Garden Grove Brewing Co. broke new ground recently when it became the 100th licensed brewery in Virginia.
On Valentine’s Day, co-owners Ryan Mitchell and Mike Brandt will again break fresh ground, not only by debuting Richmond’s newest brewery but also by introducing some unique beers to the area.
In a sector dominated by IPAs and hopheads, Brandt acknowledges being a “yeast guy.” He’s also a wine guy, having worked at two Virginia wineries, and he intends to use that experience to create blends and brews ranging from a refreshing wine-beer hybrid named Honey Sparkler to a complex imperial stout fermented with saison yeast and intended to be blended over time with younger batches.
“We’re not trying to be different just to be different,” Brandt said. “We are who we are. It’s not forced.”
Garden Grove, located between Nacho Mama’s and Philly Steak & Gyros in Carytown, plans to have at least six beers on tap when doors open on the 1,600-square-foot tasting room. Patrons can choose to sit on rescued church pews, on stools made by Mitchell and Brandt or on comfy sofas amid empty barrels and half-barrels. Corrugated steel combines with lights in Mason jars and salvaged oak, pine and spruce on the ceiling. Strips of walnut at the bar and elsewhere add elegance to the rustic feel. Games for children and their own nonalcoholic ginger ale add to the options.
Brandt and Mitchell intend to challenge drinkers. Take, for example, The Farmhouse, a Belgian ale “that cherishes and toys with the saison tradition.” Brandt lists peach, honeysuckle, fresh-cut flowers, rose hip, citrus and other aromas in the nose. The flavor profile? Look for grapefruit zest, umami, passion fruit, spice and other tastes.
I had a sample of the Honey Sparkler and predict it will turn heads and raise eyebrows — in a good way. Brandt describes it as “a confused soul that is reminiscent of a fine sparkling wine.” The drinkability — light, refreshing, effervescent, fruity with balancing acidity — belies the 8 percent alcohol. And it’s gluten-free to boot.
On the darker side, Solera Stout will benefit from fractional blending over time, with small portions of older batches blended into younger batches. The “solera” technique is common in wine, but Brandt said blending is less common in beer, outside of lambics and other Belgian styles.
“Belgian brewers have worked on it harder than anybody else,” he said.
The process of getting Garden Grove going has definitely been hard work for Brandt and Mitchell. Finding a site, getting the proper approvals from city, state and federal officials, installing the three-barrel brewing system, adapting the infrastructure (much of which they have done themselves) and getting the tasting room completed have extended by months their projected opening.
The idea for Garden Grove blossomed through Mitchell’s love of craft beer and desire to introduce new tastes to the beer world. “I’ve always had a passion for creating something that I had a vision for,” Mitchell said.
He advertised for a brewer, received more than 100 applications, narrowed that to five and found some magic in a fellow who just happened to live behind his grandparents’ house in Newport News. When Brandt told Mitchell, “‘You’re never going to know me till you try my beer,’” something clicked.
“There was this real sense of the alignment of moon, sun and stars,” Mitchell said.
Now they’re sharing a vision of offering beer lovers a sense of exploration. Brandt’s background in science — he is an agricultural scientist at Virginia State University and involved in an endeavor growing organic grapes — allows him to dial in specific traits to beverages without being at the mercy of variables in ingredients.
“We want to let people know that we’re in tune with ingredients and bring out the best in those ingredients,” Brandt said.
They also want to be in tune with local businesses, particularly in urging people to support restaurants in Carytown and beyond. The city classifies Garden Grove as a brewpub, but it will be selling only pre-packaged food.
Their business plan is to produce 250 to 500 barrels in the first year with limited distribution in kegs by Free Run Wine Merchants. They intend to start a tasting panel to evaluate their beers “to make sure they’re world-class,” Mitchell said.
Eventually they plan to offer sours, using space in the upstairs part of the building so wild yeast doesn’t contaminate their other yeasts. And they’ve already started to work with RVA Yeast Labs.
“They’re close, and they’re so good to work with. If I say I want this particular strain, they’ll get it for me,” Brandt said.
“Yeast flavors are the number one thing for me.”
Garden Grove Brewing Co. is located at 3445 West Cary Street and will be open Tuesday through Saturday. Eventual plans are to have nine or 10 beers on tap.
Here’s a rundown on some Garden Grove beers, provided by the brewery:
The Farmhouse (Belgian saison). 6 percent ABV. IBUs 36. “A delicious blend of fruit and spice on a barley, wheat and rye base.”
Tasting notes: Aroma — peach, honeysuckle, banana, rosehip, citrus, fresh-cut flowers, pink and black peppercorn, cantaloupe.
Flavor — grapefruit zest, herbal, mmami, tart, passion fruit, citrus, spice.
The Knight (Belgian tripel). 9.1 percent ABV. IBUs 32. “Esters and phenols take flight at 9.1 percent ABV with the right amount of malt character to keep it grounded.
Tasting notes: Aroma — honey, banana, apple, spice, pepper.
Flavor — ripe fruit, banana, honey, estery, citrus, pear, French bread.
Southern Hemi India Pale Ale. 7.1 percent ABV. IBUs 60. “This IPA featuring hops entirely from New Zealand and Australia introduces a fruit-forward hop character completely unique from West Coast, East Coast and British IPAs. The malt character is rich, yet the beer is still dry and crisp, ensuring that the hops are the star attraction.”
Tasting notes: Aroma — mango, white grapefruit, boxwood, honeydew, lime, lemon thyme.
Flavor — mango, lime, passion fruit, Cointreau, white peach, limestone, citrus zest, pineapple, candied papaya.
Ronnie’s Red Ale. 6.8 percent ABV. IBUs 56. “Our British red ale is an exercise in malt and hop excess. The malt and hop characters are in a battle to be the stars.”
Tasting notes: Aroma — caramel, plums, toast, earth, floral, spice, herbal, currant, bramble, thyme.
Flavor — malty, caramel, biscuit, floral, earthy, herbal.
Carytown Brown. 5.6 percent ABV. IBUs 36. “A British-style brown with an American twist. Clean, drinkable with a restrained bitterness but quite rich in caramel, chocolate, and nuts. Nutella and peanut butter on toast.”
Tasting notes: Aroma — earthy, toast, chocolate, mellow coffee, nutty.
Flavor — toast, chocolate, coffee, Nutella, rich malt.
Solera Stout. 8 percent ABV. IBUs 58. “We aim to have an ever-evolving complex imperial stout reminiscent of a fine port by using the Solera System. We generally blend in up to 10 percent of older vintages of our imperial stout into the most recent batch in the fermenter.”
Tasting notes: Aroma — dark chocolate, coffee, chicory, ripe fruit, banana bread, dried berries, licorice.
Flavor — chocolate, lightly roasted coffee, Bananas Foster, star anise, leather.
Honey Sparkler. 8 percent ABV. IBUs none. “A confused soul that is reminiscent of a fine sparkling wine. Our Sparkler is formulated with white sorghum, orange blossom honey and finished with a touch of the French hop variety Strisselspalt to heighten the fruity aromas. Great acidity, effervescence, fruit and delicious honey flavors make it thirst-quenching. Gluten-free.”
Tasting notes: Aroma — orange, tangerine, floral, honey.
Flavor — orange, floral, crisp, tart, citrus zest.