Archive for September, 2019

From young lad to master cidermaker

One of the recent entrants into the surging cider and mead boom opened its doors in Amissville in the fall of 2017 and began welcoming guests to the local world of fermented apple juice and honey.

It was not its first foray in producing what some might claim is the highest and best use of the red orbs and golden liquid. “I made my first batch of cider when I was 17. I pressed it with a cider press I made myself,” said Dennis Kelly, a partner along with his wife Mary Graham and fellow cidermaker and neighbor, Dave Shiff.

“I made it in Old Hollow in Sperryville where my parents had a share in the Apple Hill Farm. We’d spend weekends there and I fell in love with Rappahannock. I would have been amazed back then to know I would end up living out here. It seemed like a far-fetched dream but here we are.”

Kelly, 60, went on to a career in government contracting in Northern Virginia and still wields a keyboard full-time to augment his passion for fermentation. But his love of the countryside and producing social lubricants is where his heart has been since moving to the county in 2006.

His good fortune continued when he learned his neighbor Shiff was also a cidermaker. Shiff proposed joining forces and going commercial and today their cidery is located on Shiff’s 22-acre farm next to Kelly’s property at 379 Hinson Ford Road.

Over the years mead entered Kelly’s hobby portfolio but the breakthrough came at his daughter’s wedding in 2015. “We served champagne, wine, and craft beer but the mead kind of blew everything away. We knew then we were on to something,” said Kelly.

Going local
Realizing the bountiful riches available locally, Hinson Ford focuses on locally grown fruit and honey to make their offerings. The first year they obtained apples from Lee’s Orchard and pressed the fruit by hand. “It was exhausting.”

Subsequently, they contracted with Thornton River Orchards. The orchardist Allan Clark and his daughter Megan select apples best suited for cider and press the fruit on their equipment. At harvest time pure apple juice is used to make cider saving considerable time and labor.

Clark had been considering producing hard cider himself but elected to supply the juice and let Kelly make the product. “Allan is very plugged into what apples make good cider and we’ve had great success with the fruit he’s procured for us.”

Windsong Apiary in Castleton is the source for their quality honey. As with any libation, the ingredients used in its production dictate the flavor and taste of the final product. Owner Bob Wellemeyer is a long-time apiarist and professional pollinator.

In addition to his own locally produced honey, each spring he travels to Fla. with his hives to help pollinate orange groves. Since pollination is the only thing the growers are interested in, he keeps the orange blossom honey for sale back in Rappahannock.

“It makes quality honey that produces quality mead,” said Kelly. “Also, he obtains nectar from Goldenrod plants in Pa. It’s the last nectar-producing plant in the fall enabling an additional crop of honey to be taken in before winter.

“It’s bright yellow with an almost vinegary smell and makes wonderful mead.” Henson Ford uses numerous 60-pound pails of honey annually to produce its mead.
This year Kelly’s own hives will start contributing to its mead. Moreover, his wife Mary Graham grows elderberries, blackberries, and raspberries to use as flavorings in the mead.

Dry is fine
One educational task the three partners engage in during tastings is explaining the rationale for their predominately dry line of ciders and meads. Unlike many commercial versions, the owners believe the most flavorful product is realized by not covering it up with sweeteners but letting its true nature shine through.

The result is beverages that are similar to dry wines.

As with many newbie wine drinkers who start off drinking wines with residual sweetness, cider and mead fans often gravitate to drier versions as their palates mature.

“I am an evangelist for dry ciders and meads. We have about a 98 percent conversion rate on the dry meads. Many people first tasted mead at a Renaissance festival where it’s typically sweet.”

The current bottlings of both products in the taproom are:
Brehon: Blend of eight Rappahannock County apples. 8% abv.
Ciderhouse: Blend of a dozen county varieties. 8.5% abv.
Ginger: Flavored with fresh ginger. 5.6% abv.
Hopyard: Dry hopped with Cascade and Amarillo hops. 8.5 % abv.
Scrumpy: Named for a traditional English cider. 7.2% abv.
Ruby: Blend of Baldwin apples, Montmorency cherries, and bittersweet cider apples. 9.8% abv.
Dark Skies Bochet: semi-sweet with caramelized honey fermented with maple syrup. 14% abv.
Elderberry: Fermented with Elderberry juice. 10% abv.
Orange Blossom: Made with orange blossom honey. 9.1% abv.
Goldenrod: Made with Goldenrod honey. 9% abv.
Strawberry: Fermented with strawberry puree. 8% abv.

“We are coming up on our first anniversary of participating in the Rappahannock Farm Tour. This year it will be held September 28 and 29. All three of us are kind of stunned how well things are going for us,” said Kelly.

Residents of northern Piedmont might also be a bit stunned at the elegant and flavorful ciders and meads this boutique establishment is producing. Its taproom is open Friday 5 to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday noon to 6 p.m.

To learn more about their lineup and production techniques visit

Published in the September 18, 2019 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

On September 21, the historic Little Fork Episcopal Church in Rixeyville will open its hallowed grounds and celebrated Lord’s house to the Piedmont community. Called “Little Fork Day,” it will provide a unique opportunity to relive the church’s history while embracing its future.

The event will be held the same day as the Culpeper Farm Tour, providing an educational and fun “twofer” for adults and children alike. Reflecting the legendary hospitality of the renowned church, there is no charge for admission. Events kick off at 10:00 a.m. and run until 3:00 p.m. For the young and young at heart, it offers the opportunity to bank some wonderful memories.

The program includes guided tours of the church by parishioner-docents dressed in colonial attire, a 75-foot-long inflatable obstacle course and rock climb slide, a white elephant sale, bake sale, and old-fashioned games. Lunch of bratwurst and hot dogs with sides will be served by the men’s ministry.

Church administrator Renae Gutridge notes that while proceeds from the sales and lunch will be donated to the church, the event isn’t geared as a fundraiser. “It’s an opportunity for the community at large to visit our church and immerse themselves in its history,” Renae says.

Seldom will a walk back in time include so much fun.

Fabled History
The Old Dominion is gifted with numerous legendary homes and government buildings, and Little Fork Church is among the most notable, albeit lesser-known jewels in the state.

Completed in 1776 after three years of construction, it is named after the confluence of the nearby Hazel and Rappahannock rivers. The church’s records reflect that John Voss designed the edifice and William Phillips built it for a fee of 35,000 pounds of tobacco.

The 83-foot by 33-foot building approached the limits of audibility during services in an era absent of amplified sound. Our colonial pastors must have been strong voiced to project the message of salvation to the assembled faithful.

During the Civil War, the church interior was destroyed by a unit of the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry stationed in the area. Soldiers and horses were quartered in the church during a bitterly cold winter. The combatants tore out the pews, the wineglass shaped pulpit, wainscoting, and most of the interior’s wooden features to fuel their campfires.

After the war, an apparent guilt-stricken Union officer sent the church $100 to help defer the cost of repairing the damages.

A full church renovation took place in the 1970s, including the relocation of the Little Fork Rangers cavalry unit memorial to the side yard of the church.

The building’s pastoral setting is located on a small knoll east of Route 229 and is the perfect venue to reflect on the historical and spiritual importance of this unique place of worship.
New Rector

On October 1, the church welcomes its new pastor, the Reverend Stacy Williams-Duncan, who celebrates her 20th anniversary of ordination this year. She has served parishes across the country and looks forward to leading Little Fork toward its 250th anniversary in seven years.

“Together we will determine how God is calling us to be the church, how Little Fork can be both a faithful steward of our history, and plant seeds that will bear fruit to carry us into a life-giving future,” says Reverend Stacy.

For more information on Little Fork Church, including its services and outreach programs, visit

Published in the August 11, 2019 edition of Discover Fauquier.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Powers Farm & Brewery growing organically

Posted on Sep 20 2019 | By

For those of us who have been around the sun a few times, Frank Sinatra’s 1953 hit lyrics, “Fairy tales can come true it can happen to you if your young at heart” is pitch-perfect. But it helps dreams crystallize if you’re also smart and carry a strong work ethic in your hip pocket.

Fortunately for folks living in Fauquier County Kevin and Melody Powers embodied the spirit of the song even though they are still in their mid-thirties.

“Our farm and brewery are high labor-intensive. But we didn’t anticipate how satisfying and fun it would be,” said Kevin Powers co-owner of both businesses along with his wife Melody, or Mel as she’s known down on the farm.

“We have a lot of small businesses as well as our customers who have reached out to us. That was unexpected and it’s been energizing for us both.”

Indeed, friends, customers, and business associates are collateral benefits to the couple’s success. “We were totally blind to that part of the business,” explains Powers.

So how did the fun and success coalesce?

Mel and Kevin Powers

Kevin Powers grew up in Ohio and Mel was raised on a farm in Pa. After love struck and rings exchanged the couple settled in D.C. There was a community garden spot near them where they raised vegetables while homebrewing in their small apartment.

“We found we really enjoyed the agricultural part and the brewing part. I worked as an accountant and Mel was getting her master’s degree in psychology while working at American University,” said Powers.
It sounds like two professional careers headed for a routine life in the job harness.

But the pull of farming and brewing was too strong. After a few years, they purchased a 10-acre site in New Baltimore and began raising 1,000 hop bines, vegetables, and fruits on 2 acres they cultivated (grapes are grown on vines, hops on bines).

Originally, they began selling produce at the Manassas Farmers Market but Mel Powers soon began building a community-supported agriculture program. CSAs are a system in which a farm operation is supported by shareholders within the community who share both the benefits and risks of food production.

It dawned on the twosome a full-time living could be made by both farming and brewing. Then the real work began.

Veggies & more
In 2012 the tightly focused couple purchased a 21-acre farm in Midland; nine acres were clear and the remainder wooded. Since there was no home on the property the Powers elected to rent a place in Casanova about a half of mile from the farm. Tough commute.

A blank slate of rich farmland now awaited the two “farm artists” and cleaning dirt from their fingernails became a daily habit. “We are now growing a little bit of everything. There are about 40 products that are included in our CSA program,” explained Powers.

The CSA member agreement lists the following items and showcases the level of work required to successfully till the land:

kale, lettuce, radishes, mustard greens, garlic scallions, carrots, scallions, beets, cilantro, pea shoots, dill, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, summer squash, onions, beans, peppers, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, garlic, ground cherries, tomatillos, new potatoes, watermelons, melons, cucumbers, basil, sweet peppers, beans, potatoes, eggplant, okra, hot peppers, summer squash, pie pumpkins, winter squash, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, parsley, peppers, sunflower shoots, and radishes.


The produce is available by month running for 15 weeks from June through mid-September. Costs range widely depending on the type and share purchased.

For example, a vegetable half share costs $224 and $450 for a full share. Check out all the options here:

As described in their CSA agreement the produce is grown without the use of conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Because of the small size of the farm, they’ve elected not to become certified organic.

But they do hold themselves to organic practices and keep soil health, environment and nutrient quality in the forefront of their farming practices.

In 2017 the brewery was opened on the farm. “We had planned from the beginning to create a brewery but it took more time to get it going given the work required on the farm,” said Powers. “We make a new recipe almost every week.”

Powers tries to integrate farm produce into brewery products whenever possible. Guests may encounter a lemongrass pilsner, a strawberry-infused beer, pumpkin and squash ales in the fall and more. Farm grown hops obviously find their way into the suds.

The taproom is opened Thursday and Friday 3 8 p.m., Saturday noon to 8 p.m., and Sunday noon to 7 p.m. Typically nine brews are available.

On October 19th the third annual Powersfest will be held at the farm. Live music, vendors, food trucks and a special Octoberfest brew will make for a fun day; even the family pooch is invited.

In summing up the life this power couple have created, Powers says, “It’s nice when people come in and appreciate our work because we really appreciate their support.”

For the full bountiful story on Powers Farm & Brewery open their digital garden gate at

Published in the August 28, 2019 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

The silver jubilee of a helping-hand organization is a worthy milestone, both for the celebrant and for the lives that have been touched by the good Samaritan.

Habitat for Humanity Prince William County has an enviable “scorecard” of over 200 families that have seen their lives enhanced by the legendary nonprofit organization over the past 25 years.

Founded in 1976, Habitat for Humanity International has helped more than four million people construct, rehabilitate, or preserve more than 800,000 homes worldwide since its inception. The mission of Habitat is to put God’s love into action by bringing people together to build homes, communities, and hope. ReStore facilities are an integral part of Habitat.

These independently owned reuse stores are operated by local Habitat organizations; they accept donations and sell home improvement items to the public at a fraction of the retail price. Proceeds are used to help build strength, stability, self-reliance, and shelter in local communities around the world.

Merchandise includes building materials, tools, lumber, kitchen cabinets, countertops, bathtubs, furniture, home decor items, small appliances, and more. Underscoring the value of the store for county citizens Traci says, “We price items from 40–90% off retail.”
Unlike typical retail stores where merchandise is standardized from month to month, the ReStore’s home improvement selections vary from day to day, even hour to hour.

Why? Because its “merchandise managers” are local developers, contractors, citizens, and anyone who has a serviceable household item they can donate to the store.

“Our Habitat was founded in 1994 and ReStore has been operating since 2004,” says Traci DeGroat, president and CEO of the Prince William County Habitat. “We’ve built eight houses from the ground up and helped 215 families with a variety of home projects.”

While Habitat’s track record is impressive, it is poised to make an even greater impact on the county’s less fortunate citizens. “We are kicking off a project in the East End Mobile Home community in the City of Manassas in partnership with Catholics for Housing,” Traci notes.

“The effort will involve installing a playground, renovating a building as a training center for teaching residents banking, home maintenance, and other educational subjects. It’s a neighborhood revitalization project that will result in expanding our assistance from 25 families a year to 100.” She adds that they want to hear residents’ stories to see how they can improve their lives by having them develop a community plan that reflects their needs.

Meanwhile, Habitat will be rehabilitating a home in the City of Manassas as part of their traditional mission. Habitat applicants must be willing to attend required workshops on successful homeownership, live in the community where their home is being built, contribute up to 350 hours of sweat equity toward its construction, and be able to cover the home’s mortgage and other monthly expenses.

So how can the more fortunate among us help with these projects? First, next time a serviceable used home item is being replaced, drop it off at Restore or call and arrange for a pickup. Secondly, consider volunteering to swing a hammer. Highly skilled talent is not required but a desire to help is. Finally, reach for your wallet and make a financial contribution to this most worthy institution.

On October 9, the Prince William Chamber of Chamber will hold its monthly After Hours social at the Restore located at 10159 Hastings Drive in Manassas from 5:00–6:30 p.m. to celebrate a quarter-century of giving. For the full story on Habitat for Humanity Prince William County visit

Published in the September 2019 edition of Discover Prince William.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Pulling the Tap Handle

Posted on Sep 10 2019 | By

The Malty Chronicle of Beer in the Old Dominion
When American colonists landed in Virginia beer was brewed using corn, a technique possibly learned from the natives. Grapes were also planted in hopes of producing a commercial product that could be shipped back to England.

Alas, the wine was plonk. No manner of effort produced a quality and sustainable wine industry in the Commonwealth until the 1970s.

Thus, beer, cider, and hard alcohol became the everyday drink of our forefathers. Perhaps to their detriment. Colonial Americans drank about three times the amount of alcohol we do today.

Not only was it supposedly safer than hydrating on bacteria-filled water it also served as an early medicine cabinet to treat all manner of pain and emotional disorders. At least temporarily.

Thomas Jefferson noted the danger in hard liquor when he wrote, “No nation is drunken where wine is cheap, and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage. It is, in truth, the only antidote to the bane of whiskey.”

The Sage of Monticello would have also placed beer in the preferred category but his patrician tastes favored wine.

But the reality behind “water is safer” is a myth. Water was cheaper than beer and the location of settlements and towns was predicated on the availability of safe and plentiful water supplies.

Nonetheless, Virginians have always loved to hoist a glass of suds and the practice has endured for over 400 years. And not because it was a safer drink. It simply tasted better than water and had the delightful side effect of easing worry, strain and a host of other maladies.

Today beer consumption in Virginia is more popular than ever.

The dawn of brew
Beer has been brewed for over 7,000 years. Early producers hailed from Iran, Egypt, and Mesopotamia and spread worldwide from there. Since any grain containing sugars can be fermented, it’s likely a spontaneous fermentation caused by wild yeasts created the first brew.

In an unrecorded moment in libation history, one of our ancestors likely sipped a handful of naturally fermented beer from a stone bowl and fell in love with its malty flavor. He also may have wondered, “How did that happen?”

Searching for the answer was a quest of passion and resulted in one of the oldest of alcoholic drinks.
By the Middle Ages beer was one of the commonest of libations. It was consumed year-round by rich and poor alike. And as in Virginia is was widely brewed where wine grapes did not thrive.
Nonetheless, it was not universally approved of.

In 1256, the Aldobrandino of Siena opined that beer, “harms the head and the stomach, it causes bad breath and ruins the teeth, it fills the stomach with bad fumes, and as a result anyone who drinks it along with wine becomes drunk quickly; but it does have the property of facilitating urination and makes one’s flesh white and smooth.”

Hmmm…a seemingly a mixed bag.

But the long road to commercial beer success is now tasty history. In 2017, over 51 billion gallons of beer were produced globally. Our forefathers would be impressed.

Commonwealth growth
As farming became established in Virginia wheat and barley helped propel beer into the most popular of libations. Alehouses, taverns, and plantations everywhere produced and served both beer and whiskey.

Beer, however, was the everyday go to drink and in a nod to the gentler sex, it was women who often were the brewers.

This task was seen as integral to women’s role in caring for and feeding her family.
Over the decades Richmond emerged as the state’s brewing center. From the late 1700s onward the state capitol developed a rich history of beer production. The Civil War slowed the industry as the South shifted to a war footing. Then in 1916, Virginia went dry; three years before Prohibition became the law of the land.

One unique aspect of Richmond’s brewing past are the beer caves at Rocketts Landing.
Originally part of the James River Steam Brewery, the cave system was built in 1868 to provide cool storage temperatures but the combination of advancements in refrigeration and the financial crisis of 1873 conspired to force the closing of the brewery.

Today you can peek into the caves but there is little to see since they are blocked by a chain link fence. They are located 4920 Old Main Street and present a fun—albeit brief—glimpse into yesteryear’s world of cold storage.

With the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, alcohol was back in bars and homes. But beer production was limited to a paltry 3.2% alcohol discouraging many brewers who were constrained from producing interesting and quality beers.

From the 1930s on beer in Virginia was largely provided by a decreasing number of national breweries producing what some felt was a good cold glass of sparkling water. “This Bud’s for you”, was popular largely because it was an easy sipper. Beer drinkers did not have access to richer, more flavorful options.

Then in the late 1980s craft brewers began to stir. Why?

In 1979 a Federal law was passed permitting brewing at home. States vary on exactly how much is allowed; in Virginia, it’s 200 gallons annually for a two-adult household. That’s about 2,000 bottles. But please, don’t go there unless you’re sharing.

With such dramatic growth in the hobby many nascent brewers began to slowly realize, “Hey, my stuff tastes pretty good. Maybe I should go commercial,” which they did in droves resulting in today’s commercial craft beer explosion.

It’s a classic example of free enterprise coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit being unleashed by market opportunity.

In 1980 there were 80 craft breweries in the United States. Today, 7,000 dot our sudsy landscape. Even small towns and villages often sport a wee brewhouse where locals gather to quaff artisan beer.
There’s never been a better time to hoist flavorful brews that are the polar opposite of the watery libations that have dominated our domestic beer world for decades.

Virginia’s role in the national explosion of craft beer parallels the Nation’s.

Virginia ascendency
The opening of a few state craft breweries in the late 1990s was initially seen as a fad that wouldn’t catch traction and fade quickly. What wasn’t consider was how delicious artisanal beer was compared to its with mass-produced cousins.

Both wholesalers and retailers, however, took little interest in the product, believing it was too bold and of marginal quality. True enough, craft beer would take some adjustment for a palate raised on weak flavors and low alcohol. But the quality was consistently good.

What was not factored into the dismissal of the newbie beer was the passion and dedication of the mostly young brewers leading the craft beer charge.

However, without access to distribution channels offered by wholesaler’s craft brewers had to get crafty.

Mark Thompson, president and brewmaster at The Brewing Tree Beer Company in Afton, describes the solution in the Spring 2019 Virginia Craft Beer magazine, stating, “Things began to change in the early 2000s when a couple of craft brewers chose to start their own distributorships who sold only their breweries beer.”

Soon enough the wholesalers began to take notice and started adding craft brew to their portfolios. The engine of change had been ignited. Today there are over 236 breweries in Virginia producing 405,465 barrels of craft beer annually.

So, what’s the future of craft beer in Virginia?

Given the success in utilizing wholesalers to move its product, small breweries will increasingly have limited access to the big boy’s distribution system. There are simply too many beers are out there today to find a home in wholesalers’ warehouses.

What more likely will occur is a shift back to smaller brewery production where beer will be sold only in taprooms absent a third-party distributor.

If so, that would be good news for consumers who would develop closer relationships with their neighborhood brewhouse and be treated like the prize customers they’d become.

And that’s a sudsy future we’ll hoist our glass to.

For a list of Virginia breweries for use in navigating Virginia’s Hopland, drop by

Published in the Summer 2019 edition of Dine Wine & Stein magazine.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES