Devils Backbone has been a mainstay of the local brewery scene since 2008. With its imposing building and its beautiful Nelson County site, it’s highly visible to Wintergreen-bound visitors, and hosting outdoor events like The Festy Experience (this year: October 9-11) has put it on the regional map. Says Heidi Crandall, who founded the business with her husband, Steve, the time had come to make the five-acre landscape around the brewery more appealing. “It was just an open area,” she says. “We wanted to create an environment that was more conducive to events.”
The Crandalls’ travels to European biergartens and Western U.S. brewpubs provided plenty of inspiration. They relayed to landscape architect David Anhold their vision of a pleasant place for visitors to take in beer, food and views. Whereas “most traditional beer gardens are a grove of trees and tables—somewhat simple and austere from a design standpoint”—this was, he says, “a complex program.”
There would be an outdoor bar, a separate area where food could be cooked on a wood-fired grill, multiple kinds of seating and a reconstructed train depot to be used for private events. And all of this needed to coexist with the amphitheater that’s been on the property since the brewery opened. The Crandalls wanted open space for families to play and, of course, parking to serve all of it.
There are no large trees on the site, so Anhold advocated an emphasis on native grasses and shrubs. “We were bringing the garden to the beer garden,” he says. “It’s a Nelson County interpretation of a traditional beer garden.”
Anhold’s scheme involved a bold move: taking the parking further away from the restaurant. “It was getting the cars out of the way—connect the restaurant to the beer garden to the mountains, and give the best spots to the people,” he says. The new outdoor seating areas now soak in the Three Ridges Wilderness views from what used to be the parking lot.
From the front door of the restaurant, a walkway leads straight to the firepit, the project’s crucial focal point. “How do you organize all the elements?” says Anhold. “The firepit pulls it all together.” He credits Steve Crandall with the decision to burn wood instead of gas. “You can go to a lot of places, but you will not see a wood-burning firepit.”
A few rings of Adirondack chairs encircle the fire, and the space flows easily in all directions: to the outdoor bar, under its timber-frame roof; to picnic tables sheltered by a covering of black shadecloth; out toward the open meadow and music stage. The design incorporates gravel walkways instead of solid pavers, because gravel feels down-to-earth and offers better drainage.
Native plants—red and white oak, witch hazel, rhododendron, switchgrass—soften and protect the various seating areas. One of the most inventive elements is the “secret gardens”: small groups of Adirondack chairs that will, over time, become partially hidden by the plantings that surround them.
“Everything about it says, ‘Come enjoy it,’” says Anhold. “You sit out here and you’re embraced by the Blue Ridge Mountains.”