Page Hayes takes it upon herself to blaze a trail—a sudsy trail with heroic intentions! We present to you, the complete personality guide to Richmond’s many breweries!
Breweries have been popping up in this town like so many zits on a prom date’s forehead. It can all get a little confusing. With 11 new breweries coming online within just three years, you’d be forgiven for not knowing where to start. Because I am the sacrificing sort, I’ve made a point of visiting all 11 tasting rooms and sampled several of their brews (sometimes more than once!) just so I could provide this quick and arbitrary personality profile for each. My goal was to try at least four or five beers at each brewery’s taproom to give you an idea of the experience. These opinions are just mine (feel free to talk me out of them), but they’ll give you a place to start on your beerventures.
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The Family Man
They’re the grandaddy of the local craft brewing scene. In fact, they’re the oldest craft brewery in the state! Legend (and please, Lord, do not call them “Legends”–that is straight-up wrong) has a large selection of year-round beers, including their popular Brown Ale, that should satisfy most palates. These beers are consistent and on style and many are available statewide in bottles. At their brewpub, you can choose from up to four or five seasonal brews or their Pins or Firkins, which are small batches of beer into which they’ve infused additional hops or other ingredients. Their seasonals can be unpredictable year to year, but many are really tasty. Their new Z Dam summer ale is an herbed lager, and is quite refreshing.
Up until the new wave of breweries entered the scene, Legend was probably the most readily available craft beer in RVA and ruled the scene for close to 20 years. Recent competition from the new guys is pushing them to up their game by offering more unique limited edition beers. They have the largest brewpub in town with a deck that has an amazing view of the city. With consistent management of late, the food has improved vastly, but be patient, their burgers, sandwiches, and entrees can take a while to appear, although with their current skyline view, it’s worth the wait. Hopefully the development slated to go up in between Legend and the river (PDF) won’t completely block the vista.
321 West 7th Street
Richmond, VA 23224
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The Cool Older Brother
This was the first of the new wave of breweries, and it’s the big kahuna in regards to output and crowds. If I knew where to find statistical information, I’d say with actual proof that this brewery’s production is second only to Legend Brewing.
It seems they’ve always had big dreams. With savvy marketing and events, many of their seasonal brews are the great “whales” hunted by beer collectors willing to wait in lengthy lines to collect. Their Gingerbread Stout is legendary for its illusiveness; their signature Singel is a Belgian-style Blonde Ale and reliably delicious–palatable for even new beer drinkers; the Great Return is a truly tasty IPA; and the Capital Trail Pale Ale is really enjoyable. Their tap rooms and parking lots offer the largest events, including the popular Food Truck Court (Thursdays, in season), that was one of the first in the area. With recent news of their $28m expansion into Goochland, suburbanites can sigh with relief that they can get Hardywood’s tasty brews without having to venture into the city. The new facility will have a beer garden and amphitheater, which promise to provide a mighty fine place to hang.
Near the Diamond
2408-2410 Ownby Lane
Richmond, VA 23220
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The Window Shopper
Located in Carytown, Garden Grove is the newest kid on the block. Its tasting room is rather dimly lit and doesn’t really inspire hanging out for long, but I can see folks stopping by for a break from shopping for a snack and a brew. Describing themselves as a “nano brewery,” they currently only offer their beer on site, and I found the beers true to style, but nothing really stood out. As you’ll discover, some breweries have that one “signature” beer that serves as their major draw. I didn’t find one here. With only a few months under their belt, I’ll give them another try later on to see if this changes.
They do, however, have meaty/cheesy plates for snacking, and their tasting room is dim and cool–a perfect place to escape the shopping masses.
3445 West Cary Street
Richmond, VA 23221
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Office Manager by Day, Beer Geek by Night
Currently my favorite brewery, TCB has only been bottling for a short time after (previously, their beers were only available by the pint in their tap room originally). I think they provide the best variety of beer styles. Their IPAs, like the Nectar and the Knife and Clever Girl are my favorites with lots of floral hoppiness, and they offer lighter ales–such as the Pride of Monroe and Element 79–and darker brews, like their Liberty or Death Porter. In the comfortable tap room, you can purchase chips and salsa to snack on, and like in most taprooms, you’re allowed to have food delivered in from local restaurants. Bring a board game, and hang out, it’s a comfy place. Their patio is pretty awesome too.
East of VCU
113 S. Foushee Street
Richmond, VA 23220
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This middle child was one of the first to open after local behemoth Hardywood Park, and many were curious how they’d differentiate themselves. And differentiate they did. Their first offerings were very Belgian in style, including their Albino Monkey Belgian White Ale and their Woodbooger Belgian-Style Brown Ale. Year-round beers include a saison and an IPA, but they’ve quickly diverged into exploring “curiosities” such as Berliner weisses known for their sour qualities and beers infused with fruit and other flavorings. Their Totally Tubular Grapefruit Radler (Pomelmuse), for instance, is a combination of beer and grapefruit soda, and is so refreshing and tart, even non-beer drinkers can love it.
You never quite know what you’ll find on tap in their taproom, with 25 taps and seemingly endless creativity, the variations can astound. Strangeways also regularly hosts special events and musical guests to liven up their taproom and brewery space. They also offer some packaged snacks and often have food trucks on the weekend. In addition to being a great place for adventurous palates, their taproom is a comfy place to hang with funky and fun decor.
Industrial park west of the city
2277A Dabney Road
Richmond, VA 23230
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Ardent’s origin story has the three partners brewing in a Church Hill garage, while beer heads in town waited with bated breath for them to launch formally in their Scott’s Addition brew space and tap room. Since then, they’ve been focusing on small batches, which are perfect to consume on their patio on a Saturday afternoon, perhaps with your pooch.
Their beer is quite tasty, but due to the size of their batches, varieties can come and go rather quickly. And since they order small quantities of hops, they do not have a signature IPA, but offer different ones depending on which hop they’ve acquired. Year round beers include a saison and Virginia Common (an ale-lager hybrid). Their seasonals include a very spicy Honey Ginger that is quite sweet this year. I already miss their Session India Pale Lager; at a low ABV of 4.9%, it had the floral hoppiness of an IPA without the bitterness or high alcohol sometimes associated with them. They have limited meat/cheese/cracker snack options from Pizza Tonight, but you’re really not there for the food anyways, unless ZZQ has set up shop for the day, as they’ve been doing every other Friday (offering Texas-style brisket).
3200 W. Leigh Street
Richmond, VA 23230
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The Blue Collar Worker
This brewery has been very careful about its growth, using plastic cups when they couldn’t afford glass and slowly growing their facilities as they could. Their beer, on the other hand, has often been a little more aggressive. Although they originally launched with Plain Jane, a Belgian White, they quickly established their signature beer, Choosy Mother, which is a Peanut Butter Oatmeal Porter. The owner will tell you it wasn’t his personal favorite, but it became so ridiculously popular that it’s now almost always available.
Isley’s tasting room feels more like a straight-up bar than some of the others and some of the bartenders are pretty blasé, but many people call it their beer home. Last summer, they added a deck out back, and offer an eclectic selection of beers. This summer they have a grapefruit session pale, Ruby Red Slippers, that I’m interested in giving a try.
1715 Summit Avenue
Richmond, VA 23230
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The Good ol’ Boy
Located off of 95 near Ashland, COTU is a bit of an outlier, location-wise, but its no-frills tasting room is a nice stop. They do not offer food outside of chips and the occasional food truck, but they have a nice patio out back where acoustic music is sometimes available. COTU’s beer selection is solid, with my favorite being the Pocahoptus, a delightful IPA. For lighter palates, there are RayRay’s and Main St. Ales.
I’m deeply curious about their Belgian Tripel, Monkey’s Uncle and the Orange is the New Stout, so I’ll be making a trip back up 95 shortly!
Up north towards Ashland, by the Bass Pro Shop
11293 Air Park Road
Ashland, VA 23005
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The Genteel Farmer
This farm/brewery is a straight-up haul for the likes of us city-dwellers, but it can be a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon. They have frequent events, like the Pirate Party they recently threw (which I still mourn missing) to entice fans out to the country. These bottle release parties generally offer around three food trucks and live music, attracting crazy long lines for their small batch, highly desirable beers such as the Coconut Delight Rum Barrel Quadrupel Ale or Rosemary Saison.
I’d say they’re better known for their small run beers, which tend to be barrel-aged uber-beers, than for their year-round brews, like ‘Til Sunset Session IPA or Magic Beaver, which is a tasty Belgian-Style Pale Ale. Their Belgian Tripel is delicious as well, but at 9.4% worth sipping rather than slugging. Lickinghole’s taproom is tiny, so the outdoor space is a favored hangout, but with the distance, this is more of a day trip than a happy hour destination.
Officially Out in the Sticks
4100 Knolls Point Drive
Goochland, VA 23063
The Suburban Warrior
This brewery is tucked into an industrial park west of Short Pump. Their tasting room hosts live music and a food truck on Friday evenings, and they’re another brewery that has taken the time to grow carefully. When they first launched, it could be very difficult to track their beer down. But you can always use Trinkin to locate their Purdy Mechanic IPA or Not My Job English Brown. They brewed a special Midway Wheat ale for the State Fair of Virginia, but the best selection, as it is for most breweries, is at their tasting room. This is a family run joint, so you’re pretty likely to get served by the owner.
In the sticks, but not as far in the sticks as Lickinghole
2410 Granite Ridge Road
Rockville, VA 23146
The Lovable Beer Snob
This is unique in the area: a beer joint that also brews! Or is it a brewery that also offers other breweries’ beers? YOU GOT YOUR PEANUT BUTTER IN MY CHOCOLATE! Oh, never mind. If you’re a beer fan, than you’ve already been going to An Bui’s Vietnamese restaurant Mekong for the 50 different taps and the clay pot chicken for years. When Bui announced his brewpub, people went straight-up bananas. This new, more casual spot serves Vietnamese street food like bánh mìs and dumplings, and boasts 56 taps, some of which are beers they recently started brewing. For their first releases, the brewers stuck to IPAs such as Larceny, Petty Larceny, and Grand Larceny.
It will be interesting to see where they land for their year-round choices, but only having been brewing for a few months, it’s still hard to see. They’re also the only brewpub with a full food menu that’s opened since the law no longer mandated that to sell your beer, you must also sell food.
Near West End
6008 W Broad Street
Other places to keep your eye on
Final Gravity is the next brewery to come on board. They started as home brewing supply shop, Original Gravity, and after a few years, moved a few doors down with the plan to brew their own Final Gravity beer while offering pints of beers by others. Final Gravity has done a couple of collaboration beers so far, and hopes to release at least six of their first beers in August!
Extra Billy’s, for a short time, had Brandon Tolbert, an awesome head brewer, who revved up their beer list including the introduction of Citra Ass Down IPA (so flipping good). The Answer scooped him up, and it’s unclear what direction EBs will be taking now. The Alverser branch on Southside houses the brew tanks, but this restaurant could really benefit from a little rehab. It’s gotten a bit dusty and creaky but with some careful interior updates and a talented head brewer it could be worth a visit again some day.
If you’re a beer nerd, then for years you heard about Haxall Brewing. You found their near stagnant Facebook page and waited for updates. Then, one of the partners popped up touting 7 Hills Brewing. Their logo appeared on an old restaurant next door to Buffalo Wild Wings, and still you waited. Now it’s going to be a brew pub…. and they’re almost ready to start brewing.. and…and…and? It appears that they are slowly acquiring equipment, but there hasn’t been any announcement of expected opening date. So the wait continues!
Of course new breweries will be coming on board in the near future, but this is enough to wet your whistle! Get out there and experiment! There’s a whole lot to love about #RVABeer.