Throw a stone anywhere in downtown Richmond these days, and there’s a good chance you’ll hit a brewery.
With over 30 breweries in the RVA region — up from just one a decade ago — our city’s beer scene has officially arrived. Last year, VinePair named Richmond the No. 1 beer destination in the country, putting it on the map alongside renowned craft beer epicenters, such as Asheville, N.C., and Grand Rapids, Mich.
But Richmond’s ever-evolving craft beverage market is not limited to beer. Cideries, meaderies, urban wineries, and distilleries are increasingly dotting the cityscape, creating a drinks scene most American cities can only envy. Best of all, every single week these producers are releasing new and innovative pours that change the way we drink.
With this embarrassment of boozy riches, we have our hands full trying to track the latest and greatest from RVA’s entrepreneurial drinks makers. That’s where “The First Call” comes in. Each month, I’ll fill you in on the best new releases from a local producer and share the always-interesting backstory of how our city’s favorite seasonal releases or surprising collabs have come to be. This way, you can snag those limited-release beverages before they’re gone and, of course, know which ones you should be bragging about to your non-Richmond friends.
I’ve been covering the alcohol industry — and Virginia’s drinking scene in particular — for years, and I’ve been lucky enough to interview dozens of Virginia brewers, distillers and vintners. Better yet, I’ve gotten to taste many of their wonderful products. But all of that drinking has only highlighted how exceptional our own city’s drinking options are, and with this column, I hope to make sure none of us misses a single second of all the fun.
This month, I’m excited to share what a local favorite, Garden Grove Brewing and Urban Winery, has been brewing in those special-release tanks. While many drinks makers struggle to differentiate themselves, Garden Grove has had little trouble carving out a distinctive portfolio of unexpected boozy blends. Co-owner Mike Brandt, who has done stints at both Calhoun’s Brewery and Naked Mountain Winery, moves seamlessly between beer, wine and cider — sometimes even blurring the lines between them.
Walk into this cozy Carytown hangout and soak up the imposing chalkboard menu on the wall, detailing everything they’ll pour, from vidal blancs to sparkling honey wine to every imaginable type of beer. Garden Grove achieves the almost impossible: a nearly limitless range of spirits, all executed at a high level. (Even the nondrinker in your group can sip, as the house-made ginger ale, teeming with fresh ginger and lemongrass, is a showstopper.)
Although menu mainstays, such as the Lemonterra — a saison brewed with organic lemon balm — and the semi-annual-release Death — a Belgian-style beer made with fermented petit verdot grapes — are must-tries, several new releases are what you’ll want to rush out for.
Collusion, released by Garden Grove in mid-December, is a Russian imperial stout aged in red wine barrels. It’s brewed with lactose, which infuses it with a subtle but delightful hint of milk chocolate that plays well with the notes of roasted coffee. In the cold winter months still ahead of us, it’s the warming fireside sipper you’ll want in your hand. Despite its deep flavors and 8.5 percent ABV level, Collusion is an accessible beer that even non-stout drinkers can warm up to.
January brought the release of Farmhouse Saison, which is an herbal and zesty brew with notes of grapefruit and passionfruit. “[It’s] designed to really cherish the Saison tradition,” says Chris Sarnoski, Garden Grove’s marketing and events coordinator.
Being released on tap Feb. 16 is Synthesis, a barleywine, port and mead hybrid made from equal parts barley, grapes and honey — a quirky fusion that highlights the creativity that defines Garden Grove.
What’s next to drink? Follow along next month as we make 2019 the year we all show up for The First Call of RVA’s best new beer, wine, cider and spirit releases. Cheers!