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Herb farm owners aim to run microbrewery

By Alex Bridges

Sunflower Cottage could boast the region's first microbrewery by year's end.

Owners Billie and Arnold Clifton have proposed to expand their herb farm on Reliance Road in Warren County to feature a microbrewery and a "brewpub." Billie Clifton said Tuesday they hope to begin brewing in August -- Virginia Craft Brewer's Month -- also, the peak time to harvest hops.

Warren County must first take several steps before the Cliftons can start their new venture. The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. today on a request to amend the county zoning ordinance to add the two uses as allowed by conditional-use permit in the agricultural zone district. The changes would include supplemental regulations for such businesses.

The commission also will hold a public hearing on the Clifton's request for a conditional-use permit that would allow the owners to build and operate a microbrewery on the premises.

"Hops are herbs and if you look at it from our standpoint it's just another herbal product that we're offering, only it requires lots of equipment," Billie Clifton said. "We made the decision to plant a hops field ... as our next project and from that point we started looking at the craft-brewing industry, which our hops field would support and decided that this was probably something that we wanted to get into as well."

The farm's log cabin contains a commercial kitchen so it seemed natural to add a small, "farm-to-fork" restaurant, Clifton said. The arrangement would allow people to taste beer brewed on the premises as well as eat food in the restaurant, she noted.

Sunflower Cottage hosts the annual Virginia Herb Festival in June and last year featured demonstrations on distilling essential oils. This year the owners plan to hold demonstrations on home brewing techniques.

About 40 craft breweries operate across the state, according to Clifton. Even fewer exist on farms. Blue Mountain Brewery in Nelson County and Corcoran Brewing Co. in Loudoun operate on agricultural property.

Sunflower Cottage, located at 150 Ridgemont Road, opened in 2005 and adds to its offerings each year, according to Clifton.

"It's not the same as adding another garden," Clifton said. "It's probably the largest undertaking that we decided to go forward with since we bought the property and initially built here.

The Cliftons plan to first plant 600 hop rhizomes in late March, she explained, noting the amount would create a large field. The proprietors said they hope to get the Shenandoah Herb Society and the Garden Club in Warren County as well as master gardeners involved in the step.

Clifton invited those interested in the endeavor to follow the business on Twitter at @BackroomBrews.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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