Taylor Smack of Blue Mountain Brewery/Blue Mountain Barrel House, Nelson County, VA

The Nature Conservancy is celebrating fall with OktoberForest, a collaboration with local breweries to raise awareness about the importance of forests in providing clean water. We spoke with Taylor Smack, founder of Blue Mountain Brewery and Blue Mountain Barrel House, about nature’s role in the brewing and enjoyment of craft beer.

Visit nature.org/OktoberForest to learn more about the connection between healthy forests and clean water, and see the list of participating OktoberForest breweries across the country!


The name Blue Mountain and your scenic locations suggest an appreciation for the surrounding landscape. How has nature inspired you as a brewer?

Taylor Smack:

With few exceptions, beer brewing has been associated with industrialization in an urban setting for most of the last 200+ years. Cranks and wheels, steam, metal, cities, etc. But of course, brewing is agricultural at its root, just like wine making.

The goal of Blue Mountain is to bring people out of the cities and give them a relaxing rural setting to reconnect the land that the simple ingredients of beer come from with the experience of drinking flavorful beer and learning about a brewery. This is reflected in one of our slogans: “The beauty of Virginia, the bounty of nature, the art of brewing.”


What important connections do you see between healthy forests, clean water and good beer?

Taylor Smack:

The 30-year revolution of independent, non-commodity “craft” breweries has brought with it a very real awareness of participation in all things local. Local community, local charity and local environmental concerns. Healthy forests are part of clean water, and clean water is pretty darn important to good beer.

But what I’m really getting at is that independent breweries are generally smaller and very imbedded in their communities. The beer we make is created and consumed locally, and the support of the people around us is all we have. So it becomes a “don’t foul your own nest” kind of mentality with the way you operate your brewery. Small footprint, don’t pollute, think about what you use.


How are your breweries working to be sustainable or environmentally friendly?

Taylor Smack:

One big thing would be what almost all breweries do, which is to consider the spent grain and hops from our brewing process as a usable co-product and not as simply a waste stream. All three breweries give (for free) our wet, spent grain to farmers for cattle feed (and in one case, sheep). It seems like a small thing, but at our production brewery, this is 40-50,000 pounds of wet spent grain every week.

We also have a collective million dollars in water-treatment technology at the two brewery locations that include mechanisms like natural bacteria trickle filters, recirculating wetlands, membrane filtration, deep drain fields and drip-release fields. Both breweries fall under the newer Chesapeake Bay watershed requirements for very low nitrogen levels, and that stuff is not easy to do. But of course, it’s the right thing to do.

Some of the small things are my favorite things we do: growing our own hops is part of the agricultural education of our brewery. Our hops each year are carefully, organically tended by Stan Driver, our hops horticulturalist, and they provide some real terroir to our beers.

One last super-small thing: Mandi, my kids and I grow onions, lettuce, peppers, beans, leeks, and the most amazing tomatoes in our little garden between the hop field and our house. They end up on our menu very often! It’s a little thing, but it feels cool.


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