The Black Sheep

In Manassas, it’s the jewel in Farm Brew LIVE’s crown.

Set in a spectacularly converted 1920s dairy barn, The Black Sheep: Whiskey+Wine+Noshery is the pièce de résistance of Farm Brew LIVE, the wildly popular 12-acre destination brewery campus at Innovation Park. Here, in Manassas, you’ll find locally sourced fusion cuisine—along with food trucks, craft beer, and live music.

“It’s pretty magical,” says Marcus Silva, president and CEO of Villagio Hospitality Group, who came up with the brewery campus concept. “It’s a fun place—the energy throughout Farm Brew LIVE is contagious.”

In the dining room, elaborate crystal chandeliers are suspended from the soaring vaulted ceilings. From tables both inside and out, The Black Sheep offers views of the music performances on the outdoor stage and, for special occasions, you’ll find VIP alfresco dining spaces along with private dining rooms in the barrel-aging quarters on the lower level.

As soon as our group is seated, we begin strategizing over the shared plates on the extensive menu. The Black Sheep’s raw bar and charcuterie options beg for signature craft cocktails or wine, so I order a barrel-aged old fashioned featuring Tin Cup rye; my companion requests the bourbon trail mule. Beautifully presented, our cocktails offer the perfect mix of artistry and flavor.  

Executive chef Justin Gudiel curates the seasonal menus to offer world-inspired comfort food. “We live in an area that is a melting pot, so we want to explore new cuisines while also offering dishes that remind diners of home,” he says. “Our goal is to execute different cuisines in the best way possible. When a guest tells us a dish reminds them of something they enjoyed while traveling, there’s no greater feeling.”

We start with Spanish garlic shrimp. Bathed in roasted garlic chili oil and fresh herbs, the six plump shrimp are served in a tiny cast iron pan and accompanied by grilled bread. Our server suggests adding a showstopping bacon tower. She returns to the table with what looks like a miniature clothesline from which four thick-cut, semi-cooked slabs of Nueske candied bacon dangle below. Then she takes out a small blowtorch and ignites it to crisp the edges and perfect the glaze, creating a bit of drama (and smoke) as curious diners look on.

The Black Sheep’s main courses range from handheld sandwiches to pastas to alluring entrées like pan-roasted and pepper-crusted duck breast or miso sake sea bass. A bison burger, enhanced with bourbon barbecue aioli, deserves a spot on the world’s best burgers list, while the visually stunning and equally flavorful crispy chicken sandwich evokes a trifecta of flavors—from tart, to sweet, to heat. 

The seasonal and imaginative fare includes a meatless campanelle pasta with roasted butternut squash, sautéed mushrooms, and tomato sauce or—my hands-down favorite—the jambalaya pasta. Black Sheep’s zesty version of the Cajun classic brings together blackened chicken, shrimp, and andouille sausage with fresh pasta tossed in an indulgent Cajun-style cream sauce. Emeril Lagasse would approve.

Dinner is both elegant and fun, with masterful service and brilliant cuisine. The Black Sheep’s creative take on every dish makes for a memorable experience, from soup to nuts—or in our case, from garlic shrimp to bourbon butter cake. 

“It’s the best thing on the entire menu,” our server says of this rockstar dessert—and she might be right. The house-made cake inspires a fork grab at our table. Surrounded by crème anglaise artfully drizzled with bourbon caramel sauce, ours is topped with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. If we could gracefully lick the plate, we would.

Around us, diners voice approval and enthusiasm. “I had the chicken and waffles and it was amazing,” says Evelyn Go, of Alexandria, who’d joined four best friends for an annual birthday celebration, adding, “everybody was raving about everything they got.”

The pristine, Disney-esque campus surrounding The Black Sheep attracts everyone from college students to multigenerational families. They arrive in droves to enjoy the mix of wallet-friendly food truck options, casual brewpub dining, or the more formal Black Sheep. 

On any given day, children frolic around the outdoor seating or on the playground while adults socialize, sipping craft beer. On weekend afternoons and evenings, a large stage provides live music from local acts that run the gamut from rock to country to a Queen tribute band. Outdoor bars serve house-made brews year-round and, in colder months, the landscape is dotted with firepits and bougie “bigloos”—oversized igloos where groups can socialize in heated comfort.

“I really like the whole vibe of the place,” says Katie Foreman, a University of San Diego junior,  who’s come with friends. “It has a cool ambiance—it just feels like a welcoming environment.”

She’s among the more than 10,000 people drawn to Farm Brew LIVE each week, a number that’s expected to grow as the newly opened Brentsville Hall event center, an elegant on-site wedding venue, gains momentum.

Villagio Hospitality Group is planning a $25 million expansion to increase beer-making capacity and adding a 21,000-square-foot canning and distilling facility. Bristow-based MurLarkey Distillery is also moving their headquarters to Farm Brew LIVE, adding a distillery and tasting room in a new 25,000-square-foot building. The MurLarkey venture is a $8.1 million investment in the burgeoning campus, and the company hopes to occupy the new facility by the end of 2023.

Plans are also in the works for a boutique hotel, coffee shop, and rooftop bar, and owners are in talks to replicate and scale the Farm Brew LIVE concept at an additional East Coast location, still under wraps.

“When you come to Farm Brew LIVE, whether you’re going to 2 Silos Brewing Company or Black Sheep or Brentsville Hall,” Silva says, “it truly is an experience—you won’t find just a little bit of everything—you’ll find a lot of everything!” 

This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue.

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