When one thinks of Harrisonburg, Virginia, and the greater Shenandoah Valley, their thoughts might immediately turn to the obvious. With two universities and one community college, an abundance of hiking trails throughout Skyline Drive and George Washington National Forest (just to name a few), a thriving downtown community, and potentially endless potential, it is easy to overlook what is quickly becoming one of Harrisonbug’s greatest commodities: craft beer.
Craft beer culture and microbreweries in Harrisonburg can be traced back to the now-defunct Calhoun’s, but the scene seemed to explode in 2009 when Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint opened. With their offerings of 100 beers, many of which were foreign to the town’s residents at the time, the floodgates were opened. In the seven years since, numerous bars and restaurants catering to craft beer enthusiasts have emerged, many of them focusing their selection on Virginia-based breweries. They don’t have to look very far, as Brothers Craft Brewing and Pale Fire Brewing have taken the lead on creating beer meant to represent the town of Harrisonburg and its local-first ethos.Established in 2012, Brothers Craft Brewing is run by the three Shifflett siblings, who converted an old Coca-Cola bottling plant into the town’s first brewery since the demise of Calhoun’s. Situated on the north side of Harrisonburg close to the famed Little Grill Collective restaurant, Brothers is the longest-running brewery in Harrisonburg’s craft beer renaissance. The Shifflett brothers grew up in the area, which has inspired them to use their brewery as a home base for all things Harrisonburg. Local artists and musicians frequently ply their trade at Cask for a Cause events benefitting charity, and the brewery has hosted the Skatan Worshipers event celebrating skateboard culture for the past two years. Local food trucks frequently set up shop outside the brewery, and Run, Sweat and Beers events start and finish at Brothers on the forth Friday of every month.
This all comes second to the spotlight, of course, which is the constantly evolving rotation of beers Brothers serves up. Their flagships – including the Hoptimzation IPA and Lil’ Hellion Lager – have seen increased bottling distribution throughout the region, while their more limited releases are beginning to find recognition around the nation. In 2015, their English-Style Mild Ale placed gold at the Great American Beer Festival, adding to the gold medals already won by their double IPA, the Admiral, at the VA Craft Brewers Festival. In total, Brothers has won more than five medals at state and national levels. Resolute, a boozy Russian Imperial Stout aged for nine months in bourbon barrels, currently cracks the top 50 on Beer Advocate’s top 250 beers.On the opposite side of town – situated in the newly renovated Ice House building and sitting across from the Harrisonburg Farmer’s Market Pavilion – is Pale Fire Brewing. The brewery opened in April 2015 with a gorgeous taproom featuring a giant Little Free Library, cozy fireplace, large patio and floor-to-ceiling windows exposing the entirety of its brewery production. Owned by Tim Brady, former brewmaster at Calhoun’s, Pale Fire’s beer quickly began making its mark on the regional and national levels. Salad Days and Red Molly – an American Saison and Irish Red Ale, respectively – both placed bronze in both the World Beer Cup less than a year into Pale Fire’s existence. Pale Fire has won a total of five medals for their beers in their brief existence, and in 2015 Beer Advocate named them as one of the top 33 best new breweries in the country.
Brady’s love of music (many of Pale Fire’s beers are inspired by bands as disparate as hardcore outfits Refused and Minor Threat to the David Bowie-themed Major Tom) has extended to his taproom, which hosts live local music on a regular basis. Local radio affiliate WMRA throws monthly author series under the moniker Books and Brews, and pilates and yoga sessions are available on the weekends through Barre at the Bar and Detox Retox.Brothers Craft Brewing and Pale Fire have situated themselves at the forefront of Harrisonburg’s craft beer explosion, not only by making good beer but by doing so in a way that honors the community that they call home. Whether you’re in the area looking for a brew after a hike up to Reddish Knob or bike trip though Hillandale Park, or just want to visit town and stay active before indulging in some of the best beers Virginia has to offer, Pale Fire and Brothers Craft Brewing have you covered. Who would have thought that frolicking around the great outdoors of the Valley would mix so well with beer?