FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA
In the bustling downtown area of Falls Church on Route 7 at Spectrum Mall’s corner lot lies MAD FOX BREWING, an upscale casual English-styled gastropub opened in 2009 by seasoned mid-Atlantic brewer Bill Madden. Just a few miles down from Alexandria and the nation’s Capitol, this spacious restaurant-brewery is Madden’s latest creative venture and first as an owner.
A gold-lettered black awning (with several Mad Fox insignias) and outdoor patio welcome patrons to the maple-wooded space with green-walled left side dining countering the beige-walled saloon room. Across from the entrance are several copper kettle brew tanks. The centralized tin-tiled ceiling offers Neo-Classical splendor while the lantern-like pendant lighting (suspended by chains) and polished concrete floor recalls Olde Americana.
My wife and I sit at the commodious 63 foot bar (with two TV’s and prominent clock) to try an astonishing fourteen different brews in five-ounce tulip glasses on a Saturday in March ’12. Though it’s not yet lunchtime, the fine Americana pub fare includes brick-fired pizza, burgers, sandwiches and salads while the dinner menu offers steaks and salmon. Breads, pickles, and condiments are made in house.
The left side of the menu reflects Madden’s Long Island roots – pizza and sandwiches – while the right side is chef-inspired.
Emerson Lake & Palmer’s sensitive acoustical retreat “From The Beginning” plays in the backdrop as the lighter samples get tried.
Approachable moderate-bodied bohemian Czech beer, Braha Pilsner, placed citric zest across mild dry-wooded Saaz hop bittering and twiggy bark acridity.
Dry-hopped American Pale Ale spread grapefruit-peeled orange tang across resinous floral earthiness and mineral-grained breading.
An ‘English ordinary session ale,’ Fennec scattered light-bodied sugar caned crystal malting atop waxy fruit dollops and grassy clay hops.
Easygoing soft-watered Kolsch retained a citric-rotted souring that pleasingly scoured minor herbage, finishing with a grapefruit-juiced lemon spritz. Arguably better, the unfiltered version, Kellerbier Kolsch, had a more pronounced grapefruit bittering to combat its grout-y cellar-like musk and dankly dewy pilsner malting.
Cereal-grained Rock Star Irish Red Ale dispensed bread-crusted barley toasted crisping, caramel roasted sweetness and citric-sugared crystal malting in a straightforward manner.
Then it was on to Vienna-malted Defender American Pale Ale, a briskly tropical fruited medium body with dry Columbus hops and wildflower-honeyed candy tartness complementing grapefruit-peeled orange compote, white peach and pear nuances. The special cask version muted the pale-malted hop bitterness for wood-toned lemon rind, grapefruit, papaya, guava and pineapple juicing plus herbaceous raw-honeyed ginger rooting.
Mellow St. James Irish Dry Stout pleated oats-toasted pale, black and chocolate malts onto soft coffee-roasted walnut dryness. Its smoother cask version retained a dark chocolate nuttiness above espresso coffee beans.
The Who’s rapid fire anthem “Going Mobile” blazes forth as Mad Fox fills up for Saturday lunch. And that’s when I investigate the experimentally hopped Tinnerhill IPA, a clear-toned dry-wooded pleasantry culling lemonade, apple cider and grapefruit subtleties.
In collaboration with Bob and Ellie Tupper (creators of the fabulous Tuppers Hop Pocket Ale), Madden designed the rewarding India Ink Black Ale, where chalky chocolate malting gets back-ended by dried cherry, pineapple and grapefruit.
Traditional English-styled medium body, Geordie Brown Ale, stayed soft-toned as filmy mocha malting caressed minimal chestnut, praline and pecan notes.
Perhaps most worthy, Belgian-styled farmhouse ale, Saison, entwined bruised lemon bittering and leathery white-peppered hops with cotton-candied yellow fruiting for a sumptuous dessert treat.
As we finish up our samples, celebrated brewer-owner Madden stops by to say hi and share a bit of history.
“I started as a homebrewer while living in San Francisco with a buddy,” the Huntington, New York native recalls. “We’d checked out a newly opened homebrew shop, spent $100 each on credit cards and began brewing in a Mission District flat.”
Over the course of a few years, friends claimed his beers were “pretty good.” So Madden took out a personal loan and got accepted to University of California Davis’ famed brew school.
“I got into the Masters Brewers Program after applying in ’94. It was almost affordable back then,” he says with a laugh. “There’s a brewers conference we’re going to in a month. But that year it was in Austin, Texas. While you’re in the program, Davis puts together a bunch of resumes for distribution. Capitol City sought me because their contract brewer at Frederick Brewery was also a UC-Davis grad. I got about thirty offers. The industry was kicking. But I didn’t want to brew in Utah, Maine and a bunch of other places.”
Downtown DC was most attractive to Madden at the time. Plus, Capitol City was expanding. So he started at the first location on 11th and H during ’95. He also designed the Shirlington pub and now-defunct Bethesda and Baltimore pubs.
“When I was at Capitol City in the final years as executive brewer, we’d let each brewer do their own beers, but we had a core of four standards. So the brewers would express themselves and do whatever they wanted. But that was in the heyday with five locations. Now there’s two. And the downtown location doesn’t brew. It’s all done at Shirlington.”
After decommissioning the original brewery in 2001, Madden took it apart, hauled it out and sold it to Leesburg Brewery, which became Thoroughbred’s before changing over to Vintage 50. Madden worked at Vintage 50 for three years while developing and designing Mad Fox.
“We got lucky here,” he says before ducking out to eat a shrimp burger. “There was another tenant in here that never even got to construction. When things got interesting on Wall Street, financing was lost. The landlord remembered us and we worked on a letter of intent and by 2009 opened for business.”