NOTE: The descriptions of the places in this guide were accurate at the time the articles were posted. Please be advised that you should call ahead before traveling to any of them.

Something's Brewing in Ashburn, Virginia

By: Michelle Harper

Tour GuideSure as the leaves begin to turn brilliant shades of red, yellow and brown in the fall, Octoberfest is not far behind. Keeping this in mind, what better place to explore than Old Dominion Brewery in Ashburn, Virginia? Here a free tour will help you learn more about process of making beer, the magical brew that has captivated millions enough to have a celebration in which it holds a special place of honor.

The brewery is tucked away amongst the stereotypical office buildings. Yet, what is to be found inside is anything but typical. The tour begins inside the Old Dominion Brewpub. Perhaps you might want to grab a bite of lunch here. The prices are reasonable and judging from the crowds, it is a fairly popular eating establishment. The atmosphere is what you would expect with high ceilings and large glass windows giving you a glimpse of the bottling process.

Old Dominion BreweryOnce our group had loosely assembled, we were greeted by our tour guide Kenny, who led us outside to the building in which the actual brewing took place. We were then each handed a glass and the tour started with a free sample of beer. We were able to sample their Octoberfest beer before it had been put on the market. For those who preferred (or those designated drivers), he also offered a sample of Old Dominion Root Beer. We then entered the world of the brew master and learned the wondrous tale of how four simple ingredients - grain, water, hops, and yeast ultimately turn into beer.

The first stop in the process is the hopper, where grain is mixed with water and heated to create complex starches and finally sugar. The next stop for the mix is the brew kettle, where the mixture is again heated and hops are added to give the beer its aroma. Technically speaking, after this process is completed, the mix is now call Wort. If this weren't enough, the process continues as the liquid is then sent through a centrifuge and a heat exchanger, to finally rest for a few days in a large fermenting vessel.

Michelle getting a sampleIt is here, in this fermenting vessel that the real unsung hero of the entire process, yeast, now begins its labor of love. It rests quietly at the bottom of the tank basically in hibernation until it recognizes the sugar and wakes up to feast. In preparation for dinner, the yeast thins its cell walls to become lighter than the solution and take the sugar inside. The byproducts of its feasting are alcohol and CO2. After several days, the yeast becomes "full" and recognizes that it has eaten all the sugars. The cell walls begin to thicken and it becomes heavier than the solution. Then they are sucked out to be reused selflessly in batch after batch until they retire. Apparently they can last up to 20 batches and then they will begin to mutate. Who wouldn't after that much beer?

Once the beer leaves the fermenting tanks, it reaches the final stage of the process in which it is cooled and filtered once again. At this point any adjustments to the carbonation can be made. Then the result is ready to be bottled.

Tanks and tanks of beerThus ends the long arduous journey of the four ingredients to make beer, as well as our visit. Old Dominion Brewery offers tours on Saturdays at noon, 2:00 and 4:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM. The entire tour lasts about a half an hour. It will offer you a whole new appreciation for the art of brewing. What a great way to spend an afternoon. Just remember to drink responsibly. Cheers.

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