Dirt Farm Brewing in Bluemont, Virginia is a gorgeous brewery nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. With gorgeous views and tasty drinks, it’s worth the drive. We love their commitment to using fresh, local ingredients and we wanted to learn more about Dirt Farm and its tasty beers, so we got to chat with their head brewer, Wes Schoeb, and ask him some questions about his role in the food scene!
Wes started working at Dirt Farm Brewing shortly after graduating from Virginia Tech in 2015 and he has been brewing for about 8 years. He took a brewing course in college but says, “The majority of my knowledge was obtained through experience, a course I took through the Siebel Institute, and lots and lots of research.”
We asked him some questions about farming, the food and beverage scene in Virginia, and upcoming events at the brewery. It’s clear that his passion for farming and sustainability contributes to the incredible brews he creates. Read on to learn more about Wes and Dirt Farm Brewing.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got started in the food industry?
Although I kind of fell into my current role as head brewer at Dirt Farm Brewing, I grew up in the hospitality industry working at my aunt and uncle’s farm, Great Country Farms, and have worked several other food industry jobs over the years. When I graduated from college and was looking for a job my aunt and uncle had just opened the brewery and were in need of a brewer, so I jumped on the opportunity and started to learn as much as I could, as fast as I could.
Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in the beer industry?
My family has been farming for almost 4 generations and brewing is a natural extension of farming. One of our favorite slogans at the brewery is, “No Farms, No Beer!”.
Q: Can you share some highlights or achievements in your career related to Virginia’s food scene?
We have won several statewide medals for our beers, which contained fruit that was grown right here on the farm! I think I’m always a little more proud of those beers as opposed to the traditional ones because of how labor-intensive it is to use whole fruit in a beer.
Q: How has Virginia’s food and beverage scene evolved over the years, and what trends do you see emerging in the local food industry?
Although the farm-to-table movement has been going on for many years now, I feel like today’s consumers are more educated and overall more knowledgeable with regards to the benefits of fresh locally sourced ingredients in their food and drink — and are quick to discern between a truly fresh product and one where shortcuts may have been taken.
Q: Farm-to-table dining (and drinking!) has gained popularity in Virginia. How does Dirt Farm Brewery contribute to this movement?
We try to utilize the literal fruits and vegetables of our labor in our beers. If it grows in Virginia (and a late frost doesn’t wipe out the crop) there is a good chance that we grow it and use it in one of our beers. We also recently installed a grain silo to hold the barley that we have been experimenting with on the farm. Once harvested and stored in the silo, the barley will be sent off to be malted and we will have yet another estate-grown ingredient to introduce into our products.
Q: Can you share your perspective on the importance of sourcing local and seasonal ingredients in Virginia?
Sourcing local ingredients means that you can have peace of mind knowing you have a personal relationship with the grower of those ingredients and confidence in what they are providing. Sourcing seasonally means you are assured to get peak flavor and overall quality, which allows us to better plan for consumer preferences based on what grows during certain times of the year! For us, that means introducing locally harvested honey into a beer during spring when everything is in bloom or lemongrass, peaches, and nectarines in the hot summer months. There is nothing better than enjoying a pint on one of our massive mountain patios, overlooking hundreds of acres of orchards, and knowing that the flavors you are experiencing started right in those trees.
Q: What advice do you have for consumers who want to support local farmers and producers in Virginia?
When you are looking for fruits, vegetables, baked goods, etc., shop at your local farmer’s markets and family-run farms—like our sister property Great Country Farms. These businesses and the people that bring those items to you tend to those crops on a daily basis and take so much pride in producing the freshest, most flavorful products available. Virginia is an incredibly unique and agriculturally diverse state with so much to offer that it’s a shame to not experience everything she has to offer!
Q: What are some of the challenges that chefs, restaurant owners, and farmers face in Virginia’s food industry?
Sky-rocketing inflation has impacted the price of raw food goods tremendously, which ultimately means increasing prices for the consumer in order for many establishments to stay in business. Although sometimes confusing to many consumers, the truth is that if an establishment wants to stay in business and still provide quality products and services, raising prices is a necessity until real effort is put into getting that inflation under control.
Q: Are there any specific opportunities or initiatives that you’re involved in to address these challenges or promote sustainability in the local food scene?
What we grow on our farm is our greatest resource for handling the rising costs in the local food scene. The ability to grow fruit, hops, and barley that can be incorporated into our products allows us to develop exciting new products for our customers without having to rely as heavily on outside suppliers. Whether we are taking the leftover grape must/pressings from our sister winery, Bluemont Vineyard and aging a beer on them, or cleaning out the freezer of our surplus fruit to add to our annual Fluster Cluck Ale, nothing we grow goes to waste!
Q: What are your favorite local dishes, restaurants, or breweries? Any hidden gems to recommend?
Although I don’t have time to get out to as many breweries as I would like, I really appreciate the breweries that introduce not so typical farm-fresh ingredients into beers. Powers Farm Brewery is a great little spot down in Midland, Va. As far as restaurants go, there is an incredible restaurant in Middletown called The Vault and Cellar that specializes in what they call “New Appalachian” style with several seasonal offerings that you won’t find on many restaurant menus. Good luck deciding what to order as they are all amazing, but the venison is incredible if it’s on the menu, and definitely try the massive buttermilk biscuits!
Q: Are there any upcoming events or projects you’re looking forward to working on?
Every year in January we host our Annual Luau and Pig Feast (this will be year 7!) where we always brew up a batch of our Pineapple IPA. Our Pineapple IPA is brewed with fresh pineapples and is lightly hopped to offer you a bright and crisp IPA that may just have you forgetting it’s below freezing outside. Tickets are now available for this annual event, you can grab them here.
Q: Any final thoughts you’d like to share with our audience regarding Virginia’s food culture?
Experience as much Virginia-grown food and drink as you can find — and when you find a “hole-in-the-wall” place that you love, tell people about it so those places can thrive! Virginia has such agricultural diversity with so many farmers dedicated to healthy, sustainably raised ingredients that you can’t go wrong with a place that prioritizes locally sourced ingredients.