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“Everything we learned from starting Old 690 helped,” owner Ronda Powell said, leaning against the bar at Harpers Ferry Brewing, Loudoun County’s northernmost brewery.
Old 690 Brewing Company opened late in the summer of 2014, one of Loudoun’s first farm breweries.
“Our motto is ‘hard to find, harder to leave.’ You have to stumble on Old 690,” Powell said. “Everybody calls it a family reunion every weekend because if you don’t know somebody when you get there, you probably know them before you leave. It’s that type of environment up there.”
It was also an eye-opening experience for Powell and her fellow owners, Mark Powell and Darren and Tammi Gryniuk.
“We learned that we needed more restrooms. That was a big one,” Powell said with a chuckle. “We also learned that we would need a larger brew system, because what we currently have doesn’t allow for a whole lot of growth.”
Room for growth was a key selling point when George “J.R.” Heffner, the owner of the Harpers Ferry Adventure Center, approached them about building and managing another farm brewery on his property.
Hefner was a regular at Old 690 and hosted his Adventure Center staff parties there, building a relationship with the owners. It took several overtures, but the allure of the property proved too much to resist.
“Our view here is a little bit different from some of the other views that you see in Loudoun County,” Powell explained. “A lot of the other farm breweries have a beautiful vista view. They see the valley below them.
“From the back deck, you can see Jefferson County, W.V., Washington County, Md., and Frederick County, Md. Our view is a flowing view, a moving view of the trains going down the train tracks, the river racing by, or the cars going across the bridge on Rt. 340. There’s always something to see.”
The incredible property also contributes sustainable ingredients to the beers, through fruit and nut harvesting. This form of “forage farming” helps the brewery blend into the wooded property, rather than clearing it for traditional farming.
“We have lots of wineberries, lots of walnut trees, and a ton of pawpaw trees growing, not just along the river’s edge, but also on the creek’s edge, near where you drive in,” Powell said. “The Pawpaw Wheat Ale on tap is locally sourced. Next year, we plan to have a pawpaw picking day, where everyone can come out and help get the pawpaws picked up so we can use them in our product.”
Powell also has 50 chestnut trees growing at a nursery that will be transplanted onto the property for a future chestnut beer.
The response from customers has been strong so far, as Harpers Ferry Brewing draws in huge crowds from the tri-state area and beyond. The property can handle 300 vehicles, and the brewery employs professional valets on the weekends for overflow parking.
“It’s bringing in a ton of people to our county. It’s helping our tax base and our revenue base because it’s not just Loudoun County people visiting our facility,” she said. “We have people coming into Virginia from so many other places and meeting up here.
“We’ve had a lot of really interesting groups show up, including a Pawpaw Society to try the pawpaw beer. The U.S. Forest Service has been through here, different hiking groups, and all kinds of unique groups that we’ve never seen at our other brewery.”
Another way to reach the masses is through distribution, something that was never possible at Old 690.
“Our goal is to distribute our beer not only in Virginia, but also into West Virginia and Maryland,” Powell said. “We’re working with West Virginia right now, trying to get our beer into the Morgantown area and add to the list of local craft beers that are available.”
“Barrel-wise, Old 690 is a seven-barrel system and this is a 15-barrel system. At Old 690, we can usually get about 11 kegs out of a batch of beer. Up here, we’re averaging 28-30 kegs.”
Even while dreaming big, the focus is on partnering with small businesses and entrepreneurs. The snack bar is stocked with jerky, chips, salsa, peanuts and cold brew coffee — all from Virginia small businesses. When the weather warms up, Powell wants to host live performances featuring Loudoun County singer-songwriters.
Advocacy for nature trails is also a great fit, as the brewery sits within walking distance of the Appalachian Trail and the towpath for the C&O Canal, both just across the Potomac River. Sunday yoga at the brewery will help raise money to maintain the trails.
Harpers Ferry Brewing is a short drive from Old 690, but the vibe and mission are much different. But just like Old 690, the brewery is in harmony with the property.
“This is a really unique area for Loudoun County,” Powell said. “So many people don’t know that we have access to this great national park, this beautiful river, the mountains, the hiking trails. Combine that with the adventure center and the camping and it’s all right here. It’s just finding that niche.”