Nelson County’s newest brewery, Wild Wolf, quenches love for beer and nature

Mary Wolf (pictured) opened Nelson County’s Wild Wolf Brewing Company last fall with her son, Danny, after tasting his homebrews. (Photo by John Robinson) Mary Wolf (pictured) opened Nelson County’s Wild Wolf Brewing Company last fall with her son, Danny, after tasting his homebrews. (Photo by John Robinson)

Someone with a 3,000-bottle wine cellar isn’t a likely candidate to also own a brewery, but last fall, Mary Wolf turned from Barolos to brewskis when she opened Wild Wolf Brewing Company on Route 151. She and her husband, Doug, had been Nellysford part-timers for 14 years until Doug retired from a software business in Northern Virginia and they permanently relocated. But it was their son Danny’s passion for homebrewing (discovered well before he was legal) that inspired this gig that’s shaped their lives into something bigger and better than they ever imagined.

The 10-acre brewery, biergarten, and restaurant grew from a mini-microbrewery and homebrew supply shop just a stone’s throw down the road, where Danny brewed 10 gallons at a time, testing out recipes, which sold out every two weeks. The hunt for an ideal location took years, but Mary kept returning to the 100-year-old landmarked building that served as Nelson County’s first high school from 1910 to 1939. “This is a high maintenance property. We found things we didn’t expect, but you can’t replicate the charm,” said Mary.

And charming it is. The biergarten is pretty as a picture and keeps true to its German roots by offering outdoor seating with gorgeous views, crushed gravel underfoot, a natural canopy of 60-year-old Siberian elm trees, lights strung overhead, and a pond with irises and koi. The old schoolhouse building houses the restaurant and kitchen and was modernized with a sports bar and a brewery building that holds a dozen 15-barrel tanks.

Back outside, a covered patio that’s heated and enclosed in the winter offers more outdoor seating options, and five tobacco barns being transformed into a shopping village will sell everything from homebrewing equipment to jewelry once completed in the next year or so. There’s live music Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, trivia on Tuesdays, and food specials the other nights, including summer holiday pig pickings, compliments of the new outdoor smoker and grill. A sculpture of a howling wolf (which will get painted with a different design every month) sitting amidst a pond with a water wheel serves as the brewery’s mascot, and the grassy field’s perfect for outdoor concerts, like the Oktoberfest planned for fall. It’s a happy and happening place for tourists and craft beer-lovers alike.

And Wild Wolf’s still expanding. Four 30-barrel tanks are on the way to accommodate growing demand. “I always knew we’d expand, but didn’t expect it to be within six months of opening,” said Mary. They opened with five beers and now with their rotation of seasonal brews, Danny, who studied brewing at Chicago’s Siebel Institute of Technology, regularly makes 10. “I am blown away by how many recipes Danny comes up with, and the beers are incredible. He’s like a gifted chef,” said Mary.

Because beer doesn’t depend on a yearly harvest the way wine does, they’re always in production mode, but keep their seasonal batches small. Their fall Howling Pumpkin, for instance, required hand-roasting 800 pounds of pumpkins just for six barrels, so when it was gone, it was gone. Making enough for the brewery (where you can order flights, 2 oz. tastes, 16 oz. or 20 oz. glasses, or 64 oz. refillable growlers to-go) and restaurants like Miller’s, Beer Run, Rapture, and Brixx Pizza, which regularly pour Wild Wolf brews, keep Danny plenty busy, but retail bottles are on a distant horizon.

A hoppy Imperial Wit with pear and honey that’s on the current menu and brewed on the premises with beer from Blue Mountain and Devils Backbone (the other two breweries on the Brew Ridge Trail), suggests that the local brewing biz is a collaborative one. “I want visitors to have a good experience at all three and believe that the more people we bring down the road, the better,” said Mary, who credits Nelson County’s “perfect” water with why the area’s had such success with beer.

While Danny splits his days between brewing and selling his brand from the road, Doug (who built the restaurant’s tables and bar) keeps the acreage looking sharp with his new tractor, and Mary gives regular tours of the property. At the end of a long day, she sits down to enjoy what her family’s created, and over a glass of her favorite Blonde Hunny Ale laughs at the irony of her stymied wine cellar, “Of course, now that I can get a great price on wine, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with craft beer.”