On a recent afternoon, visitors packed into Blue Mountain Brewery, one of three craft breweries in Virginia’s idyllic Rockfish Valley. Couples and families spilled out of the restaurant onto patios and into gardens, sipping Full Nelson Pale Ale, K├Âlsch 151, Original Nitro Porter, and more.
Above them, the low-hanging clouds that obscured Afton Mountain’s upper ridges couldn’t mute the bright reds, oranges, and yellows exploding on its slopes. The brewery is just four miles below Rockfish Gap — the mountain pass that marks the southern entrance of Shenandoah National Park, the passage of the Appalachian Trail, and the point where Skyline Drive becomes the Blue Ridge Parkway.
But there’s a storm brewing in this autumnal paradise, as evidenced by a sign in front of the brewery that’s become quite common in the Blue Ridge Mountains of late: “No pipeline.”
Blue Mountain Brewery is part of a Nelson County activist group opposing construction of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a proposed 550-mile transmission line to move natural gas extracted from the Marcellus shale formation from Harrison County, W.Va., through Virginia, and into North Carolina, with an additional spur running east to Virginia’s Hampton Roads.
Blue Mountain joins others in the craft beer sector nationwide that are speaking out for their most important ingredient: clean water. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s “Brewers for Clean Water” campaign has lined up 60 breweries, including craft beer heavyweights like Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and New Belgium Brewing Co., to support and lobby on water quality issues.
“Great breweries grow up around good water sources,” says Taylor Smack, Blue Mountain’s co-owner and head brewer. “Trace minerals in the water affect the chemistry of the mash, the flavor of the beer, how hops are received, the softness and roundness of the beer. We develop our beers around the water source.”