Leaf Peeping in Shenandoah? These Wild-Fermented Beers Are Worth a Pit Stop

Pen Druid Brewing's new Sperryville location has great views of the Blue Ridge Mountains

Pen Druid brewery's new location overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains. Photograph by Brian Oh.

Pen Druid Brewing has developed an avid following for its wild-fermented beers produced near Shenandoah National Park. Getting those beers in the District, however, is not always so easy. Natural wine shop Domestique and Filipino bastion Bad Saint, which share the brewery’s ethos of “beautifully composed things,” are some of the few spots that sometimes carry the products. But the best way to try these prized bottles is to make a trip out to the small town of Sperryville, an ideal pit-stop for Shenandoah leaf peepers. As of last Friday, Pen Druid has moved from just next to Copper Fox Distillery to a larger plot on the edge of Sperryville, a mile from where the brothers behind the brewery grew up.

No reservations are required at Pen Druid’s new brewery on the edge of Sperryville. Photograph by Brian Oh.

The Carney brothers (Lain, Van, and Jennings) opened the Pen Druid brewery (named for the Carney family farm on the Thornton River just a few miles away) in August 2015. In the years since, they’ve built a reputation for their low-intervention, terroir-driven method of brewing—the same processes in the natural wine craze—to make beer “that tastes like it’s from a place,” Van says. Taking cues from traditional German and Czech breweries, the Carney brothers use wood-fired kettles and a mix of wild and open fermentation with native yeasts to age brews up to three years.

“A lot of the old techniques allow you to take the native yeast on flowers, grass, and fruit where you are,” explains Van, and translate it to variations in flavor that are absent in beers produced with commercial yeasts. Van makes a point of noting that many modern brewers would advise not to brew in these old methods, but Pen Druid does because “we think it makes good beer and the best beer we’ve ever had puts yeast at the forefront.”

Pen Druid’s beers are made with similar low-intervention processes as natural wine. Photograph by Brian Oh.

Pen Druid puts out a variety of beers, including blond and amber beers, as well as ciders. They also will sometimes condition those beers over fruit by adding it during the tail end of the fermentation process. One of their beers is a particular labor of love: the ‘III.’ Produced in a Belgian gueuze style, the ‘III’ is a blend of three Lambic-style beers fermented for one, two, and three years. The result is a bright, almost floral sour beer without any tartness. At the brewery, the Carney’s serve a special batch that incorporates Italian plums in the fermentation process to reintroduce a bit of the tartness and a touch of sweetness without being cloying.

Bring a picnic or pick up a pie from nearby Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen to go with your Pen Druid beer. Photograph by Brian Oh.

The new brewery grounds feature a broad grassy field with a number of picnic tables. There will sometimes be a food truck, and the Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen is less than half a mile down the road in the heart of Sperryville. Reservations are not required, and there is plenty of space to social distance with a picnic spread and view of the autumn colors lighting up the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west.

Pen Druid Brewing. 3863 Sperryville Pike, Sperryville, Va.