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WildManDan Brewery

By August 10, 2023No Comments

For this fall’s iteration of Liquid Assets, we sat down with Dan and Terri Tatarka, owners of WildManDan Brewery and Beer Centric B&B. After four years of the couple operating the bed-and-breakfast side of the business, (WildMan)Dan retired from his day job, and in 2019, the Nelson County brewery was officially born. These days, you can find Dan brewing 10-gallon batches of beer in his barn — Virginia’s smallest production brewery! 

While Dan brings the beer, Terri brings 40 years from the food and beverage and hospitality industries, as well as an infectious energy that can outmatch the Energizer bunny. She prepares all of the à la carte menu items for guests at the B&B, ranging from croissants to barbecue packs to shakshuka to ready-to-bake cinnamon rolls. Local ingredients (including Terri’s whole-hog chorizo — yes, she makes it!) abound on both the food and beer menus. 

In 2014, the Tatarkas purchased the property and began their overhaul. They started with the 1800s farmhouse — which is rich in Nelson County history. “They know me in the records room. I’ve traced the [ownership of] the house back to 1872. The deeds are hand-written,” says Terri. The first census that’s been located is from 1890, and lists 17 people in the house, including 9 children who lived in the attic. Be sure to ask Terri for a ghost story or two … 

She tells me that the house operated as the town’s post office, as well as its beauty parlor, into the 1940s. The red barn, now the brewery, was the local feed & seed store, and the green cottage that Dan and Terri now live in was once the Esso gas station, with its pumps front-facing towards the road. 

In the 1920s, Coca-Cola painted the barn, along with thousands of others across the country, its iconic red color. The only change made to the exterior was the addition of the brewery’s Kokopelli logo, topped with a fresh coat of acrylic. 

Preserving both the aesthetics and the history of the property has clearly been an important cornerstone for Dan and Terri. It would have been easy to build a new brewhouse, but instead they used the COVID years to refinish the existing barn, making it their unique tasting room. Original doors and hand-hewn beams grab the attention of anyone who walks inside. Guests of the B&B can rent the tasting room and upstairs game room (an absolute must-see) outside of normal hours as a special perk. While sipping their pints, guests can expect Terri to get to know them and help fine-tune their ideal weekend trip. “I’m a mini chamber of commerce,” she says. 

We’ve asked the above-mentioned mini chamber of commerce, and her brewer-extraordinaire husband, some questions, and would like to thank them for their time and hospitality. If there’s anything else you need to know, you’ll simply have to stop in and pay them a visit. Just don’t be surprised if you have a hard time leaving!

Edible Blue Ridge: How did this business plan come about?

WildManDan & Terri: We were hiking the Inca Trail. At that altitude, Dan had an epiphany that he wanted to retire and brew beer — so we started looking for properties. While we were in Germany, we met a couple in Dusseldorf that had a small brew system; they had 8 seats and lived upstairs. And that’s when we thought of a bed-and-breakfast with a brewery. The plan was always for the B&B to help fund the brewery side.

EBR: What made you choose this location?

WMD&T: This property has two wells onsite, so Dan made me show up with water sample bottles. I didn’t even look at the property! We needed to test the water; if it wasn’t great for brewing beer, this wasn’t the place. The water percolates through the back end of the mountain. It’s fantastic water. Chemistry in water is everything [for brewing]. 

EBR: How about the name?

WMD&T: The name was easy; I’ve been calling him that for thirty years!

EBR: Dan is clearly invested in teaching guests about beer and the brewing process. Can you tell us a little about that?

WMD&T: Dan teaches a private, 45-minute beer course for guests [of the B&B]. It’s a short overview of the brewing process, with visual aids using crowlers. He labels them mash tun, fermenter, and so on. He goes through off-flavors and the chemical processes that cause them. By doing this, if you’re a homebrewer, you get more knowledge for tasting and perfecting your own beer. It’s not your typical brewery tour of “here, look at all of our stainless steel and smell our hops!” If I go and do something like a tour and I don’t learn anything, what’s the point?

EBR: The homebrewing community is pretty big — do people bring you all their beer when they come to visit?

WMD&T: Dan is a BJCP-certified beer judge; we get a lot of homebrewers bringing their beers for Dan to evaluate!

EBR: How is your relationship with the neighboring breweries? You have some big names close by. 

WMD&T: We’re well-connected with the neighboring breweries, small and large. Jason, the brewer at Devil’s Backbone, told me, “Terri, I’ll be honest with you. I’m usually reticent about small batch brewers because of time and temp control, [etc.,], and you’ve gotta really know what you’re doing. But Dan brews damn solid beers.”

EBR: The 151 area is well-known for its bustling winery scene. What are some of your favorite wines?

WMD&T: For white wines, hands down, Cardinal Point. Wear your flip-flops, bring some dogs, they’re super relaxed. They do a dry-hopped Chardonnay!

EBR: How about reds?

WMD&T: Afton Mountain Vineyards! They have an Italian winemaker and make some of the best reds in Virginia — they’re extra on the dry side, including the Italian-style Bacco blend. Kind of like a Montepulciano. For sweets, Hilltop Berry Farm makes amazing fruit wines. And they have mead — he’s also our honey guy! He’s the answer in all of Nelson county if you want bees. I make sorbets with their sweet fruit wines! 

EBR: The wineries get a lot of attention — competition aside, who are your favorite breweries nearby? 

WMD&T: I think if you’re going small-batch … Brewing Tree and Woodridge Farm Brewery. At Brewing Tree, my friend Gina operates the [Scratch Kitchen] food truck on site — you can count on that being there. Outback [Brewhouse] is also on US-29, super small and just opened up. 

EBR: Cideries?

WMD&T: On the cider side, I would say Blue Toad has a great small batch location. Bryant’s is small batch cider as well — it’s a little off the path; they’re doing great little ciders up there. 

EBR: What is your favorite neighborhood meal?

WMD&T: My favorite place is Basic Necessities. It’s a little French Bistro. After pouring concrete in the brewery all day, I went to Basic [Necessities] for a wine dinner (Kay [owner] does wine tastings from all over the world) and had a world-renowned cellist tasting wine and composing on the spot with her little dachshund on a pillow under her cello. So that’s my favorite little secret.

EBR: Any other spots that are a little under the radar?

WMD&T: The Batesville Market — they have a deli case, cold drinks, beers on tap, music set up outdoors. Quirky little crossroads market and an unexpected hole in the wall. 

EBR: Back to the brewery — what are your favorite brew day music choices?

WMD&T: Yesterday I was on a big motown kick; it depends on the day and what the mood is. The classic stuff is Dan’s, and the weird stuff is mine! My choice for when I’m in my chef’s kitchen, what pumps me up and gets me going, is The Beastie Boys. 

EBR: What are your favorite beers to brew?

WMD&T: The next one! [Terri notes that Obi-one,a barrel-aged porter brewed on May 4th, and Alpaca Kick, a jalapeno beer inspired by their South America travels, are some favorites, and that just brewing them brings back nice memories.]

EBR: Any brew day traditions? 

WMD&T: We have shift beer at 3 o’clock. We brew from 7 to 2, then clean everything up. What’s funny is that we’re not open, but a lot of our neighbors know it’s shift beer at 3. So the door will slide open and someone walks in and then another guy walks in and we just have a hang session. It’s kind of gotten to be a Nelson “in the know.” It’s turning into a tradition. 

I sat down and enjoyed a flight at the end of my visit. They tell me about the malt (usually local from Murphy & Rude in Charlottesville), hops, and tasting notes of the award-winning beers such as We Are Pivo, a smoked wheat beer, and my personal favorite, the Pik Ax Irish red ale. The Crooked Room is a berliner weisse brewed with seasonal fruit — either from their own personal berry patch or a neighboring Nelson County producer. The couple takes the best of local products and melds them with inspiration from their global beer-centric travels, so you’ll always find true-to-style beers with knowledge and stories attached to them. 

Words & Photos | JESSE FELDBERG

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