It’s been a great year for Richmond beer lovers.
Three new breweries opened while existing ones grew, bringing us creative new beers and fond favorites.
Distributors added to their portfolios as more restaurants and retailers realized the value of carrying quality beers. And other businesses arose to service our many beer-related needs.
Triple Crossing Brewing opened downtown in the spring, paying tribute to local history. The brewery has distinguished itself in hoppy ales but brews a diversity of beers. Triple Crossing has proven its quality from the get-go, receiving three medals in this year’s Virginia Craft Brewers Fest.
“Other highlights include our two bottling runs of Liberty or Death Porter. Partnering with St. John’s Church and having the Patrick Henry re-enactor give his speech and share a pint with me was especially fun,” shares Adam Worcester, adding, “I thoroughly enjoyed our collaboration, The Masque of the Red Death Imperial Red Ale, with the Poe Museum.”
Ardent Craft Ales opened in Scott’s Addition. Many Richmonders have been waiting for this brewery since the co-owners began sharing their homebrews in 2010. Just a few months in, Ardent added two 30-barrel tanks and a 60-barrel bright tank, increasing their capacity by 50 percent.
Their Honey Ginger Ale was a surprise to many, including the brewers: a beer both powerful in flavor and ABV but smooth and accessible to drinkers across the spectrum of preferences. “The excitement about one of our early beers made our opening months that much more fun,” wrote the Ardent gang in an e-mail discussing 2014. The Honey Ginger won a silver medal at the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup.
As a response to difficulty procuring hops, Ardent decided to use a different hop in each new iteration of their IPA. The idea borne of necessity gained points in popularity.
One of the brewery’s later beers gained at least as much attention nationally as locally: the persimmon beer collaboration with Virginia Historical Society, brewed from an 18th century recipe.
One of 38 locations nationwide, Short Pump's Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery opened with Becky Hammond as brewmaster. Though Hammond keeps several consistent Rock Bottom beers on tap, she also brews many of her own creations to appeal to the more curious customer.
“Since opening our doors in June, we have had tremendous success in the beer department,” Hammond reports. “One of the first recipes I ever wrote, my CPA [California Pale Ale], was not only a huge hit, but I am continually begged to keep it on tap. That is very exciting for a brewer, to say the least – when folks not only enjoy your beer but come seeking it with high thirst!”
Hammond also reports that the Rocktoberfest became their fastest seller locally and that she’s learned a lot about the “tastes of locals.”
Another new head brewer appeared on the scene. Dylan Brooks became head brewer at Extra Billy’s Smokehouse and Brewery, bringing his own style to the lineup as well as hockey-inspired names.
Brooks replaced Brandon Tolbert, who went to the new brewery that has been teasing us since mid-summer: An Bui’s The Answer Brewpub. The restaurant and beer bar opened in September, but beer fans are still anxiously awaiting the new beers that will roll out of the brewery – as is Tolbert.
In the meantime, The Answer is providing more great beers and hosting memorable events: numerous tap takeovers, a Stone “welcome to Virginia” celebration, volunteer painting party, Screens ‘n’ Suds benefit, and Thanksgiving Eve dinner (duck predominated the menu and Goose Island beers were flowing just before Turkey Day, but no one cried fowl).
Further expanding his “Anfluence” in the local beer world, An Bui also took over Commercial Taphouse from James Talley, who had been serving the Fan for nearly 20 years. And, no surprise here, Mekong once again won the Best Beer Bar award from CraftBeer.com.
And, of course, Stone Brewing Co. out of San Diego announced that they will build their East Coast production facility right here in Richmond. Though there are a few grumbles about city funding and transparency, it will be enjoyable to hear more stodgy Richmonders talking about that Sublimely Self-Righteous Arrogant Bastard. The consensus, however, seems to be that we’re Lukcy Basartds to have scored the project in our hometown.
Perhaps as important, our existing breweries continue to achieve success. To help achieve their mutual goals, Central Virginia breweries joined together officially in 2014, forming Richmond Breweries United to promote and grow awareness of the Richmond area breweries, pairing with Richmond Region Tourism to create RVABeer.com.
For the Richmond pioneer in craft beer – “Turning 20 years old is the biggest highlight for us,” says Dave Gott of Legend Brewing, “that and a lot of the renovations we’re doing here.” Legend continued their Urban Legend series, with several creative collaborations tied to their storied beers, and won a silver for their pilsner at the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest.
A new production facility was Midnight Brewery’s most significant 2014 news, growing from their three-barrel system to a 10-barrel system in a 3,600-square-foot production facility.
Though the bestseller continues to be the Rockville Red, Midnight’s fastest seller is Christmas at Midnight, a smooth, spiced holiday ale. It’s so popular, in fact, that a batch was released in July. Midnight became the official beer of the Virginia State Fair, brewing Midway specifically for the fair, and won a Virginia Craft Brewers Cup silver medal for Not My Job.
As Central Virginia’s only farm brewery, Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery experienced unique challenges and successes: pumpkin crop losses, new fields of hops, herbs, blueberries, fig trees, and hardy orange trees; test plots of two-row barley, wheat and rye; and other herbaceous efforts.
Lickinghole’s Enlightened Despot release at Dover Hall brought out nearly 3,000 people eager to try the bourbon-barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout. The big, bold ale did not disappoint, in Central Virginia or elsewhere – Beer Advocate brothers, Jason and Todd Alström, gave the Despot a 94/100 rating. The Alström brothers gave Magic Beaver a 90 and Batchelor’s Delight rum-barrel-aged, Belgian-style quadrupel a 93. Co-owner Lisa Pumphrey spoke at a Brewers Association dinner in Chicago about the obstacles facing farm breweries, where the Despot received kudos from renowned beer expert and author Randy Mosher.
Their most important achievement, though, was the passage of SB 403 during the 2014 General Assembly, which “limits local regulation of limited brewery licensees and specifically prohibits the imposition of minimum parking, road access, or road upgrade requirements on any licensed limited brewery.” The new law removed some of the obstacles the Lickinghole tasting room had been facing.
Strangeways Brewing continued growing its beer list, tasting room tap lines (25 unique beers on tap, including a nitro tap), and hours (open seven days a week), and introduced two new ways for customers to take home fresh Strangeways beers (a counter-pressure growler filler and the “Can-Able” crowler, a can-style growler). The brewery continued building its brand of unusual as well as sour beers, like the Wake Me Up Before You Gose, Whap! Sorachi Sour, Martian Spring Bière de Mars (featured in a Saveur magazine article), Überlin Berliner Weiss (bronze medal winner at the Virginia Craft Brewer's Cup), and the three Wyld Sisters Wild Sour Ales – Portia, Olivia, and Beatrice.
In recognition of their unique quality beers, Strangeways received national attention in Saveur, Bon Appétit, Garden and Gun, and The Denver Post.
“2014 was for building and expanding,” notes Hardywood Park Craft Brewery co-founder Eric McKay. Hardywood brought in a full-time quality analyst, Kate Lee, and added a centrifuge to their equipment. Their bestseller is still the Singel, but they’ve made the popular Pilsner an additional flagship beer. They’ve expanded distribution and added four sales reps to their payroll to cover Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Norfolk, and Richmond. Parts of Pennsylvania can find Hardywood beers, too.
The community, events and bands continue to be essential to the Hardywood brand locally, including the second annual Richmond Bluegrass Festival, A Good Day in RVA, HandsOn RVA Day celebration, Father’s Day Keg ’n Oyster Fest, the fine-tuned July 4th Brewdependence Day, and collaborations like the Forbidden ale for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
The Hardywood footprint continued to grow nationally, too. They received invitations to prestigious beer events, write-ups in national media, and a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival for the Raspberry Stout.
Center of the Universe (COTU) expanded their brewing capacity 100 percent to meet growing demands for their beer, including Chin Music and Ray Ray’s Pale Ale, both served at Flying Squirrels games, and The Thirsty Tour Guide, brewed for Richmond Region Tourism. Assistant brewer Don Sellers graduated from the Intensive Engineering and Brewing Science program taught by the American Brewers Guild.
The number of national breweries taking part in COTU’s Homefront IPA collaboration in support of military families increased to 11. In other community involvement, they partnered with The Byrd Theater Foundation and raised $10,000 for Feed the Byrd; extended the Summer Moon Music Festival benefit to two days; and contributed a total of over $23,000 to charitable organizations.
One important highlight for Isley Brewing is winning first place in the Capital Ale House third annual IPA Challenge with the Tall, Dark and Hopsome. An Isley local favorite, which informally gets rated above others of its style, is Choosy Mother Peanut Butter Oatmeal Porter. Though owner Mike Isley initially proclaimed it as a limited release, he’s since given in to popular demand. Thank you, Mike!
Two collaborations marked Isley’s high points this year: an ESB Ginger called Size Don’t Matter, brewed with Midnight, with part of proceeds going to stomach cancer research at Bon Secours; and The Brown Betty, a nut brown ale brewed with 40 gallons of Blue Bee Cider apple juice.
Adding new fermentation tanks and increasing production because of market demand were also highlights, says Isley, as were “having over 300 kegs in the market at any given time” and “adding a new assistant brewer to the team, Aaron Lile.”
Tendrils of froth
We’re finding more craft beer at local venues and special events, too. The premiere National Beer Expo was the premier opportunity to enjoy tastings from multiple breweries. The Diamond now offers six Richmond craft beers at Flying Squirrels games. At the annual Richmond Folk Festival, Loveland Distributing increased the size of the craft beer area and brought in double the amount of custom-created Wild Wolf Folktoberfest. For Richmond Kickers games, Loveland brought in Wild Wolf Brewing to create Kick It Hunny beer. “The brand was so well received, the brewery ended up bottling it,” says Amanda Marable of Loveland Distributing. “They had to make four times the amount that we thought we would need!”
Marable adds, “We feel like we are extremely fortunate to be selling beer in Richmond.” Loveland launched SweetWater, Heritage, Lonerider, and DC Brau in Richmond this year.
With craft beers easier to find, one could assume that home brewing would fade in popularity. One would be wrong. The WeekEnd Brewer celebrated 25 years; Original Gravity moved in to a new building and expanded operations; and a new craft beverage creation store, Artisan’s Wine and Homebrew, opened in Midlothian. Members of Virginia homebrew clubs held the first Va Old Dominion HomeBrewers Guild Summit. Ardent continued their ongoing support of local home brewers and COTU held a wort share competition.
Ancillary businesses have grown up, too. RVA Yeast Lab began selling its harvested yeast creations to professional and home brewers. De Fles Winkel bottle shop and growler fill station opened in Glen Allen. Hop farms increased acreage, providing hops for many fresh local ales. Hometown beer finder Trinkin expanded to the Charlottesville market. Richmond hosted the premier of the TAP Productions documentary on Virginia beer, “From Grain to Growler.” VA BrewPass launched, offering discounts at breweries and other businesses, and RVA Capworks continued selling novelty items made from local beer caps.
Providing both an interesting peek into the past and a resource for contemporary exploration, Richmond Beer: A History of Brewing in the River City, by Lee Graves, was released this fall by The History Press. The Beer Guy’s book was chugged so quickly that it went into a second printing within two months.
I’ve seen it firsthand. Someone comes up to writer Lee Graves, recognizing him from his phot…
The growth of our Richmond brewery scene drew plenty of attention from outside Virginia. Besides accolades received by individual breweries, we earned coverage in BeerAdvocate and CraftBeer.com as a certified beer destination and were visited by national beer luminaries: Jason and Todd Alström of BeerAdvocate and Julia Herz, Meghan Storey and Andy Sparhawk of the Brewers Association.
As I revisited this past year with local brewers, the Ardent crew best summed up the spirit of the beer community, recalling summer nights on their patio. “There were a lot of special nights. People talking, people laughing, people playing with their kids, dogs sleeping, sometimes quiet, sometimes buzzing. It was special.”
Yes, 2014 was special. And it’s only getting better.
Two busloads of craft beer aficionados spent eight hours tasting beer and culinary treats from local breweries and eateries to gain a better appreciation for the history of beer during the 5th annual Richmond Beeristoric Tour, Sunday, Nov. 9.