In Your Cups: New Breweries in Chesterfield and Petersburg, The Release of the Black Dolphin, and More Tasty Beverages

FOR ONE WEEK ONLY! Annie Tobey can finally talk about beer. And it is like the tap has been opened!

Rarely can the public taste a new brewery’s wares before opening day. Tastes of Steam Bell Beer Works, however, have been popping up in the market since September 2015. On June 11th, the tasting room of Chesterfield County’s first craft brewery since Extra Billy’s brewpub will open for all to enjoy.

Steam Bell received federal licensing approval in August 2015, followed by final Virginia ABC approval in September. Brewing began in preparation for serving at Hops in the Park at Henricus Historical Park in November, later at Virginia Wine Expo’s Burger Blast, Science on Tap, Wonder City Craft Beer Festival, and Sergio’s restaurant (the unofficial incubator for the Steam Bell concept).

Since Steam Bell is Chesterfield County’s first standalone production brewery, however, the county, well, has been experiencing a learning curve. The production and tasting room space near Southside Speedway off Genito Road didn’t receive licenses to begin construction till November 2015. Owner and brewer Brad Cooper finally received a certificate of occupancy this May, when he began brewing on his 10-barrel system and finalized plans to open the tasting room.

“A lot of people in Chesterfield are really pumped about having a local craft brewery,” says Connie Cooper.

Yes, Connie is related to Brad. In fact, the brewery is in many ways a family affair, rooted in the family’s 30 years in the county. Connie is Brad’s mother, first employee and office manager. Tom Cooper, aka Dad, handled much of the smaller construction work, including the tasting room’s pallet tables (which are so attractive, I didn’t even recognize them as pallets), the Virginia-shaped beer flight boards and the weathered barn-wood bar. Brad’s sister, Brittany Cooper, has moved temporarily from New York City–working remotely on her job with IBM–to help with the brewery after hours. My interview with Brad involved the entire family.

A thread ran through the family’s discussion: “It’s all about the story.” A tour of the brewery involves the telling of tales. The brewery name, for example, is a play on the family name, since coopers manufactured barrels, using steam bells to make the wooden barrel staves more pliable.

Other Steam Bell employees have come from local beer jobs at at Brew Gastropub in Chester and Bellgrade and 7 Hills Brewing in Shockoe Bottom: Joey Johnson, Maggie Pearson, Bryan Hicks and Jacob Morgan.

From the beginning, Brad Cooper’s visions embraced both a brewery and Chesterfield County, and his family is fully on board with both ideas–as is tasting room manager Joey Johnson, who has spent his past few years working at Sergio’s and Brew.

“I have the same passion [as Brad for the beer] industry and this community on the Southside that has adopted me as one of their own,” Johnson says. “The focus of Steam Bell is going to be offering a location for locals and visitors to gather and enjoy a casual environment and craft beer. We aren’t trying to compare ourselves to anyone else, or do anything better than anyone else. Our focus is our local community and providing the best products and services we can for them.”

When I first talked with Brad in February 2015 about his plans, he told me, “A lot of my portfolio will be in barrel-aged, sour and Brett beers,” matching his tastes and the barrel-making theme.

He’s stayed true to his plans. When the tasting room opens, visitors can expect three year-round beers and a handful of small-batch beers to round out the eight taps.

Year-round, look for Grisette, a light-bodied saison; Time Is Money, a farmhouse-style IPA, restrained in bitterness but full of hop flavor; and rich, luscious Tiramisu stout, on tap in the tasting room and at Sergio’s.

Other initial beers will include a Brett pale ale; a sour, which has been aging for several months in barrels; a Grisette with blackberry and raspberry purée; the Southern Stubby IPA with New Zealand Hops; a smoked braggot, using Copper Fox Applewood and Cherrywood malt and Virginia honey; and Liège, a Belgian tripel with maple syrup and vanilla beans.

To present beers to its customers, Steam Bell has designed a service-oriented tasting room, with staff serving tables. “We want this to be an environment where people know they can relax, and enjoy themselves,” Johnson explained. “Brad and I both know how important that is to focus on, and we have brought on a great staff that are talented in many different facets, but most importantly are passionate about craft beer and customer service.”

Steam Bell Beer Works, at 1717 Oak Lake Blvd. in Midlothian opens on Saturday, June 11th, at 1:00 PM. with music from The Killer B’s RVA and BoxCar, food, cornhole, and giant jenga.

Take Me Prisoner Any Day

Triple Crossing Brewing does many things well, but especially their IPAs and stouts. On June 11th, look for the Black Dolphin Russian imperial stout to escape the confines of the Foushee Street brite tanks once again, into the freedom of your pint glass.

Named after Russia’s infamous maximum security prison, this hefty stout is brewed with roasted barley and dark brown sugar for a rich, full-bodied beer. Variants will be available at the brewery as well, including one with cinnamon, vanilla and cocoa nibs.

No, stouts are not just for cold weather, so tipple a tankard at Triple Crossing.

Beer, Bourbon and Barbecue

Treat your palate to a full range of tastes with the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ festival (plus cigar smoking, if that’s your thing) at the Richmond Raceway Complex on June 11th. The sampling glass that comes with admission entitles you to all you care to taste samplings of both beer (60 on tap) and bourbon (40 to try). Barbecue is a la carte, but pairs well and helps soak up the alcohol.

Seminars with master distillers, brewers and pit masters plus live music provide entertainment when your palate and liver need a rest.

Be a VIP ($49 in advance) for noon admission to beat the crowds, or general admission ($39 in advance, 2:00 to 6:00 PM).

Jump for Joy – The Trapezium Hits Petersburg!

And you thought a new brewery in Chesterfield was big news–after three years of renovating a run-down historic building in Petersburg, Trapezium Brewing will be opening to the public on June 18th at noon at 423 3rd Street.

In addition to a 30-barrel production brewery, the space will include a 150-seat taproom, a courtyard with a 1950s houseboat, and brick-oven pizza.

The brewery plans to distribute immediately, with the first bottles hitting the shelves in early July, including a Belgian white, IPA, session IPA and the signature Lemon Honey Ginger. The taproom will include draft-only beers from brewer James Frazer, including Giant Peach American Wheat and a Czech pils.

While you’re in Petersburg, check out the new Bucket Trade location and their pour-your-own beer taps.

Recipe of the Week: BelGin Beer Cocktail

To celebrate my freedom to once again write about beer (as if Steam Bell and Trapezium’s back-to-back openings weren’t enough), I present my favorite beer cocktail recipe. Made with mostly Virginia ingredients, all available locally, the Belgian spices of the saison from Norfolk’s Smartmouth Brewing meld masterfully with the botanicals of Copper Fox gin from Sperryville. Since Copper Fox uses seasonal ingredients for their gin, one batch may vary from the next – more reason to try each new combination! Or to try gins from James River Distillery, Silverback Distillery or other Virginia producers.

  • Absinthe rinse
  • 1.5 ounce Copper Fox VirGin
  • 1 12-ounce can Smartmouth Alter Ego Saison

Swirl a bit of absinthe around the inside of a 12-ounce stemmed tulip glass and pour out the excess. Pour in the gin and top it immediately with the saison. Savor!

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Annie Tobey

Writer and editor Annie Tobey dutifully studies the craft beverage scene, then runs Richmond’s roads and trails to earn the next round of research.

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