The founder of a new brewery wants you to tap into your strangeness.
Richmond craft beer is about to get a little strange. Today, Strangeways Brewing opens its nearly 8,500 square-foot brewery on Dabney Road in the Near West End with the mission to brew uncommon beers in the Commonwealth. “We’re going to be brewing a lot of unique beers, especially for Virginia,” said owner Neil Burton.
Burton was bitten by the beer bug in the early 1990s during travels through Austria and Germany. There he drank “clean, crisp lagers” from small breweries, the likes of which not found back home. “American beer had been dominated by the big brands only,” Burton said, referring to the big three of that time: Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors.1 “There wasn’t a lot of good beer around the United States.”
In 2009, Burton left the retail clothing industry2 to get into the local craft beer scene. At first, he wanted to join an existing brewery. But he later decided to create his own brand by using the equipment of an existing local brewery. “I was trying to test the waters in some way,” Burton said. Only one thing kept him from dipping his toes in completely: state law.
At the time, it was against the law for an existing brewery to lease out equipment and space to another party for brewing purposes, something called alternating proprietorship. So Burton and his wife (a lawyer) lobbied friend and Virginia delegate Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) to change the law. McClellan, Burton, and beer industry representatives drafted a bill–House Bill 359–that passed in February last year. The law gave Virginia brewery owners the ability to rent out their facilities to fledgling beer makers like Burton.
In the years leading up to the bill’s passage, Burton had asked brewery owners if they would allow him access to their equipment should law allow it. “Quite a few people said yes,” Burton said. But something unexpected happened in the several years it took to organize, write, and pass HB359: “Craft beer kind of exploded,” Burton said. “And everybody was very busy with their own brands at their own facilities” and unable to help. Burton would have to create his own brewery after all.
He tapped Mike Hiller3 as his head brewer–the two met at the signing of HB359 in Richmond when Hiller was working on a brewery project in Northern Virginia. Last November, they found the property on Dabney Road and began work building Strangeways.
Burton plucked the name of the brewery from his music collection: one of his favorite albums as a teen was Strangeways, Here We Come by The Smiths. To Burton, the album title encapsulated his career shift from clothes to beer. But it also tapped into the brewery’s spirit. “The name ‘Strangeways’ represents the unusual beers we plan to brew,” Burton said. “We also see how it relates to individualism, how people are unique in ways that others may perceive as odd or…strange. And we want to celebrate people’s strangeness.”
Burton asked comic book artist Glenn Fabry (Thor, Batman, Hellblazer) to design the discerning ape4 that is the Strangeways logo. Burton had the idea of the gorilla and the brewery’s tagline “Think Strange. Drink Strange” while driving home from a summer vacation.5
Strangeways beer is also a bit strange. One of the two beers currently available is the Albino Monkey, a Belgian white ale brewed with spices, a beer Burton said is uncommon in Virginia breweries. Strangeways also offers its Woodbooger,6 a Belgian-style brown ale. In the coming weeks, Strangeways will release two other flagship beers, as well as a seasonal brew.
After four years of planning, lobbying, and building, Strangeways Brewing is very real. “It’s super exciting,” Burton said about the opening. “We’re excited to be a part of the Richmond brewery scene.” A strange part.
Strangeways Brewing is located at 2277-A Dabney Road.
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- In 2008, Miller and Coors became MillerCoors. ↩
- Overseeing several Garment Zone stores across Virginia. ↩
- Former owner of Bavarian Barbarian Brewing in Williamsport, PA. ↩
- Inspired by German sculptor Hugo Rheinhold’s Affe Mit Schädel (Ape with Skull). ↩
- Chris Holder of Capital Ale House created a more simplified version of Fabry’s logo that the brewery will use in day-to-day operations and products. ↩
- The name of a sasquatchian creature said to roam Southwestern Virginia. ↩