Meet Ardent Craft Ales

Near a busy roundabout in Church Hill, the guys from Ardent Craft Ales are hard at work brewing up Richmond’s next local beer.

Near a busy roundabout in Church Hill, a group of craftsmen are hard at work at their trade. A garage you might walk by without batting an eye serves as the communal brewhouse for a group of friends trying to stake their claim in Richmond’s burgeoning brew scene.

Paul Karns, Kevin O’Leary, and Tom Sullivan met two years ago and began working to hone the skills required to bring a new brewery to market. Once a month they put their blood, sweat, and tears into brewing their beer (I can vouch for the sweatiness, it was 93 degrees in the garage when I stopped by) and hope to start operating a licensed craft brewery next year. Though they haven’t yet found the perfect location, the team is actively searching Scott’s Addition for a home–which would be a great way to build on the momentum nearby Hardywood Park has created. Perhaps we could see the birth of a Richmond Brew District (oh what a delicious district it could be!).

The guys chose the name Ardent Craft Ales to reflect their shared passion and commitment, while also drawing on the history of beer in America. “Ardent Spirits” was another name for alcoholic beverages during the pre-prohibition days in the United States, and the gents at Ardent have historical influences for many of their beers, reinventing and revitalizing styles that might be lost to time. They use the history of beer to guide their recipes and give them a target without letting strict style rules hold them back.

The brew space is a small garage, perhaps 300 square feet all together, and half of it’s shared with a baker named Evron who’s opening Sub Rosa Bread around the corner. They currently do all of their brewing on a half-barrel brewing system that produces approximately 12 gallons of beer per batch. A small corner of the garage has been transformed using insulation panels and an air conditioner into a keg chilling room. This smaller scale of brewing allows them to tinker and change their recipes while minimizing risk and allowing them to scale their operation up to a full-time craft brewery in the future.

I was able to taste a number of their beers and none of them disappointed. Some of my favorites were the Honey Ginger (brewed with locally sourced honey) and the Roggenbier (a dark wheat beer made with ⅓ wheat, ⅓ rye, and ⅓ barley). I also tried a steam beer (technically it was a California Common, as Anchor Brewing has trademarked “steam beer”) that they created in homage to the James River Steam Brewery, a brewery located in Rocketts Landing and operated by a member of the Yuengling family from 1869 to 1878. There was a fantastic saison beer, a French style whose name means “season” and is a great summer beer because it’s light, fruity, and effervescent. Ardent had another saison brewed with sichuan peppercorns, which was both surprising and delightful.

Kevin also mentioned brewing a sweet potato and sage beer for Thanksgiving. Pumpkin ale is, of course, the more traditional Thanksgiving beer, but I can understand why he forgoes making pumpkin ales: while working for the Cambridge Brewing Company, Kevin tore several tendons in his arm chopping pumpkins. I doubt we will be seeing a pumpkin ale from Ardent anytime soon.

The guys have come a long way toward getting their dreams off the ground, but undoubtedly they have a long way to go. While they scout locations and cut through the red tape required to open a commercial craft brewery, Ardent will be working to secure financing. They’ll also need to determine their launch beers–they have narrowed it down to four contenders but are still working to finalize their choice(s), factoring in season, style, demand, and cost.

With some work and a bit of luck, Ardent Craft Ales will be joining the diverse and growing selection of local beers available in Richmond soon.

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Bryan Kelley

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