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Destination: The real Virginia

by Elaine JeanSpecial to the Times

Remington is a time capsule of a town, made obsolete by a new highway like so many of the good ones are.

Found a half-mile down Freemans Ford Road off Route 29, a block of turn-of-the-century buildings gives a glimpse of small-town America and reveals traces of Remingtonís role as a thriving transportation hub.

Stop by the Farmerís Wife — open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday — and browse the aisles in this vintage grocery store. Lori Andes has assembled an impressive array of local, organic, natural and even gluten-free items and baked goods in the store that her stepgrandmother once owned.

Grab coffee and a fresh turnover and stay for a bit at one of the tables in the window, where youíll look out on a town that appears much the same as it did decades ago. After breakfast walk around and explore Remington Drug, with its nostalgia-inducing soda fountain, and Groves Hardware, with its time-worn wooden floors. A barber shop and a variety store will make you think youíve been transported to Mayberry R.F.D.

Moonshine just like Grampy used to make

Tucked away down a country road on the outskirts of Culpeper, Chuck Miller pays homage to his grandfatherís legacy and the commonwealth of Virginiaís heritage by making moonshine with a new twist — an ABC license.

Belmont Farm Distillery produces its moonshine in an authentic 2,000-gallon copper still — circa 1933 — using the same recipe Millerís grandfather did during Prohibition. The result is a product that will probably put hair on your chest. And if you didnít want hair on your chest, thatís just too bad.

The newest offering, Stillhouse Original Moonshine, is ďdistilled four times to reach perfection.Ē I bought a bottle and did, indeed, find the premium moonshine to be a more perfect way to put hair on your chest.

Moonshine often is made from corn, and this corn is raised, grown, ground and fermented on Millerís 124-acre family farm. Lively tours by the Moonshine Man himself appeal to everyone from hard-core history buffs to weekend motorcycle groups.

Every hour on the hour, Miller dances through his distillery, dishing out anecdotes sprinkled with family secrets. This is clearly a man who loves what he does, and may just be the highlight of the day.

The free tour offers a living history lesson, as the making and moving of moonshine is inextricably tied to the flavor of the Old Dominion State. Moonshine runners once supercharged their cars to evade local law enforcement, and when the need to speed no longer was a job requirement, the great sport of NASCAR racing was born.

The quaintness of Belmont Farm, combined with the folksy friendliness of its host and his wife, make moonshine seem downright wholesome. Paradoxically, the unmistakably sweet-sour smell of mash and the woodsy aroma of aging whiskey are nearly intoxicating.

Bottling takes place every Wednesday on antique equipment, and is described by the owner as rather intense. You can watch the process through a small window, but will not be allowed in the bottling room for your own safety.

A gift shop sells the usual souvenirs, along with a few more spirited ones, and features a display case containing arrowheads and Civil War artifacts. A small photo gallery gives its owner bragging rights, with pictures that include at least one president and a famously forensic author.

You canít taste products on the premises, but you can buy Belmont Farmís White Lightning and Kopper Kettle, as well as Stillhouse Original Moonshine, for sipping on your front porch. Belmont Farm is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and is closed on Sunday.

Haunted, historic Culpeper

Downtown Culpeper is a day-trip-within-a-day-trip. Pick up a map at the train depot and explore the many and varied antique stores, gourmet shops and purveyors of pottery, clothing and international arts and crafts. And when it comes time to eat, Culpeperís got you covered.

The Hazel River Inn, located in the oldest commercial building in town, occupies a lot that once was surveyed by a young George Washington. In 1790, an addition was tacked on for use as a tobacco warehouse.

The basement served as a jail for both the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War, and it now houses a ghost or two, along with a pub serving up casual food, microbrews and live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Lunch is offered starting at noon on weekends.

The first-floor dining room, a hardware store for many years, is warm and welcoming, with exposed brick walls, a centrally located fireplace and an upscale menu. Itís open Thursday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.

Elaine Jean is a writer with an incurable case of wanderlust. She and husband/photographer Paul are roaming the planet, starting in the mid-Atlantic region. Learn more about this and other day trips at www.roamingtheplanet.com.