Here’s a rundown of Richmond’s craft beer scene in preparation for the most beer-drinkingest, Leprechaun-lovingest, and all-around awesomest holiday that our Irish ancestors ever created.
Greetings readers of RVANews! I have been asked to give you a rundown of Richmond’s craft beer scene in preparation for the most beer-drinkingest, Leprechaun-lovingest, and all-around awesomest holiday my Irish ancestors ever created.
But to get an idea of where Richmond fits in, let’s first take a look at the bigger picture.
The East Coast
Boston Beer Company, the top-selling craft brewery in the US, are the makers of the ever-present and sometimes delicious Sam Adams. However, the East Coast is about to get a lot more competitive for craft brewers as rumors have surfaced about the second- and third-largest craft breweries building new facilities in the region. Sierra Nevada (number two, from Chico, CA) and New Belgium Brewing Company (number three, from Fort Collins, CO) have both conducted searches on the East Coast. Sierra Nevada finalized their decision a few weeks ago, selecting a site near Asheville, North Carolina over sites in Tennessee and one near Christiansburg, Virginia. New Belgium has not said officially where they will be opening their new brewery, but the lastest from the rumor mill had Asheville, NC and Philadelphia at the top of their list. If Asheville gets them both, you better believe I will be buying a North Carolina travel guide and gassing up my brewery-tour mobile post-haste!
While North Carolina might end up with two big craft breweries, that doesn’t mean exciting things aren’t happening here in Virginia. In Central VA, a number of new (and good!) breweries and cideries have opened up recently or will be opening soon. Joining the veterans at Starr Hill are newcomers Devils Backbone Brewing Company, Wild Wolf Brewing Company, and Blue Mountain Brewery.
By 2011, the craft beer scene in RVA had grown into something truly impressive, and we had started really looking at other beer towns around the country.
We realized that there is a lot of hometown pride in Richmond, but no one in the beer scene was rallying around local. We saw this as an opportunity to try and promote Richmond as the heart of VA craft beers.
We started traveling and picking up beer from all sorts of small VA breweries and bringing them back to Richmond. Around the same time a few new VA breweries were in the midst of serious planning. Devils Backbone and Hardywood Craft Brewery ended up signing with us, I believe, in part because we all have a similar passion: we all believe that Virginia’s craft beer scene is just getting started.
We have contracts pending with Bold Rock Cidery in Nelson County and James River Brewing in Scottsville. Both should be available in Richmond in the next 6 months.
–Jacob Brunow, Specialty Craft/Import Manager, Brown Distributing Co.
There’s also Albemarle Cider Works and the as yet unopened Bold Rock Cidery. If you are looking for a good day trip, these are perfect. Not only can you take in the beautiful sights of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but you get delicious beers! These are some skilled brewers too; Devils Backbone has a number of awards from big beer competitions, including the World Beer Cup.
If you can’t make it out to try these delicious beers/ciders in person, fear not! Richmond’s own Brown Distributing announced last year that they were creating a division to bring craft beers from other parts of Virginia to Richmond in an attempt to generate interest in the good beer Virginia has to offer. Look for Devils Backbone, Roanoke Railhouse, Abington’s Wolf Hills Brewery, and some of the many Virginia breweries around town at places like Station 2, Mekong, and Capital Ale House.
There are lots of exciting things happening in the region around us, but surely there can’t be anything that awesome happening right here in Richmond, can there?
Legend Brewing opened in Richmond way back in 1994. Their most popular beer is their Brown Ale, but they also make an excellent lager. It must be catching on too, because over the past two years they have expanded their operation and started distributing outside of Richmond. The expansion required them to raise the roof of their brew house to fit their new supersized tanks. I can think of no better reason to renovate a building than to accommodate more beer.
On the other side of the river, a new brewery opened up near the Diamond called Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in October of last year. I have stopped by a few times, and not only are they super-friendly, but they also have some interesting beers on tap: a Gingerbread Stout and a Mocha Belgique (a collaboration with Richmond’s own Black Hand Coffee Company). Their flagship beer is called Singel, and they describe it as a Belgian Abbey-style Blonde Ale; I describe it as the perfect beer for drinking on a hot back porch. Hardywood currently doesn’t have a pub, which means they cannot sell pints directly to customers; however that will soon change as the General Assembly recently passed SB 604 which allows for breweries to sell directly to the public. After this is finalized by the Governor, I am looking forward to the return of the Squirrels this summer so I can enjoy some Hardywood beers and then walk over to the park–only about a half mile away.
That about covers Richmond’s craft beer scene today, but let’s talk about THE FUTURE. Approximately a year ago, word started to spread about a new brewpub opening in Shockoe. It hasn’t opened yet, but keep an eye and ear out for Haxall Brewing Company. Also, if you find yourself in Church Hill, you should look up the fine folks that make up the beer-brewing collective known as Ardent Craft Ales. They currently brew out of a garage (but aspire to open a larger location), and back in November they had an open house of sorts to celebrate Richmond Beer Week. Good news for them, the General Assembly also passed House Bill 359 which will allow licensed breweries to lease equipment to startups that also have licenses. This legislation should really help them and other startups get into the market sooner.
So there you have it, friends! Make sure you make this St Patrick’s Day in Richmond well-crafted.
Photo by: Ian Sane