My husband and I slid into wooden booth seats and regarded the menu. Standard American fare. Cheesy chicken pasta. Sandwiches. On the wall: a dance recital program from the 1980s, a trumpet and a bicycle high up, a poster of Elvis — the type of stuff I used to see in Applebee’s as a kid. Our server approached our table and asked about drinks.
“I got a keg of Raven’s Roost today,” she said.
What type of beer was that?
“Baltic porter from Parkway Brewing here in Salem. It’s really good. I’ve already sold two pitchers tonight.”
Pitchers, eh? We ordered one to share, and mostly to herself, our server expressed surprise at having sold three before 6:30 p.m.
I could see why, though. It had a delicious, roasty nuttiness and substantial body that contrasted well with the freezing outside temperature.
We didn’t finish it. We got full, and the heavy beer was a bit too much after a while. We also needed to drive back to our Airbnb for the night — a red, renovated caboose (yes, from a train!) on the edge of town — so Ryan cut himself off early. We bundled up and headed out, lamenting leaving an inch of goodness in the pitcher.
Once we got home, we wondered if our opinions of Raven’s Roost were high only because we were giddy from exploring a new town together. How would it taste if we had it again?
A few weeks later, I was on a mission. Parkway Brewing or bust. Virginia’s only 50 miles from the Triad, yet I’ve hardly been. As a kid, we went to Boone and Blowing Rock and drove on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but never as far north as Virginia. What was keeping me away? In my mind, it was like the map in a video game, most of it black from never having explored it. And if anything, I had a damned good reason to go back.
We squeezed into a spot in the parking lot and crossed a little bridge as we walked up to the building, which was bursting with people, picnic tables, and dogs. I spotted several maroon VA Tech t-shirts, and there seemed to be kids from other colleges, too. I was surprised by all the activity considering we were in a fairly rundown part of town, across from an auto mechanic, and in the small town of Salem, not the bigger Roanoke next door.
The Raven’s Roost was just as good as I remembered, and while I wasn’t taken by the blonde coffee ale or the Kolsch, the Get Bent Mountain IPA was to die for, and the Magella — WOW. Belgian strong dark ale with a banana/molasses flavor. And this is coming from someone who’s sworn off banana candy ever since she was little. It was overwhelming and wonderful and I was hooked. (You can imagine my allelujah moment when I saw a whole shelf of bottled Raven’s Roost and Get Bent IPA at the Robinhood Village Harris Teeter in Winston-Salem.)
As I browsed some conservative rag that was lying around, I knew I’d be back — and I knew it was only the beginning of my brewery adventures across Virginia.