the Workhouse Brewfest which occurs each August in Lorton, VA. Held in the quad of the Workhouse Arts Center the space provides many features to make a successful festival: ample and free parking, room for attendees to spread out among breweries, vendors, food trucks, and other attractions, indoor space and a plenty of large tents to escape the heat. And its location adjacent both paved and dirt trails means that bikes are a reasonable mode of transport to get to the event. And with the Laurel Hill trail system just off the back of the property, mountain bikers can get in some loops and get to Workhouse without getting off the dirt…though they might want to think about how to get the dirt off of them before entering the ‘Fest.
August and Everything
Holding an outdoor event with alcohol as the centerpiece in the heat of a mid-Atlantic August day takes some guts and forethought. As this is the 3rd year Workhouse has held the Brewfest it is clear they have plenty of the former and no lack of the latter. Heat, humidity, the typical summer shower or violent thunderstorm, these can all crush an otherwise well-designed festival plan. The team that put together this Brewfest arranged misting stations and plenty of free water to help keep attendees cool and hydrated; a stage was set up under a large tent complete with plenty of room to dance and still provide plenty of tables and chairs where revelers could rest weary legs in the shade. A Soda Garden provided alcohol-free options and food trucks offered a variety of ways to fend off hunger and help with alcohol absorption.
Beer From Here…and There
But it is not the organizer’s ability to plan for weather and health crises that attracts the beer fan; it is the line-up of breweries, the format of the tasting and the cost that are the key decision points. Workhouse Brewfest scores well on all three. August being Virginia Craft Beer Month, it makes sense that the invited breweries all hail from in or near The Commonwealth. Held in southern Fairfax County, it also figures that close-by breweries would be well represented, and they were by the likes of Fair Winds (Lorton), Forge (Lorton), Port City (Alexandria) Brew Republic (Woodbridge) and Ornery (formerly of Woodbridge and opening again soon in Fairfax. And brewers from points west and way west filled many spots: Loundon County was represented by Adroit Theory, Old Ox, and The Craft of Brewing. From the west: Pale Fire, Chaos Mountain, Brothers Craft, Blue Mountain and Starr Hill. Even DC got in on the act with Right Proper representing our Nation’s Capital.
One For All
Early Bird pricing started at $75 for the HopStar VIP package and $30 for General Admission. A week before the event you could still get advanced tickets for $40, rising to $45 in the final days leading to and through the day of the event. That one price got you unlimited tastes of beer, cider and spirits, and a full day of live musical performances. That’s what sold me: sure some of my favorite local breweries would be there, but to also have many breweries from far reaches of the state along with some breweries I’d yet to try – such as Ono, Honor and Escutcheon – in one place for one price was the sealer.
But First the Trails
We anticipated a Trails2Ales kind of day with MTB action followed by tasty brews. The original itinerary called for riding at Meadowood and then moving over to Laurel Hill to wind out the riding before heading over to Workhouse. Torrential rains leading up to the weekend cut out any chance of riding at Meadwood but Laurel Hill handles water well and some its trails were still rideable on ‘Fest day. We were able to get Kevin’s new Trek EX8+ out on the trails for the first time. Kevin is making the switch to a full suspension bike and he loved it even though it is probably more bike than needed on Laurel Hill’s relatively tame trails. [We’ll discuss Kevin’s bike shopping, purchase and first ride experience in a future video and on a podcast, soon].
Due to the heat and the dirt we attracted in the still damp conditions, we decided to go home, drop off the bikes, clean up ourselves and then get over to Workhouse. All that activity took a bit longer than expected and we found ourselves hitting the parking lot of the Brewfest close to 2:30pm – an hour and a half after the general admission opening. The parking lot was almost at capacity but we didn’t see them turning away any cars. They did have an overflow plan and we didn’t hear any grumblings about parking hassles. Walking in, a line had formed for ‘At The Gate’ purchases and a shorter line to the left welcomed those with advanced tickets. There was only one party ahead of us, but processing took a few minutes because the volunteer scanning tix with his mobile phone was struggling with their print outs. I expected the same for us but our tix scanned without issue and we were in…or so we thought. Next, we showed ID, followed by a stop to pick up plastic taster vessels, and another to get a wrist band, And we were in! And once in that was it. We had roam of the place, could visit as many breweries as we wished, as many times as we wished, in any order that we wished.
With so many breweries, lines stayed only 1-3 people deep throughout the day. The brewery tents were staffed by a mix of volunteers, brand ambassadors, full time sales staff, distributors and the occasional brewery owner. Beer fans looking for information about the beers and breweries could find someone to answer their questions at just about every station. It seemed the staffing question for some came down to simple math: number of festivals to cover that day (–) the number of available staff to cover them. That’s what resulted in Chaos Mountain owner, Joe Hallock, attending the event. His staff was covering other events so he ended up making the 4-hour trip from Calloway, VA to Lorton. Other brewery owners we spoke with were from closer locations such as Stan Johnson, one of the owners of Adventure Brewing in Fredericksbug, VA and Dave Keuhner from Honor in Chantilly, VA.
We tried several different brews and unfortunately a technical issue with our recorder left us without a brew-by-brew record of our experience. Some beers stood out and were memorable enough to mention and they include:
Reddish Knob – a West Coast pale from Brother’s Craft
Better Angels – an IPA from Mustang Sally Brewing Company
Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine – a tart Berliner Weisse from Right Proper Brewing
We enjoyed many other offerings including those from Caboose, Adventure, Honor, Chaos Mountain, Pale Fire and Ono. Some of these were quite good and shame on us for relying on technology alone to keep track of them.
Near 430p we noticed some breweries packing up, having been run dry 4.5 hours after the event start. With a healthy selection of brews still available this didn’t set off a rush to the remaining breweries. In fact, the lines were short and orderly throughout the day resulting in a low-key, laid back feel that was appreciated in the temperatures hovering the low-90s.
Always Room for Improvement
As the ‘Fest neared its end we chatted with reps from a few breweries. Here we learned that if anything may be in need of change for this festival, it is its duration and how the Best Beer voting is handled. Early Entry for Hopstar VIP tickets began at 12p, all others entered at 1p and closing time was officially 8p. Given that the brewery teams need to arrive at 1030am for set-up, that makes for a very long day for both the staff and the supply of beer. One rep suggested cutting back the total event time or splitting it into two sessions with different breweries at each. The Best Beer voting was conducted by allowing attendees to place a wooden chip into a mug representing their choice at the booth of that beer’s brewer. The flaw in this method is few if any participants will taste each beer before voting, and they could vote for beers they didn’t even taste. The chip was given to attendees with their taster glass when entering the event. The purpose of the chip and the voting procedure were not explained unless a volunteer was asked. Not all participants voted and it was unclear that all votes were tallied. It seemed, though, that the breweries took it all in stride, didn’t attach a lot of emotion to it and accepted it as an unscientific amateur poll rather than a true contest. The winner was Honor Brewing of Chantilly, VA. A veteran owned and run operation, Honor brews and distributes its beer in 14 states and the District of Columbia. They have yet to cut the ribbon on their own tap room as they work their way through the paperwork and process to open in Fairfax County. Their goal is to open by the end of 2018. At the Brewfest, it was Honor’s new Line of Site Lager that took the trophy as Best Beer. Line of Site was drained before we got to Honor but we did try and enjoy their Warrior IPA. At 6.5% ABV it has a nice blend of malt and hops to deliver a dank, slightly bitter beer with a clean finish. We spoke with brewery owner Dave Keuhner about his award and his brewery and that will be included in a future Trails2Ales Podcast and video.
We Recommend This Festival
There are many more established beer festivals n VA, even in northern VA alone. Some subsist on their reputation and don’t have to work as hard as the newer events to generate publicity and turnout. Workhouse has learned from each of their previous two Brewfests and tweaked their format based on feedback to improve the event. They’ve also brought in resources from other experienced festival organizers, such as Celebrate Fairfax, to help with planning and management. As a result, the Workhouse Brewfest works on many levels. They’ve thought through logistics, vendors, food and entertainment to assure groups with diverse tastes and interests can attend without anyone being able to say, “there is nothing for me here.” There is plenty here, even if you don’t partake of the alcoholic beverages. And if beer isn’t your thing, among the 35 or so offerings you’ll find wine, cider and a few craft distilleries. With live music all day, yard games, access to air-conditioned galleries to escape the heat and explore upwards of 60 art studios and plenty of food truck options, if you have to pick the event where you will be the Designated Driver, this is the one for you. And, if you’re a beer hound looking to get your hop on without hearing your friends grumble about, “There’re too many IPAs,” this is your event, too. With so much to offer under one very reasonable admission price, the Workhouse Brewfest is a great way to get out and celebrate the arts: fine arts, musical arts and the art of taking grains and turning them into enticing beverages.