Cask Cafe: Beer, cheese, and things that growl(er) in the night

Four friends have created a beer cafe designed for two things: drinking and hanging out.

  • Who: David Garrett, Jason McClellan, Sean O’Hern, and James Talley
  • What: A coffee shop for beer
  • Where: 206 S. Robinson Street
  • When: November 2013
  • Why: To rally around growlers and support local and rare beers.
  • Beers/Dishes: Beers currently on tap include Stone’s Imperial Russian Stout, Maine Beer Co.’s Peeper Ale, and the Ayinger Bräu Weisse. Cheeses include Taleggio, Welsh Cheddar, and Great Lady Crottin. Sausages include The Kasekrainer with pork, beef, Gruyere cheese and bacon; and Saturday Nite with fine-ground pork flavored with garlic, Hardywood beer, and Siracha.

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Where David Garrett, Jason McClellan, and Sean O’Hern were last Monday is typically where they are most days–inside The Cask Cafe. They’re three guys who like hanging out at the bar, and their bar of choice is the one they own. Only it’s not quite a bar.

“It’s a beer cafe,” says Garrett, perched on a bar stool. “A coffee shop for beer.”

Jason McClellan stands behind the bar wearing a green T-shirt and blonde handlebar mustache and goatee. 

“Sometimes it almost feels like your friend’s house,” he said about The Cask. “Hangin’, chillin’ with your friends.”

Sean O’Hern, also sitting on a stool, agrees.

“It’s busy, but people are relaxed,” he said about The Cask, his long, bushy beard bouncing as he speaks. “Because of the simplicity of the menu and the layout, it has a cafe-style vibe. You’re coming in and you’re sitting down. You’re enjoying a couple drinks with friends. It’s not like a rush-rush place.” It’s a hangout place.

It’s also a hangout place that focuses on growler fills. Not only are growlers a good way to store and transport beer, they’re reusable and can save countless bottles and cans. 

“It didn’t seem like anyone was taking growlers seriously in this area,” Garrett said. “Someone needed to step up…The reason I think they’re underutilized is mainly because people usually get introduced to growlers by visiting breweries,” he said. “And up until recently there weren’t breweries [in town].”

He’s right. In the last several years the region has welcomed breweries like Hardywood in Richmond, Center of the Universe in Ashland, Midnight in Goochland, and others. “With the growth in all of these local breweries you’re seeing a lot of stuff that’s not available in bottles and we can get kegs of it and fill growlers here of things that otherwise you would have to go directly to the brewery,” O’Hern said. “That’s our way of supporting the local beer scene–making some of those beers available without having to go out to Goochland or Ashland.”

At The Cask, people can take beer home via 32-ounce and 64-ounce growlers. Both Garrett and O’Hern think growlers are a trend in beer with a long shelf life. “Growlers are a very becoming way to consume beer,” Garrett said. “Initially it seems weird, but once you start filling a couple of them, they’re fun to drink out of.”

But O’Hern said the growler–which is still rare despite places like Burger Bach, Station 2, 821, and others filling them– befuddles people.

“They’re designed for to-go. They’re not for in-house consumption,” O-Hern said. “There’ve definitely been a few people who are like, ‘Can I get the biggest one and a glass and sit down over there?’ It doesn’t really work that way.”

This is how it does work: you simply stop by to fill up a growler (or two) with local or rare beer to take home or to a party. “It’s great for sharing,” O’Hern said. “Definitely increases the communal aspect of beer.” 

Years ago, the trio’s friend and eventual business partner, James Talley, openly discussed starting a business that served craft beer and filled growlers. His friends agreed, and together opened The Cask Cafe in November 2013.

The property at 206 S. Robinson Street was previously two businesses: a barber shop and a salon separated by a wall later knocked down. “This building was a wreck,” Garrett said. “Most of what you’re looking at is new construction,” he said, spinning on his bar stool to point out the new brick, woodwork, and large street-facing windows.

Much of what’s now there came from the hands of McClellan. “I built the bar, the tables, the floor, [and] the light fixtures,” he said from behind his hand-made bar. Whereas his partners have years of bar and restaurant experience, McClellan is the odd-man-out in the sense that he’s spent the last decade in woodworking and custom cabinetry.

So how’d he end up working behind his own bar? “Mostly it was hanging out; drinking with these guys,” he said. 

The friends now hang out and drink (and work) within a short distance of their homes. O’Hern said that’s a main reason why they chose the site for The Cask. “We all live close by. This is our neighborhood. Those guys both live within two blocks from here,” he said, nodding to both Garrett and McCellan. “Just feels more at home.”

At home is how they want their fellow neighbors to feel. “They want to get quality beer, wine, and food within a safe distance of their house,” O’Hern said. “We’ve already developed a regular clientele.”

Garrett points out a window to a second story apartment next door. “The girl that lives right there comes in here all the time,” he said. “She likes sour beers.”

The Cask offer 12 rotating drafts and a list of bottles and cans. Many aren’t familiar. “Often we get people who say, ‘I don’t recognize any of those,'” Garrett said. “But that’s not anyone’s fault. There’s some pretty obscure stuff up there.” Instead of Budweiser, Miller Lite, or Corona, you’ll see stuff on draft like Stone’s Imperial Russian Stout, Maine Beer Co.’s Peeper Ale, or the Ayinger Bräu Weisse from German brewery Privatbrauerei Franz Inselkammer KG / Brauerei Aying.

Wine drinkers can expect a wine list just as exotic as The Cask’s beer selection. As with most beers, most wines aren’t recognizable. However, The Cask’s ongoing $4 glass of select wine reads loud and clear.

Garrett said the The Cask’s approach to food differs. “The food is to go with what you’re drinking” and not the drink to go with your food. One of The Cask’s focuses is cheese, selling the likes of Taleggio, Welsh Cheddar, Great Lady Crottin, and more. It also offers sausages sourced by local wholesaler Sausage Craft. Sausage offerings include The Kasekrainer with pork, beef, Gruyere cheese, and bacon; and Saturday Nite with fine-ground pork flavored with garlic, Hardywood beer, and Siracha.

The Cask’s menu is a bit small compared to other restaurants. That’s intentional. “People come in all the time and say the menu is perfect for what you’re doing: drinking and chilling out,” Garrett said. “That’s what we’re here for.” Drinking and chilling out.

O’Hern couldn’t agree more. “That’s what we do,” he said.

The Cask Cafe is located at 206 S. Robinson Street.

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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