Hop to It
By Nevin Martell
What do the breweries in Montgomery County have to offer? So much that you’ll go for a growler and stay for hours. To suss out the best brews in our area, we spent a day visiting the county’s four operations with Dave Birks, a beer aficionado who is the general manager of Downtown Crown Wine and Beer in Gaithersburg.
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Still the One
By Nevin Martell
Photo courtesy Twin Valley Distillers
“This is my new toy,” says Edgardo Zuniga, the 46-year-old owner of Twin Valley Distillers, Montgomery County’s first and only distillery. He gestures toward the 600-gallon still with a batch of bourbon in it. “I’ve been posting pictures of it on Instagram all night long.”
Zuniga bought the large silver tank on eBay for $2,600 last August, drove a truck to West Virginia to pick it up, and custom-modified it with help from a welder. It’s the centerpiece of his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it operation—only about 2,750 square feet—hidden on the flip side of a company that specializes in marble and granite products. The tasting room is sparse—just some used barrels, a Maryland state flag and a wooden paddle used for stirring the mash. There’s also the couch where Zuniga catches a few hours of sleep here and there, as distilling often requires pulling all-nighters. In the back of the distillery, which started production in the spring of 2014, there are pallets piled with grain, barrels waiting to be filled, and a smaller still.
Zuniga used to be the chef-owner of Blue Mountain Café in Rockville, which closed in 2006. As a hobby, he made limoncello, a strong, citrusy Italian liqueur. That’s what inspired him to open Twin Valley, named after the street he lives on in Silver Spring with his wife and two children. “People told me I was crazy when I started the company,” he says. “They asked me, ‘What do you know about distilling?’ I always told them, ‘I’m a chef, so I have a perfect nose, a perfect palate, and I work like a horse.’ ”
Bourbon accounts for most of his business. He also produces rye, vodka, rum, gin and other spirits. He only uses Maryland grains—rye, barley and oats. RB Savage & Sons Farm in Dickerson feeds the spent grains to its livestock.
Perhaps the most intriguing product is Black Joe coffee liqueur. The silky and sweet sipper that could perk you up like a doppio espresso is made with beans from Mayorga Organics—just down the road—as well as Madagascar vanilla. Recently, Zuniga released more flavored spirits, including sweet tea-infused whiskey and a dulce de leche liqueur.
An hourlong tour and tasting of three spirits is $15, or free for anyone who buys a bottle ($29-$64). Bottles also are available in county liquor stores.
711 E. Gude Drive, Rockville, 240-421-1115, twinvalleydistillers.com
By Nevin Martell
Photo by Michael Ventura
Montgomery County may not have the same cachet as Napa or France’s Loire Valley, but it’s home to a burgeoning winemaking scene that aims to impress. Four wineries vie for oenophiles’ affections with reds and whites that use local grapes and other fruit. Here’s where you can find the varietal—and the experience—for you.
Rocklands Farm Winery & Market
Five years ago, TJ Fleming’s résumé didn’t include anything related to winemaking. “I had no experience other than I liked to drink it,” says the former middle school science and math teacher. The vineyard manager and winemaker has helped Rocklands’ co-founder Greg Glenn go from a small plot of grapes on the organic farm and making wine in his basement to a full-fledged winery.
The 34-acre farm devotes 6.5 acres to vines growing nine grape varietals, including cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot and chardonnay. Last year, the operation produced 3,500 cases of a dozen different wines, plus a couple of fruity dessert wines and a dry-hopped hard cider.
Standouts include the 2016 Monocacy, which is billed as a vinho verde-style traminette. It’s crisp and dry with a pinch of pear, making it perfect for drinking on a summer day. The 2015 Honey Blossom vidal blanc is rich with tropical tones and citrus notes, including pineapple and mandarin—another wine built for warmer months.
But the wines are only half the equation for visitors. The tasting room includes a small but well-curated market that sells organic eggs and produce, humanely raised meats and locally crafted gourmet goods. After sampling the wines and stocking up on dinner ingredients, guests can stroll the working farm to go up-close and personal with the livestock. Chickens have free range, friendly tabby cats can be found napping in cozy nooks, and there are pens of surprisingly friendly heritage pigs.
Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fridays through Sundays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
14525 Montevideo Road, Poolesville, 301-825-8075, rocklandsfarmmd.com
Great Shoals Winery
Matt Cimino’s Ph.D. in plant biology from the University of Maryland led to a career in counterterrorism as a forensic biologist. After 10 years, he wanted a career change. What started as a passion project of making hard ciders in his father’s garage on the Eastern Shore turned into the job switch Cimino was looking for. Friends and family raved about his ciders, and he expanded his portfolio to include a variety of wines. The business became licensed in 2011. The 47-year-old winemaker has lost count of the number of wines and ciders he produces, but last year he sold 3,200 cases.
The best place to try the wine is the tasting room at Heyser Farms’ market in Silver Spring’s Colesville Park neighborhood. (There’s only a small sign to mark the winery’s existence, so keep your eyes peeled.) Cimino transformed a walk-in cooler at the back of the space—it’s no longer refrigerated—into a speakeasy with a short bar and a few high-top tables. You can linger there for a sip session and to purchase bottles, as well as to sample a cheese plate and chocolate fondue.
Cimino aims to buy Maryland-grown grapes and fruit, which have led to some of his most surprising successes. He used a load of strawberries to craft a wine that’s dry, not too sweet and slightly effervescent (nothing like the saccharine sweet Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill you may have guzzled in college). Another favorite is a pleasantly tart blackberry wine with a restrained sweetness and a gentle tang.
Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., between Memorial Day and Columbus Day. Hours are more limited the rest of the year.
14526 New Hampshire Ave., Silver Spring, 410-849-9616, greatshoals.com
The Urban Winery
You won’t see fields lined with rows of grapevines at this winemaking venture in downtown Silver Spring. You’ll find a rustic tasting room where wine bottles are incorporated into the bar design as well as the light fixtures that dangle overhead. Georgia Callis, co-owner and winemaker, works in the window-fronted, brick-lined barrel room in the back. The space is inspired by her childhood basement in Silver Spring, where her father taught her how to make wine.
“I remember standing in a bucket crushing grapes,” she says.
Callis and her husband, Damon, made that family tradition their livelihood when they opened The Urban Winery in June 2015. Sourcing grapes from throughout Maryland and California—the winery used 12 tons of them last year—Callis crafts about 20 wines.
A favorite with the regulars is the 2015 Silver Spring white made with a combination of East and West Coast grapes. With a pointed crispness and a bounty of citrus notes, it finishes with a touch of tartness. The most interesting and innovative varietal is the 2016 merlot, aged for four months in a bourbon barrel from D.C.’s One Eight Distilling. It boasts a strong vanilla scent, and you can taste a touch of oak and the spirit’s fire as the wine lingers on your palate.
There’s also food available: The Mediterranean-inspired bites, such as Greek meatballs and stuffed grape leaves, are based on Georgia’s family recipes.
Tuesdays through Thursdays, 4-10 p.m.; Fridays, 4-11 p.m.; Saturdays, 1-11 p.m.; Sundays, 1-8 p.m.
949 Bonifant St., Silver Spring; 301-585-4100; theurbanwinery.com
Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard
Photo courtesy Sugarloaf Winery by Katie Main/Katie Main Photo & Design
Attending a wedding in Napa Valley can inspire the urge to become a winemaker. That’s how the first Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard owners decided to give it a try. They transformed the onetime Angus cattle farm into a vineyard in 2004—and according to tasting room manager Jennifer Reed, they were the 12th vineyard to open in Maryland (now there are 80). Over the years, the ownership has changed—it’s now helmed by Emily Yang of Clarksburg—and the plantings have increased to 22 acres and include five red (cabernet sauvignon and Malbec among them) and five white (pinot grigio and petit manseng included) varietals. Winemaker Manolo Gomez usually makes four red wines, four whites and a rosé each year.
The very strawberry rosé offers refreshment and a hint of flowers on the nose. The cabernet franc—with its peppery finish and rich tannins—is best broken out during nonna-style Sunday suppers of ragù-sauced pasta, while the dryly sweet white blend Penelope pairs well with fruity desserts.
Wine isn’t the only draw. The calendar features plenty of events to lure people to the northern reaches of the county. There’s often live music, and the annual Mother’s Day festivities and Grape Stomp Festival over Labor Day weekend are popular.
Wine enthusiasts gather in the tasting room, with its low ceiling and concrete floor, grab a seat out on the patio, or spread a blanket close to the vines. Though cheese and snacks are available, some visitors bring their own food to eat outside.
Daily, noon-6 p.m. | 18125 Comus Road, Dickerson; 301-605-0130; smvwinery.com