Herb festival to feature a dozen new brews

At the eighth annual Virginia Herb Festival at Sunflower Cottage Herb Garden and Backroom Brewery in Middletown this weekend, attendees can get a taste of Virginia herbs by sampling an array of experimental beer flavors.

Billie Clifton, owner of both businesses and festival founder, said she’s challenged her brewers to concoct 12 new beers exclusively for the festival. She said attendees who have nabbed one of 500 tasting tickets can try them all and vote on their top three choices.

“From the votes we will decide which beer to brew next, to be our next beer that goes into the large batches,” she said. “We many eventually end up brewing all of them, but at this point we want to know what the most popular beer (is) so we can move that into production.”

A number of Backroom’s 23 beers include herbs like cilantro, basil and rosemary – and as Clifton pointed out, hops, themselves, are herbs that add flavor. She said this will be the first time these 12 brews will be available to taste, including flavors like Lavender Honey Blonde Ale, Lemon Thyme Saison and Peppermint Stout.

Area business owners and chefs will present demonstrations on the varied uses of herbs. As in other years, attendees can take their pick of garden herbs from the farm and a growing list of vendors.

“The major attraction is that the herb farm, Sunflower Cottage, has thousands of herbs on sale, so you really get big bargain on herb plants,” she said.

This year, chefs and cooks from the newly created Taste of Blue Ridge business community, part of Go Blue Ridge Travel, will be demonstrating their craft under the festival tent. Chefs Erik Foxx-Nettnin, of Magnolias at the Mill, and Justin Meyer, of Redbook Restaurant at Hillbrook Inn & Spa, will be cooking up oysters, pesto, Bahn Mi sandwiches and pit beef sliders throughout the festival.

Nancy Craun, Taste of Blue Ridge founder, said member chefs will show attendees how to cook with locally grown herbs at this year’s event and in years to come.

“As far as Hillbrook and Magnolias, they are brand new to the festival,” she said. “We have a number of partners who wanted to be there but simply had conflicts.”

Clifton said that with good weather, she’s seen several thousand guests at the event in recent years. With all the vendors, brews and chefs, she said this year’s festival will prove to be the biggest yet.

“They come for the cooking demonstrations and the workshops … and the weather’s supposed to be just gorgeous this weekend,” she said. “You truly can come and just spend the day.”

* When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
* Where: Sunflower Cottage and Backroom Brewery, 150 Ridgemont Road, Middletown. • Admission: $5, which will gain visitors entry both days. Children 12 years old and younger free when accompanied by an adult. Herbal beer tasting tickets are $20 and will be limited to the first 500 guests.
* More information: Learn more at http://www.virginiaherbfestival.com/.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com