One of the best trends in recent years has been the uptick in craft breweries, particularly in the Northern Virginia area. New breweries have popped up that are kindling a love for fine craft brewing. Mustang Sally, one of these breweries, opened its doors in Chantilly in 2016. I was fortunate enough to be invited by owner Sean Hunt to tour the brewery, taste some beers, and sit down with Sean to understand what fueled the passion behind opening his own business.
The tasting facility at Mustang Sally’s is massive – it’s actually the largest brewing facility in Fairfax County, Virginia – with an expansive 4,000 square foot tasting room and airy, 24 foot ceilings. There’s plenty to keep you entertained as you enjoy your beverages – corn hole, arcade games, and Jenga just to name a few. The brewery has also begun hosting events like their first ever Jambalaya fest, weekly trivia, and yoga, and is a good place for adults and kids alike.
A brief menu is available – think grilled cheese, hummus, pretzels, and popcorn – as well as food trucks on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. Bringing your own food is also allowed at the brewery, making it the perfect place to unwind with a few drinks.
No corners were cut in the brewing process at Mustang Sally – their Newlands Systems equipment is the “Rolls Royce of brewery systems”, providing efficiency and high quality output. Mustang Sally reserves Thursday as their brew day, starting as early as 4am to get the process of turning 2,000 pounds of grain turned into 1,000 gallons of beer.
Mustang Sally is categorized as a craft brewery, and is part of the Brewers Association, a group that promotes small and independent American brewers. To be considered a craft brewery, no more than 25% of the brewery can be owned by outside investors. The trend in beer drinking in recent years has moved more and more away from mass produced beers like Bud Light and mid-market beers like Sam Adams, so Mustang Sally has come onto the market at just the right time.
Of course, all good brewery tours should include beer, and this was no exception. The brewery had seven beers on tap during my visit, with two seasonal options as well. I opted for a flight of 4 beers ($8, and a flight of 5 is $10) so I could properly try them all out – for research’s sake, of course! My beer flight was a bit like an around-the-world trip as I selected the Minho beer, a Portuguese inspired beer, the Vienna-style Article One Amber Lager, the Marbury American Wheat Ale, and an English Porter.
The idea behind Mustang Brewery’s creation process was to have a solid base beer and then focus on the technical aspects of making each unique. Having a passion for beer is essential to everyone who works in the brewery, as even the front end brewery staff is given the opportunity to partake in the brewing process.
The flight I had was truly delightful, with my favorites being the lightly toasted Article One Amber Lager and the smooth, Virginia honey-based Marbury American Wheat Ale. The chocolate and caramel in the English Porter transported me back to the pubs of London – and I was told there will be a vanilla Porter released in September, so I’ll definitely be returning for that!
Mustang Sally’s success is evident by their ability to have bottles on shelves at Harris Teeter, Total Wine, and Sheetz after only having been open a year. That hasn’t been done without careful consideration though; they started the preparations to sell after only a few months of being open, and first sold bottles in the brewery before pushing them out to stores. Recognizing that you can lose control when you mass distribute, the goal has already been marked to keep Mustang Sally’s beer in the local region.
Owner Sean Hunt is one of the most down to earth owners I’ve met. After leaving a career in corporate law and business – mutual passions we discussed – he shared how after living in Germany and traveling throughout Europe as a teen, he always knew he wanted to open a brewery. That vision has obviously come to life, and he’s even got his family on board – son Christian, 18, helps out at the brewery and his daughter, 21, works at the brewery during her breaks from college.
Throughout my visit to the brewery, Sean heavily credited Head Brewer Kenny Allen and General Manager Dave Hennessey, both previously of Old Dominion Brewery, for helping him make the brewery so successful and helping Sean avoid missteps.
Mustang Sally’s goal is to produce a local, reliable, great beer that others can enjoy – and they’ve certainly succeeded in that!
Have you been to Mustang Sally Brewery? What Virginia breweries are your favorite?
Thank you to owner Sean Hunt and the employees of Mustang Sally Brewery for my tour of their facility and beer flight. All views and opinions expressed are, as always, my own.