(WAR Craft Brewery is a hit with couples with its rural setting, wine, and low ABV beers.)
By Jennifer Waldera
While the last few years may not have been the start to the contemporary roaring ‘20s that we all had hoped for, some brave souls have marched on, pursuing their dreams and entrepreneurship in one of the most challenging times to open new spots. Bradley Stepp, of WAR Craft Brewery in Culpeper County, did just that.
Opened in July of 2021, WAR Craft Brewery’s name incorporates an acronym (Winery At Rapidan). However, the name also relates to Stepp’s prior military service and he incorporates that into his brews as well.
“I was a counterintelligence special agent in the military, so a lot of our beers have cool names,” said Stepp.
The disabled combat veteran-owned business is a family operation that is not only a brewery but a winery and cidery as well, offering over 35 types of drinks in their tasting room. In addition to Stepp, his wife Amanda, daughters Cassidy and Madison, mother-in-law Elizabeth Haggadone, father-in-law Randy Haggadone, and family member Brennan King all contribute to the process of making WAR Craft Brewery work on their family’s property, Culpeper County Line Farm.
“It’s a dream of ours to have our own business,” Stepp said.
Prior to opening WAR Craft, Stepp had been home-brewing for 15 years but also worked at a variety of other breweries, including helping to open Adventure Brewing in Stafford. He and his wife paired his knowledge and passion for brewing with her extensive background in the service industry to create an experience for visitors to the brewery tucked away in Culpeper near the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“My wife comes from the service industry and is familiar with people’s taste and habits. I’ve traveled all over the world and I’ve noticed that people here are being conditioned to a low standard of craft beer and wanted to change that. We wanted to expand and explode what people have expected from a craft brewery,” explained Stepp.
Stepp’s approach to brewing is about keeping flagship styles (eg, hefeweizen, IPA, stout) on tap, while also frequently changing the recipes and flavors. From additions like lavender to coriander, or a different flavor like for holidays like an oatmeal stout in Irish Whiskey barrels or flavors of gingerbread, Stepp enjoys experimenting and offering variety.
“We are always moving the target and the goalpost. I’ll keep a favorite style on but when that keg runs out – I don’t like to make the same thing twice. I won’t brew it again unless I really want to. I might brew another IPA – it just may be a little different. This is a place you want to go if you get bored easily, and want a new thing to try. People are falling in love with renditions of every beer.”
Stepp is also passionate about maintaining the craft of brewing, ensuring that ingredients are as pure and local as possible, and that the labor is handmade, not machinated.
“If you’re not grinding it, not mashing it, and machines are doing it for you, it’s not craft. You also want to know that the grains and hops are from here and I do as much of that as I can. We do use our own well water, which is the best well water in the county and it’s kind of like Colorado, being next to the creeks on the mountain so you’re getting the best water.”
Stepp also focuses on making sessionable brews, noting that the brewery is in a spot with such incredible views, paired with the brewery’s rustic ambience, outdoor games, and quaint tasting room, that guests will want to spend time enjoying the space.
“We’re not a corner bar. We are a boutique with small batch craft beers. When we started, we aimed low [ABV] — we wanted beers to be around 4%. Most breweries are 6% or more and then you’re bloated and you have to drive —- this is a place you want to spend hours in.”
Wine is part of the brewery’s acronym, but they aren’t producing their own just yet, with vines only a year and half old. However, they have partnered with Old House Vineyard as well as Effingham to provide high quality wine in their tasting room as well.
“We have a ‘93 96-point wine — you wouldn’t expect that here. Excellent Nortons and Merlots are here from those vineyards.”
In addition to an abundance of beer, wine, and cider, the brewery also offers up a number of food options. Their charcuterie can be a quality pairing for the beer and wine alike, but the brewery also offers a full BBQ menu including ribs, brisket, brats, pulled pork, pimento cheese, and flatbread pizzas.
While WAR Craft Brewery is still in its early stages, there are an abundance of future goals from continuing to expand their boutique tasting experience to offering new and exciting events. In addition, Stepp is applying for a distiller’s license with the hopes of using the farm’s fruit and other abundant crops to distill liquors like apple pie and butterscotch moonshine, apple brandy, wheat whiskey, bourbon, vodka, and gin.
In addition, WAR Craft has recently expanded its hours to be open later on Sunday, weeknights until 6 pm, and Friday and Saturday until midnight, but with the flexibility, also, of staying open later if needed.
“If the beer’s flowing, we’re staying open,” Stepp says, enthusiastically.