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Devils Backbone Makes It Big


April 29, 2020 | Wine & Country Life

Together with Nelson County brewpub Devils Backbone Brewing Company, we continue to encourage you to support local businesses during this time. Featured in Book 9 of Wine & Country Life, Devils Backbone shares how a dream grew into a go-to destination for travelers and locals alike. Read on for some of the original article from Book 9.

The History of Devils Backbone Brewery

“Since Steve and Heidi Crandall began Devils Backbone Brewing Company in 2008, it has become a sought-out destination for beer lovers up and down the East Coast. The brewery has even welcomed beer connoisseurs from as far as Scotland and China.

Similar to many family-run craft breweries, this enterprise has grassroots beginnings. The name Devils Backbone is the same name that surveyors, including Thomas Jefferson’s father, named the mountain region almost 300 years ago. 

The idea for the brewery took root during the Crandall’s ski trip in the Alps, where they tried their first craft beer—a German Weisse. ‘People did tell Steve he was crazy,’ Heidi shares. ‘He bought a book on how to build a brewery and, of course, one of the things it outlined was that you needed a certain density of population.

It seems that what the couple had stumbled upon was the perfect recipe of success for a then fledgling industry. The ingredients included: chance, timing, entrepreneurship and, of course, quality beer. 

At Devils Backbone, every single beer has its own unique recipe and brewing process. With a focus on the traditions of Germany, Belgium and England, the team still uses the German-designed Zieman-Miyake system they began with in 2008. That process pumps out a substantial amount through its 120-barrel fully automated, high-tech German Rolec brewing system. 

With products being sold in 13 states in addition to Washington, D.C., Devils Backbone also has its American IPA available in major grocery retailers across the United Kingdom.

Devils Backbone’s Expansion with Anheuser-Busch

What they do seems to be working. Working so well, in fact, that they caught the eye of industry powerhouse Anheuser-Busch InBev, to which after much thought and discussion, they sold in 2016.

‘It was the right decision for us,’ Steve shares. They can still manage all of the operations, while also being able to expand in ways that they couldn’t have before. ‘Our plans just sat, and we put our funding where priorities needed it. Then, we were approached by InBev and we had a dream list, you know, a vision of what we wanted to see completed,’ he adds.

Although still very much in its infancy, the Devils Backbone Distilling Co. has already started to produce award-winning spirits with the help of distiller Matt Casto, including Virginia Pine Gin and Nelly’s Apple and Pear Brandies. Ever the entrepreneur, Heidi has big plans for the distillery’s future, including collaborations with their beers, and a foray into aged spirits like whisky and rum, which Heidi refers to as ‘the browns.’ 

The recent growth and expansion of the brewery have made the business a multi-faceted getaway destination. Guests are now able to stay right on the property and enjoy food, spirits, music, cigars, hiking trails, beer and more without ever leaving the grounds. Alongside the many buildings on the property, some of which include The Oak Grill, the Outdoor Grill and The Shanty—are hoop houses and gardens, where the kitchen is able to grow vegetables, flowers, fruits and herbs.

‘What’s really cool is that InBev is a global company, so now, we get to collaborate with people all over the world. We’re all behind a common cause and a common business and that’s really quite unique. It’s an amazing thing to get people to understand each other better,’ Steve adds. ‘All types of people from all over the world come to Nelson County, which is a very rural county; they get to interact along with the community who maybe don’t travel as much. That’s such a neat asset and just makes it such a unique place.’

Devils Backbone’s Future Vision

With over 200 staff currently employed, the future of Devils Backbone is looking bright, with potential plans to open another location and bring some of the community spirit to other parts of Virginia. The goal is to create other similar outdoor environments, but more in the urban areas. ‘It would be great to touch more people than we already do,’ Heidi says. ‘You see a lot of happy people in this business.'”  ~

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Text Excerpts from Book 9 of Wine & Country Life are by Mandy Reynolds, and to purchase a digital or print copy of the magazine to read the entire article, click here.

Photography by Beth Seliga of 3 Cats Photo

Wine & Country celebrates elevated living in the heart of Virginia Wine Country. Wine & Country Life, a semi-annual life & style magazine, and Wine & Country Weddings, an art book celebrating elegant country weddings in the region, are accompanied by the Wine & Country Shop in Ivy, VA—a beautiful lifestyle boutique featuring over 40 Virginian artisans with everything from tailgating essentials and Dubarry attire, to locally made foods and award-winning Monticello AVA wines, as well as craft beverages for your next event. Wine & Country Experiences are now also available and include exclusive tours and hands-on classes with leading professionals in the local farm-to-table and vineyard scenes.