The tune to Little Big Town’s “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” invariably pops into my head when I think of a certain road trip that began on a blustery morning at Virginia Beach’s own Wasserhund Brewing in Hilltop earlier this year. But perhaps the Ray Stevens-penned theme song to the 1981 wacky adventure comedy The Cannonball Run is more fitting. Either way, the fact that the trip was inspired by the pages of Coastal Virginia Magazine was music to this editor’s ears when I learned about it back in January.
Coastal Virginia locals Hillery Schanck, Carlos Rodriguez, Hugo Valverde and Kevin Jordan—a group of friends, successful professionals and guys who share a love for good food, tasty beverages and the sort of adventure that might include camping in sub-zero temperatures in the Virginia mountains—dubbed their whirlwind weekend the “CannonBus Run.”
The name of the trip, which would take them to nearly 25 wineries, breweries and distilleries around the Commonwealth in less than three days, was a nod to their vehicles of choice for the journey—two classic Volkswagen buses. Or, to be more precise: “Rio,” a turquoise blue 1995 Brazilian VW Kombi, and “Princess Leia,” a cream-colored 1986 U.S. VW Vanagon.
The trip was the brainchild of Hillery Schanck, a financial advisor by day, Volkswagen enthusiast, and fellow food and drink lover I had met through the local culinary classes he regularly arranges for his professional clients—with the occasional member of the local media as an invited guest.
“I have this idea,” the conversation began when Schanck called me after thumbing through the pages of Coastal Virginia Magazine’s recent issue focused on Virginia wine. Always eager to celebrate Virginia-grown flavors and products, soon I was his enthusiastic coconspirator in reaching out to winemakers, brewers and distillers who would be willing to welcome their group for a micro-tasting and mini-tour (yes, the group included designated drivers).
Cut to that morning meetup at Wasserhund Brewing, when I and several of my fellow magazine staff members joined all four travelers for samples of Wasserhund’s Maritime Mutt Orange Crush IPA on tap to help kick off their adventure in style. The folks at Wasserhund welcomed us with open arms and even graced the guys with a few boxes of canned brews to share with the friends they would make along the way. Not long after, they piled into those two VW buses, and the CannonBus Run was off to the races. Well, sort of: “Top Speed 55 MPH,” as their matching t-shirts boasted.
Their trip would take them to Richmond and Charlottesville as well as many stops along the famed “Nelson 151” scenic byway through the Blue Ridge, home to many notable Virginia craft breweries, cideries, wineries and distilleries. Looking back, the group agreed that the most memorable aspect of the trip was the people they met and the stories behind the businesses—many of them small, family-run operations. Among those people was “Dan” of the eponymous WildManDan Brewery in Afton, a truly unique must-stop complete with an educational and eclectic “Brew Barn.”
The guys even scored an invite to a community pancake breakfast hosted by the Rockfish Valley Community Center, another highlight for the entire group, when the event’s organizers met them and learned of their adventure. “They made us feel at home,” says Schanck, “like one of their neighbors.” And they discovered Wintergreen Ranch, a wonderful bed-and-breakfast not on their original trip plan but recommended to them along the way.
At each of their other stops, the four travelers made a point of seeking out the “gems,” or the brews, vintages or batches that best represented that stop and the stories and people behind them. Thanks to some studious notetaking along the route, we’re happy to share the “Favorite Finds” they discovered in these pages along with some photographic highlights.
Special thanks to all the businesses that welcomed the CannonBus Run and a shout-out to the TASTE Family of Businesses, which provided some local treats for the guys to bring along as gifts for the folks they met along the way. We encourage you, our readers, to set out on a taste adventure of your own around our beautiful state this year. Sip, savor and stay safe out there, friends.
Coastal Virginia Magazine Readers’ CannonBus Run 2023
Winery, Brewery & Distillery Tour
With locations in Hilltop and in Chesapeake’s Summit Pointe, Wasserhund has become a Coastal Virginia fave known for their German style brews, canine-themed labels, house-made pizza and charitable partnerships supporting the local community.
Favorite Finds: The Orange Crush IPA is juicy indeed, but the Haywire Husky Coffee Lager was the true breakfast of champions for the kickoff to the CannonBus Run.
Trial & Error Distillery
This small-batch spirits distillery offers rum, gin, whiskey and limoncello in Richmond’s historic Fan district, under the same roof and co-ownership as Bombolini Pasta. Rum and ravioli for the win!
Favorite Finds: That family-recipe limoncello refreshes while the distillery’s adventuresome spirit comes through in their Black Walnut Vodka and the Maple Whiskey.
Väsen Brewing Company
Inspired by their Scandinavian heritage and a love of the outdoors, this Scott’s Addition brewery brings you American craft beer with the rustic and funky flavors of Belgian farmhouse and sour ale.
Favorite Finds: A bold, malty Dark Mexican Lager struck most everyone’s fancy in the CannonBus Run and inspired visions of a food pairing with a Mexican mole sauce.
Spirit Lab Distilling
Located in an unassuming spot next to an auto garage and the first legal distillery in Charlottesville, this is a true hidden gem producing excellent single malt whiskey and other creative, small-batch craft spirits.
Favorite Finds: Owner Ivar Aass, who came to the U.S. from Norway and left law school to pursue his passion, is himself a gem as is his flagship Single Malt Whiskey Solera.
Bryant’s Cider & Brewery
“Not even mom thinks we’re sweet,” say the folks behind this extra dry cider company and brewery set on the idyllic Bryant’s Farm in Nelson County, complete with a disc golf course.
Favorite Finds: Their Unicorn Fuel charms with hints of rose hips and hibiscus, and the Apple Pie semi sweet cider lives up to its dessert inspiration. “Monkey,” the farm’s resident cat, is also a main attraction.
Bold Rock Hard Cider
Chances are you know the name and their popular and widely distributed hard cider, but their flagship “Chapel of Apple” red barn overlooking the Rockfish River is an experience unto itself.
Favorite Finds: The setting is gorgeous, and while you could work your way through their many ciders on draft, the “supercharged” apple-forward Imperial Cider is a real winning pick.
In the foothills of Afton Mountain is this true original of a beer-lovers destination, where owners Dan and Terri Tatarka warmly welcome guests and share a passion for the art and science of brewing. A visit to their rustic, memorabilia-filled Beer Barn and onsite B&B belongs on your Virginia bucket list.
Favorite Finds: Mindfulness, joy and love for the craft come through their small batch beers on tap, but it was a special after-hours beer tasting session with Dan that offered a one-of-a-kind learning experience for the guys of CannonBus Run.
Valley Road Vineyards
Founded in 2016, the knowledgeable “Vinistas” at Valley Roads will guide you through their list of estate wines offered in a charming farm-chic setting, which includes a pavilion overlooking the Blue Ridge.
Favorite Finds: The beautiful clear, bright color of their 2021 Viognier gives way to smooth but crisp apple notes that would marry perfectly with chicken and fish.
Blue Mountain Brewery
This farm brewery, the first in Nelson County, grows their own Cascade-variety hops and has a full-service restaurant with sandwiches, pizzas and about 10 Blue Mountain on beers draft.
Favorite Finds: Their signature Full Nelson “Virginia Pale Ale” is delightfully hoppy start to finish, and the Dark Hollow barrel-aged imperial stout gives hints of vanilla and coffee.
Veritas Vineyards and Winery
Among the most widely celebrated Virginia wineries, the elegant tasting room at Veritas offers a self-guided “Taste in Place” flight designed to be enjoyed from the comfort of your table.
Favorite Finds: Their Claret 2021 is a blend of three of the five classic Bordeaux varietals— Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot—with notes of plum and an Old-World complexity.
Afton Mountain Vineyards
There’s a reason this off-the-beaten-path vineyard, one of the oldest in Virginia, has such a passionate fan base: uncompromising commitment to quality and tradition. A true winery, they do not host events. But you can stay in their Vineyard Cottages.
Favorites Finds: Situated on a gorgeous plateau 1,000 feet above sea level, Afton’s stunning 360 views are matched by wines like their lively 2019 Albariño or the smooth, full-bodied 2017 Bacco red blend.
Basic City Beer
At Basic City’s Waynesboro tasting room, you can wash down your Lost Town Billy Pie brick-fired pizza with one of their “damn good craft beers,” pick up a cool local history lesson on the name, or rock out in their live music venue.
Favorite Finds: Beer and pizza are made for each other, so you’ll want to sample the pies along with hoppy creations like their experimental Tropikos series with juicy pineapple flavors.
Flying Fox Vineyard
This hyper-focused, limited-production vineyard and winery is known for its Flying Fox series of true-to-type premium quality Virginia wines. Their Afton tasting room can’t be missed with its signature mural of a wine barrel hot air balloon.
Favorite Finds: Flying Fox’s recent foray into the crafting of Virginia vermouths blends their base wines with local seasonal fruits—like summer peaches—and botanicals fortified with brandy.
The only mother-daughter distilling duo in the country, Silverback crafts high-quality, award-winning spirits. They have a location in Pennsylvania in addition to their flagship at the base of the Blue Ridge.
Favorite Finds: You’ll want to gather around the campfire with creative cocktails like their Smoked S’mores made with their Honey Rye Whiskey, toasted marshmallow syrup and chocolate bitters.
Hill Top Berry Farm Winery & Meadery
Originally opened as a pick-your-own berry farm, Virginia’s oldest meadery focuses on “true to the fruit” wines and historic honey meads. Enjoy live music, tasting flights and charcuterie on their covered patio.
Favorite Finds: The CannonBus Run guys all had the hots for the Dragon’s Breath mead made from hickory-smoked hot peppers and honey. The Virginia Raspberry wine was also delightful with a piece of chocolate.
Blue Toad Hard Cider
Born in a barn, Blue Toad Cider honors the tradition and legacy of America’s first preferred beverage by brewing all-natural hard cider using locally grown apples, including on their farm at the base of Wintergreen Resort.
Favorite Finds: Their Cherry Lime Cider is not too tart, not too dry, perfectly “sessionable,” and their Ginger Gold Blackberry is deliciously crafted from the apple made famous by Hurricane Camille.
Another of Virginia’s most well-known breweries, with their famed Vienna Lager a staple far and wide, this large brewpub in Nelson County is known as Basecamp and is a veritable Disneyworld of brewery destinations.
Favorite Finds: Branch out and try something different like the Cherry Tannic Mania, a great pint for sitting by the fire and chowing down on their killer BBQ sandwich.
Cardinal Point Winery
Established in 1985, this family-operated, dog-friendly winery offers limited-production, hand-crafted wines. Visit their tasting room or book a stay in the 19th century renovated farmhouse.
Favorite Finds: Even IPA fanatics will love their 2021 Hopped Chardonnay, made with 100% Chardonnay and dry hopped post-fermentation.
North American Sake Brewery
A sake brewery? In Virginia? That’s right, the state’s first and only and one of less than 20 in the U.S. This traditional Japanese brew is made with a passion and the finest local and high-quality ingredients. Visit their tasting room and Bad Luck Ramen Bar.
Favorite Finds: An unexpected stop on the Cannonbus journey, this is a gem of a find. Their Saiko (pronounced “psycho”) sparkling sake with yuzu, lemon and mint is crazy good.
Three Notch’d Brewing
The Three Notch’d flagship location is one of five (including Virginia Beach Town Center) and the mother ship of this expanding Virginia beer brand and family of brewpubs known for their Minute Man IPA and sour gose series.
Favorite Finds: The Cannonbus guys were particularly impressed with their Lake Life fruited wheat ale and the Hydraulion Irish style red, brewed to honor Virginia firefighters.
Located in the historic renovated Wool Factory food and beverage destination, this small-batch brewery makes culinary-inspired beers that pair beautifully with an elevated pub menu from Chef Tucker Yoder.
Favorite Finds: Don’t skip out on the food here, which is excellent. In terms of the beers, the Haute Tropic New England IPA and Threadenator Smoked Doppelbock are both killer.
Featuring a dog park, baseball field, outdoor and indoor beer garden, pavilion and bandstand and locally sourced burgers from County Line food truck, what’s not to love? Oh yeah, there’s beer.
Favorite Finds: If you build it, they will come for the Home Run Hefe German hefeweizen or the Home Field Advantage robust porter.