Collaborations the key at new Three Notch’d site

Roads are built to connect.

The main highway from Richmond to points west, including Charlottesville, was originally called Three Notched Road because of the three slashes on the trees meant to mark the route. Now signs read Three Chopt Road.

Three Notch’d Brewing Company has adopted that pathway’s old name, and it has embraced the concept of connecting with the same enthusiasm. At the main brewery site in Charlottesville, you’ll find head brewer Dave Warwick climbing onto a stool every Thursday and raising a toast to a new beer, usually a collaboration with a homebrewer, restaurateur, non-profit organization or a beer-loving group such as the Brew Betties.

Stefan Mcfadden (left) will do the brewing and Aaron Thackery will manage the taproom at the Three Notch'd RVA Collab House in Scott's Addition. Photo by Lee Graves

Stefan Mcfayden (left) will do the brewing and Aaron Thackery will manage the taproom at the Three Notch’d RVA Collab House in Scott’s Addition. Photo by Lee Graves

Stefan Mcfayden will play the same role in Richmond, toasting joint brewing ventures when the Three Notch’d RVA Collab House opens in Scott’s Addition. “It’s actually part of the job description,” Mcfayden said with a smile.

I sat down with McFayden, recently named the site’s head brewer, and Aaron Thackery, the taproom manager, earlier this week at The Cask Café on Robinson Street in Richmond’s Fan District. The café’s cozy atmosphere of friendly chatter and familiar faces—co-owner David Garrett, homebrewing wiz Tyler Kidd and others—brightened an otherwise soggy May evening.

Thackery is one of the familiar faces in the RVA beer scene. In addition to slinging beers at Specialty Beverage, he previously kept taprooms humming at Isley Brewing Co. on Summit Avenue and Strangeways Brewing on Dabney Road. Now his goal is to create a comfortable destination at 2930 West Broad Street through compelling branding, a well-educated staff and, of course, awesome beers.

That last element rests in Mcfayden’s hands. Though he’s a fresh face on the professional beer scene, he’s been homebrewing for years. He recalled his first batch—an American pale ale that was supposed to be brewed with a friend from his days at James Madison University. The buddy called in sick—strep throat—and Mcfayden was left to wade through the complexities of an all-grain batch with only John Palmer’s homebrewing book as his guide. “It wasn’t horrible, but I learned from that,” Mcfayden said.

He’s obviously learned enough to impress Warwick and others at Three Notch’d. One of the beers he supplied during the interview process was called Wild Ryed, a rye saison that weighs in at 7.5 percent ABV. “It’s very bright and very refreshing with a bit of funk in it,” Mcfayden said.

He also enjoys fashioning IPAs that are more fragrant and flavorful than mouth-puckeringly bitter. He’ll have a 3.5-barrel brewing system with a 7-barrel fermentation tank at his command and will be responsible for brewing beers—his own or collaborations—for half of the 12 taps. The other six taps will go to Three Notch’d beers such as 40 Mile IPA, No Veto English Brown Ale and Hydraulion Red Ale.

The job will be a full-time gig for Mcfayden. A 2008 graduate of Richmond’s Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies, he received a degree in geographic science from JMU and has been working with local governments in the asset management department of the Timmons Group. He joins a number of other RVA brewers—Brandon Tolbert at The Answer and Dylan Brooks at Extra Billy’s, to name two—who have leveraged homebrewing skills for professional positions.

“The whole team was thoroughly impressed with Stefan’s beer knowledge, recipe creativity, friendly and positive attitude, and knowledge of Richmond,” said Betsy O’Brien, director of taprooms and marketing for Three Notch’d.

After opening in 2013 on Grady Avenue in Charlottesville, Three Notch’d began its business model of using a small brewing system as the anchor for a satellite location in 2014 with its operation in Harrisonburg. There, brewer Mary Morgan has guided creation of beers such as Elsa’s Let It Grow Lavender IPA and Spice of Paradise Double IPA.

Other Virginia breweries have satellite sites in their sights. Richmond’s Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, for example, announced in April that it is targeting the Uncommon Building at 1000 West Main in Charlottesville for a 3.5-barrel brewery and a 1,100-square-foot taproom to open in September. Starr Hill Brewing in Crozet also is eyeing a second location, using a seven-barrel system, in the Waterside development of downtown Norfolk.

The key for Three Notch’d in its new location, Thackery said, is through building relationships in the community—restaurants, homebrewers, non-profits and more—by fostering inclusivity and creativity. “The whole idea of the place will be to get folks excited about beer and making beer with us,” he said.

That includes connecting with history, as Three Notch’d has done with its brand. 40 Mile IPA, for example, is a reference to Jack Jouett Jr.’s wild ride in 1781 to warn Thomas Jefferson and other state officials of the approach of British troops. “I really like the idea of tying things into history,” Mcfayden said, reminiscing about sessions at Maggie Walker where historian Edwin Slipek shared stories of Richmond’s yesteryears.

The RVA Collab House will occupy 4,000 square feet, a quarter of that for the brewery, with additional space in an outdoor courtyard. When the doors open in late June or early July, it will join an impressive array of imbibing destinations in Scott’s Addition—Isley, Ardent Craft Ales, The Veil Brewing Co., Black Heath Meadery, Buskey Cider—with Strangeways and Hardywood Park within a few minutes’ drive. Restaurants such as Lunch and Supper, Fat Dragon, Boulevard Burger & Brew and The Dairy Bar also feed the vibe.

“We got in at a good time. It’s crazy! It’s crazy!!!!” Thackery enthused. “It’s really cool to see a neighborhood that was not that great not very long ago taking on an important role in Richmond.”

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Growth of craft beer toasted in Philadelphia

The City of Brotherly Love served as the gathering ground for some 13,000 brewers and beer industry folks who spent several days in May toasting growth, tasting beers, attending seminars and, in a sense, circling their wagons.

The 2016 Craft Brewers Conference and BrewAmerica Expo drew some 13,000 brewers and beer industry folks to Philadelphia. Photo by Lee Graves

The 2016 Craft Brewers Conference and BrewAmerica Expo celebrated the growth of craft beer in the United States through seminars, a trade show and events around Philadelphia. Photo by Lee Graves

The record attendance at the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewAmerica Expo reflected the meteoric rise of a sector of the beer industry that has enjoyed double-digit growth in eight of the past 10 years. That growth amounted to 13 percent by volume last year, according to the Brewers Association, of Boulder, Colo., the not-for-profit trade group that supports small and independent brewers in the U.S.

“By any objective measure, the state of the union is very strong,” said Bob Pease, president and CEO of the association. “But we cannot, we must not rest on our laurels.”

The proposed purchase of SABMiller by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the continued acquisition of craft breweries by ABI and other elements in the business landscape provoked images of storm clouds, castle walls and embattled breweries among the week’s speakers. Pease said the association is fighting to ensure that craft brewers have fair access to resources and markets. “We are right in the middle of that battle, and we must not cede an inch,” he said.

In a “state of the industry” address, Bart Watson, the association’s chief economist, noted that the rate of growth dropped from 2014, when the increase was 18 percent by volume. Craft beer’s share of the market in 2015 was 12 percent by volume and 21 percent by dollars. The hottest part of the sector was among microbreweries (those selling less than 15,000 barrels annually), which grew 24.2 percent. IPAs and seasonals are still the top styles, and pilsners, golden ales and other sessionable styles may be “the next frontier.”

While many breweries are expanding and seeking wider distribution, the benefits of staying small and local were stressed in one seminar. Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner of Russian River Brewing Co. in California, said that success is measured not just by volume. Russian River produces about 16,000 barrels annually, is wholly owned by her and her husband, Vinnie, and limits much of its distribution. She advised brewers not to lose the joy of their passion and to strike a balance between business and life in general.

“Know yourself and know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” said panelist Jeff Althouse, CEO of Oakshire Brewing Co. in Eugene, Ore.

The conference, which will be held in Washington, D.C., in 2017, included sessions on a range of topics—historic beer styles, technical aspects of brewing, marketing strategies, understanding trends, raising capital, ensuring consistent quality and improving the science and lexicon of food and beer pairings.

In addition, a major program to document the modern history of brewing was announced at the conference. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is launching a three-year initiative to collect, document and preserve memorabilia and other elements of brewing history to tell the story of craft brewers and the brewing industry and their impact on society over the past 30 years. The effort, which is part of the Smithsonian Food History project, is made possible by a donation from the Brewers Association.

The museum already has a collection dating from 1870 to the 1960s. The rise of craft brewing warrants its own chapter, given that the number of breweries in the country has surpassed the previous high of 4,131 in 1873. The new initiative will include artifacts, oral history, at least two public programs a year and other features.

“The craft brewing revolution in America has had a profound social, cultural and economic impact on this country,” Pease said.

The conference concluded May 6 with the World Beer Cup, which featured competition from breweries in 55 countries. Several Virginia breweries came away with medals: Devils Backbone Brewing Co., gold medals for Schwartz Bier and Reilly’s Red; Crooked Run Brewing, gold for Supernatural; Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery, silver for Coconut Delight; Lost Rhino Brewing Co., silver for Rhinofest; Pale Fire Brewing Co., bronzes for Salad Days and Red Molly; Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, bronze for Ruse; O’Connor’s Brewing Co., bronze for O’Connor’s Dry Irish Stout.

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New Smithsonian program to document modern beer history

American craft brewers have made history through their creativity, cultural impact and sheer numbers. Now a program is under way to document that history and connect it to the country’s culture at large.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is launching a three-year initiative to collect, document and preserve memorabilia and other elements of brewing history to tell the story of craft brewers and the brewing industry and their impact on society over the past 30 years. The effort, which is part of the Smithsonian Food History project, is made possible by a donation from the Brewers Association of Boulder, Colo., the not-for-profit trade group that supports small and independent brewers in the United States.

News of the initiative was announced today in Philadelphia at the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America, which has drawn nearly 14,000 brewers and industry representatives from around the country.

The museum already has a collection of instruments, tools, advertising materials, bottles, trays and other items, the bulk of which date from 1870 to the 1960s.

“The support of the Brewers Association allows our staff to collect more recent history, including the impact of small and independent craft brewers who continue to advance the U.S. beer culture and inspire brewers worldwide,” John Gray, director of the museum, said in a news release.

Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association, said the effort will include artifacts, oral history, at least two public programs a year and other elements. “The first step is to hire a scholar that they want to be their official researcher; that will be the glue,” she said. The association also will help put together a group of brewing history advisers.

The history of beer dates to the dawn of civilization, but the meteoric rise of the craft breweries in the U.S. warrants its own chapter. Last year the number of breweries in the country surpassed the previous high of 4,131 in 1873.

“The craft brewing revolution in America has had a profound social, cultural and economic impact on this country,” said Bob Pease, president and CEO of the Brewers Association.

History has played more than one role at the conference in Philadelphia. A roundtable on historic beer styles drew an enthusiastic crowd of brewers. At one point, Frank Clark, who is head of historic foodways at Colonial Williamsburg and one of the panelists, asked how many in the crowd were brewing historic styles of beer. Scores of hands went up.

“That’s more than I had hoped for,” Clark said.

Much of the discussion revolved around creating standards for research and for sharing historical resources, possibly through the Brewers Association.

For more information about the Smithsonian Food History projects, visit

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Adventures and misadventures with beer and food

You don’t mind if I ramble, do you?

It’s been kind of a rambling week. Plus, my brain wants to go outside and play—it’s a crystalline day of robin’s-egg skies and golden sunshine.

Now that I think about it, the week does seem to have a theme. Always, there’s beer, but food played in a jumbo portion of activities and accidents.

The accident occurred after a toothsome time in Harrisonburg Wednesday evening. Adam Shifflett, co-founder of Brothers Craft Brewing, hosted a “Flights and Bites” six-course beer dinner featuring the culinary creativity of the chefs at Joshua Wilton House and Local Chop and Grill House. I had taken meticulous notes as Shifflett explained the beers and the chefs described the food. The next morning, however, I discovered that my dog had eaten my notes. Actually, if it was any critter, it was my cat, Bob, who lately has been wearing a mischievous grin that I don’t trust. Anyway, my notes had vanished.2016-04-20 18.21.51

But I do remember some high points (they were all high points, actually), beginning with a tart saison paired with Virginia blue crab salad with smoked salt dressing on Challah slider rolls. Yummy, since crab is one of my favorite edibles. The saison was almost too edgy for the subtleties of the crab salad, but the consensus at our table (I shared space with Annie Tobey, who needs no introduction, and two couples out for an evening of culinary exploration) was 12 thumbs up.

Subsequent courses featured a twice-cooked lamb bacon dish paired with Brothers’ Brown Out brown ale, smoked sausage taco with guajillo peppers served with Scarlet Empire imperial red ale, and, to finish the evening, charred mushroom stuffed with roasted chilies and a mole sauce using Resolute, which was the paired beer as well. Resolute is the Brothers’ stand-in-line-for imperial Russia2016-04-20 18.39.37n stout aged in bourbon barrels. This final course earned the highest praise from our dinner mates, which surprised me because Resolute is an exquisitely complex and demanding beer at 13.5 percent ABV. Kudos to all concerned.

Friday afternoon, I got in another rambling mood and headed the Wrangler to Old Bust Head Brewing Company outside Warrenton. One of my RVA beer buddies, Shannon Ely, serves as a beer ambassador for the brand, and I was eager to visit a place whose brews I have enjoyed.

Chris (right) and I seem to run into each other at strange times, including Starr Hill as well as Old Bust Head (photo courtesy of Daddy G's Rockin' Salsa)

Chris Galiffa and I seem to run into each other at strange times and places, including Starr Hill as well as Old Bust Head (photo courtesy of Daddy G’s Rockin’ Salsa)

Well, low and behold, I walk in and my good friend Chris Galiffa, founder of Daddy G’s Rockin’ Salsa, is at the bar sampling a flight of brews. Chris and I have this strange cosmic thing going on where we bump into each other, completely out of the blue, at strange places (well, usually breweries). He is a dear fellow, and we always yack about beer, his salsa, mutual friends and music. He is indeed a rockin’ guy; he and David Hunter, founder of Fans of Virginia Craft Breweries, have been belting out great tunes as the Fredds for years.

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Aslin Beer Company draws a crowd on a Friday afternoon in Herndon. Photo by Lee Graves

I put together a mixed tape of Old Bust Head brews (if you have the English Style Pale Ale, let it warm up some—it brings out the wonderful bready character of the malt and the earthiness of the British Goldings and Fuggle hops) and headed for Aslin Beer Company in Herndon. While Old Bust Head created a feeling of space with long picnic tables and a capacious bar, Aslin was tucked in a tight warehouse space and had the chummy, elbow-to-elbow feel of your favorite semi-urban watering hole.

Though the brewery has only a two-barrel system and is not yet distributing, Aslin has created considerable buzz with imperial IPAs such as Master of Karate and Dunley Place (markedly different hop profiles in each) plus a surprisingly tawny saison called Animal (farm)House. I also sampled Deceiver, an imperial stout rich with silky chocolate and coffee notes, and their Lemon Strawberry Kölsch, which was refreshing but didn’t have the finish or depth of the others.

Cody and Jenn Specketer. Photo by Lee Graves

Cody and Jenn Specketer. Photo by Lee Graves

Now, the food part of Aslin comes through some mutual friends—Cody and Jenn Specketer, whose travels to Richmond were documented recently on their Bites, Barrels and Brews blog. The site describes two food adventures: one infusing Aslin’s Hoppy Brown Ale into what they deemed “the asshole of all baked goods”—the pumpkin roll; the other using Mind the Hop IPA for a fish-and-chips meal.

The folks at Aslin were gracious and spent time explaining their brews, the brewhouse and just chatting. Jeff Scott in particular was a welcome face. He had at one time worked at the same company with my son-in-law, Don Madden, and now is Aslin’s self-described “beer slinger/ambassador.” A more personable minister of beer could hardly be imagined.

I’m eager to return to Aslin and hope to swing by there this coming weekend, when another of my favorite NoVa breweries, Ocelot Brewing Company in Sterling, will celebrate its first anniversary. Their imperial IPAs linger in my memory from a previous visit.

To put a bow on this ramble-athon, I must confess that any and all of my writings concerning food must be taken with a grain of pepper. In the poker game of life, the Great Dealer in the Sky gave me four aces—a great family, awesome friends, a love of music and a talent for writing. But I got a two of clubs in one regard: foodiness. My diet is monkishly mundane, my culinary skills are childishly simplistic and my palate is frustratingly unsophisticated.

If you ever want a recipe for stovetop popcorn, an awesome PB&J sandwich or French toast, give me a shoot (beer pairings included). Otherwise, I have to wait for the Great Dealer to say “Deuces wild!” before I can speak with any authority or comfort about food.

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The Veil raising the beer bar; Legend waving its flag

I’ve been away for a while, but now I’m back.

It’s not that I haven’t been busy (don’t you love double negatives?). And it’s not that there haven’t been exciting things going on (a double double!!).

This coming weekend, for example, promises to be a thrill-fest. The opening of The Veil on Roseneath Road will raise the bar—and the roof—on Richmond brewing with its grand opening. On the other side of the James River, Legend Brewing Company will celebrate its 22nd anniversary.

The Veil on Roseneath Road is hold its grand opening Saturday, April 16. Photo by Lee Graves

The Veil on Roseneath Road is holding its grand opening Saturday, April 16. Photo by Lee Graves

Dave Michelow, co-owner of The Veil, was gracious enough to give me and two other beer explorers—Jenn and Cody Specketer—a tour of The Veil’s tasting room and brewery. (Jenn writes a must-read beer-and-food blog at She is my new best friend because she loves and writes about peanut butter.)

The tasting room—as well as the beers, the brewing system and much more at The Veil—owes its concept to Matt Tarpey, head brewer. His résumé is an eye-grabber—volunteering at O’Connor in Norfolk, cutting his brewing teeth at Portsmouth Brewery in New Hampshire, working brewing shifts at The Alchemist in Vermont (home of Heady Topper double IPA), brewing at Hill Farmstead in Vermont, then interning with Jean Van Roy at the renowned Cantillon Brewery in Brussels.

Tarpey in brewery

Head brewer Matt Tarpey is the creative force behind the beers and the atmosphere at The Veil. Photo by Lee Graves

All that has inspired Tarpey’s creative vision at The Veil. The tasting room has a hip gray-black light-dark thing going. The walls are faux-concrete; the bar is real concrete. Marquee-style lights burn the brewery’s name into the ambience. Long black tables and seats welcome imbibers. Trophies of horned critters stare blankly onto Scott’s Addition. And in one corner, a pink-eyed albino doe looks cute enough to pet, but do not—repeat, DO NOT—touch the doe.

This albino doe is one of the attractions in The Veil's tasting room. Photo by Lee Graves

This albino doe is one of the attractions in The Veil’s tasting room. Photo by Lee Graves

The tasting room eventually will have 16 taps, but opening day will feature just four beers: Master Shredder, a wheat India Pale Ale with refreshing citrus notes; Sleeping Forever, a 13 percent ABV imperial stout that’s as smooth as albino doe fur (no, I didn’t touch it); Crucial Taunt, a double IPA with some hop wallop; and Dull Fangs, an IPA with grapefruit.  Hornswoggler, a chocolate milk stout, is in the works but won’t be available on opening day, Michelow said. A limited number of four-packs will be sold.

With scant days to go before opening the doors to the public, Tarpey was busy Friday tending to brewing chores. But he did pause long enough to give the three of us samples of Master Shredder and Sleeping Forever. I won’t say anything more other than opening day will not be a disappointment for beer aficionados.

The truly unique element of The Veil is its rooftop coolship (or koelschip, if you’re Flemish) and use of wild, airborne yeast to ferment beer. This technique harkens to ancient times, when yeast wasn’t fully understood, and is most commonly associated with the lambics of Belgium. Producing these tart, dry, funky, complex beers takes years of conditioning and, with gueze, blending to produce the desired range of flavors. Plus, special equipment is needed.


Cody and Jenn Specketer (from left) talk with Dave Michelow in the rooftop coolship area of The Veil. Photo by Lee Graves

On the roof of The Veil, Michelow showed us the wood-paneled room where wort is pumped into a two-foot deep, 15-barrel stainless steel tank. It comes in hot and cools overnight, with windows open to let in all the microflora and bacteria that Richmond can feed it. When it has cooled to the proper temperature, it goes into barrels for aging.

The Veil is the only brewery in Virginia to tackle this challenging style in such fashion. Tarpey says that out of respect he won’t call them lambics.

And they will represent a small fraction of The Veil’s overall production.

Preparations in The Veil’s tasting room were in full swing last week. The brewery’s logo was hand-painted on the far wooden screen. Photo by Lee Graves.

To that end, Michelow says The Veil anticipates brewing 2,500 to 3,000 barrels the first year and 5,000 to 6,000 annually within five years (one barrel equals 31.5 U.S. gallons). A three-barrel pilot system will supply one-offs and test batches. Reverie Distribution will handle getting the beers to retail outlets.

Don’t be surprised to find these nuanced beers in cans. And you may certainly ask where the name “Crucial Taunt” comes from (hint—Wayne’s World, Wayne’s World).

But whatever you do, don’t pet the doe.

You can, however, get pretty much the best view of Richmond’s skyline from the deck at Legend. Who would’ve thought that after tapping the first keg in 1994, Legend would be waving its freak flag high as Central Virginia’s oldest craft brewery. Don’t let its age fool you. Legend Brown still rocks, and the brewers (take a bow, gang) have created new concoctions to answer the beer-loving crowd’s question of “What have you done for me lately?” The Urban Legend Series, for one, with mighty brews such as Gorilla Train Coffee Stout.

Saturday’s party includes live music and more. Check out the Facebook page for details. Check out The Veil’s Facebook page at


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Fär Göhn–a neighborly place for craft beer

Fär Göhn brewery in Culpeper has been open less than a year, but as I enter I feel like I’m walking into a friend’s den rather than a fancy parlor. Wood paneling creates a warm glow, and a middle-age fellow with long hair greets me with a welcoming smile, as if saying, “C’mon in, you’re among friends.”

Far Gohn1

The building is more than a hundred years old and once housed a lumber mill, says Steve Gohn, the owner and the man behind the bar pulling taps on this Saturday afternoon. He wears a short-sleeve black T-shirt with the company logo. Motown music plays on a component stereo system sitting on a shelf above a rotary dial telephone; boxy speakers are nestled in the corners. The latest brewery offerings are spelled out in neatly handwritten notes on a blackboard.

The umlauts in the brewery’s name and some of the styles on tap—kölsch, altbier, hefeweizen, radler—pay homage to the area’s German influence. Other offerings—the IPAs, Scottish ale, two stouts and Coon’s Process Historical Pale Ale—show the influence of the current American craft boom.

Far Gohn

Brewery owner Steve Gohn started as a home brewer and has years of experience in food service. Photo by Lee Graves

“Every effort is made to produce beer true to the history of the style,” Gohn says on his website. “European styled beers use imported malts and hops wherever possible, and American styles use ingredients 100 percent produced in the USA.”

I sample Madden’s IPA, which is fragrant with the citrus-pine aroma of hops—and I notice a garland of hops draped over one of gleaming mugs lining the board. Another IPA, Sleeping Elefant, has more of an earthy flavor, and Gohn explains that it’s not his usual recipe as he had difficulty getting the usual hops. Still, both brews are tasty, and I follow the advice of the guy sitting next to me and get a sample of the Helleschwarz, a black IPA. The roasted coffee and chocolate notes of the malt balance the dry finish of the hops nicely.

A young man beside me greets Gohn familiarly, with a name and a number. Gohn deftly uses a long hooked stick to secure one of the scores of stainless steel tankards that belong to members of Fär Göhn’s mug club. Entry fee is $100, which gets you 20-ounce pours rather than 16 ounces, plus other benefits.

Fär Göhn is one of two breweries in Culpeper’s historic district that opened in 2015. Beer Hound Brewing Company is a mere 125 paces away on Culpeper Street. While Beer Hound has ventured into bottling and small-scale distribution, Gohn is content for his brewery to be destination-oriented.

“We don’t have a distributor, and we might never have a distributor,” he said in an article in the Culpeper Star Exponent. “We’re not looking to dominate the world. The only place you can get my beer is between these four walls.”

Gohn joined the 120-plus breweries in Virginia through a familiar route—as a homebrewer. He brings more than 14 years’ experience in the food service industry to the job, plus his wife, Shelby, provides support and a helping hand in the tasting room.

Though Fär Göhn is no sports bar, the owner’s love of pro football is apparent. On the day of my visit, the playoff-bound Redskins were a day away from ending the regular season with a game against the Dallas Cowboys. The chalkboard read “Skins/Cowboys @ 1 p.m. Cowboy fans welcome.” Apparently Gohn needed to clarify a quote in the local newspaper about being open on Sundays during football season.

“Only Redskins fans are allowed in,” he had joked. Even football rivalries take back seat to sharing good craft beer.

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Brandon Tolbert talks about a year to remember

Brandon Tolbert is surrounded by Star Wars characters.

The gleaming stainless steel tanks of The Answer Brewpub’s five-barrel system bear the names of Jabba the Hut, R2D2, C3PO and others.

So is it any wonder that The Force seems strong within him?

Brandon Tolbert of The Answer Brewpub hoists the Virginia Brewers Cup Best in Show trophy at the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest in Nelson County.

Brandon Tolbert of The Answer Brewpub hoists the Virginia Brewers Cup Best in Show trophy at the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest in Nelson County. Photo by Lee Graves

Quiet and unassuming, Tolbert doesn’t play the part of a Jedi knight. On a hot afternoon earlier this week, he was wearing rubber boots and protective gloves as he cleaned kegs and equipment. Water glistened on the blue floor as hip-hop pulsed from the speakers.

His beers, though, are a force to be reckoned with.

In his first year as a pro, he won gold in the 2013 Virginia Craft Brewers Cup competition with an aromatic, single-hopped beer that should have won a medal just for its name — Citra Ass Down.

That recipe still rocks. Dylan Brooks, who succeeded Tolbert as head brewer at Extra Billy’s Smokehouse and Brewery in Midlothian, won silver at this year’s cup competition for Citra Ass Down, one of three medals Brooks received.

Tolbert left Extra Billy’s in June 2014 to become head brewer at The Answer on West Broad Street, and an IPA named Larceny, also a single-hopped Citra brew, was awarded the gold Best in Show — the top prize in Virginia craft beer judging — at last month’s festival. It was the first time in the cup competition that the Best in Show gold went to a brewery other than Devils Backbone, which hosts the festival at its Basecamp brewpub in Nelson County.

Saturday, The Answer Brewpub marks its first anniversary. So given the dual occasions for celebration, I sat down with Tolbert to talk about the year, the trophy, the beer and life in general.


What was it like to stand up on that stage in Nelson County and hoist that trophy?

It was pretty cool. It was unexpected, so it wasn’t like I planned for anything, especially when they asked me to say something. I said ‘Thank you’ and that’s about all I said. Hoisting the trophy — that was cool. People don’t realize that trophy has some weight to it. You’re there holding it above your head and waiting for people to take pictures, and you get tired of hoisting it for a little while.

One other thing about winning the cup — we did all of that out of our small brewery. When Devils Backbone gets called to the stage for a medal, how many people go up? Like 12 or 15 people go up there. They have a team of people working on that. So when I go up, it’s just me. That’s it. I don’t have a team of people helping me out, sharing the load, doing the research. But this is really not a bad place to be — I’m not complaining about it.

Talk about the beer itself. Wasn’t Citra Ass Down the foundation for it?

It did start with Citra Ass Down, which is also strange that it won silver this year. I’m not taking anything away from Dylan, he still had to brew the beer. What’s different? I changed the grain bill a little bit. Actually, everything about it is different except it’s a Citra IPA. The grain bill has changed, I’m using a different yeast strain, I’m doing the fermentation a little different. Even the hopping is different from Citra Ass Down, as far as how much I add and when.

Photo by Lee Graves

Tolbert tends to the more mundane duties of brewing at The Answer Brewpub. Photo by Lee Graves

You have a reputation for IPAs. Do you find that limiting, in terms of brewing other styles of beer?

 To a certain extent, sure. I enjoy brewing them, though. I like doing it. But yes, I plan to brew other beers — a robust porter and an imperial stout. It’s not that the only thing I can brew is IPAs, it’s just that for this place it makes sense. I’ve certainly put a lot of time and effort into perfecting them. For this place and for Richmond, I think it does well.

Do you see Richmond as an IPA town, or do you see more diversity of styles?

 I think Richmonders want IPAs. I think just like everywhere else in the country, IPA is a desired style of beer [India Pale Ale is the No. 1 craft beer style in the U.S.]. If they’re looking for some kind of fresh IPAs that they can drink, why can’t Richmond provide that to people who live here? It’s something I’ve always enjoyed drinking and brewing. I’ve seen success with that style because that’s what I like to drink. It’s the same thing with the porter and the imperial stout that I’m trying to do. I would hope that they would be really great to start with, but that’s probably not the case. I’ll just go back to the drawing board and do the same thing I’ve done with the IPAs — get a grasp on what works in this batch and what doesn’t, and tweak it from there.

In that process, do you involve other people, other palates to bounce stuff off? Like An [Bui, owner of The Answer] or Jeremy [Wirtes, brewer at Triple Crossing Brewing Co.] or Tony [Ammendolia, owner of the Original Gravity homebrew store and Final Gravity Brewing Co., both on Lakeside Avenue]?

Sure — everybody. I rely on them a lot because I know how things taste for me, and I’m a pretty tough critic on myself. I try to be very honest with myself when it comes to that. Not everything I make is going to be great. It can’t happen. I learn all the time, so I can’t be at a point where I’m not learning. Even people who make great beers consistently like to think they have that same thing going on — they’re always trying to make things better. I haven’t come across a beer yet that, like, ‘Oh, this is the best it’s going to get.’ You can change things, and you have to determine whether or not those changes were positive or negative. More times than not you’ll find that you can make positive changes in things that you want to keep over time.

The judges have obviously given your beers thumbs up. How have you found the reception here at The Answer?

People really seem to like what we’re doing here. People say, ‘Oh, all you brew is IPAs!’ And, well, we sell them. People have to realize we’re still a business, and we still have to make money. Right now, the IPAs are making money for us. I’ve set out to do exactly what I said I was going to do from the start here, which is that we were going to focus on IPAs to begin with and get that down. I think I’ve achieved that. Not only personally do I feel I’ve achieved that, but we’ve gotten recognition with the Craft Brewers Cup. And people take the crowlers and send them to people out of town. People out of town are liking them and asking to send more. I don’t know those people, and they don’t know me — all they know is the beer in front of them, and they ask for more.

Any plans for collaborations coming up?

Sure! Doing one tomorrow, with Nick [Danger Walthall] from Hardywood. It’s going to be an American Pale Ale, sessionable, around 5 percent. We’re going to do something a bit different with the malt bill by using a little oats. It’s going to be brewed with Citra and Amarillo hops. We just want it to be easy to drink but still have that pop with the aroma. We’re going for a little more of a mouthfeel to it — not as dry but it won’t be sweet.

When you were first hired at The Answer, there was a period where you weren’t able to brew. How’d that feel?

I didn’t brew for 10 months. It was like being in limbo. I mean, you always stay busy. There are always things to do here — I painted practically the entire place. Building bars, getting the brewery set up, just tons of stuff to do. But yeah, you miss brewing; you miss doing what you’re supposed to do. That first batch felt great. But then all the stuff in the brewery starts, and I can’t even get out of [the brewhouse] now. Not that I want to, it’s just that now it’s my job.

It’s cool that the brewing tanks all are named after Star Wars characters. Are you a big Star Wars fan?

Not really. I just did it so there would be a theme, and so the tanks wouldn’t be just like No. 1 and No. 2. Plus there are plenty of Star Wars names if we start adding tanks.

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Brewery site a stone’s throw from history hotspots

How things change in a year. The announcement of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s $28 million expansion in Goochland County this week made me think back to this time last year, when Stone had yet to announce that Richmond would be the site for its own expansion. I thought I’d share this column I wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch while I was doing the regular gig to lend a bit of perspective to RVA’s place in beer history. We live in a golden era for brewing, but these latest developments are links in a chain extending back centuries.

Published Aug. 13, 2014

If Stone Brewing Co. comes to Richmond, it will mark a new chapter in RVA history, particularly for beer lovers.

Serendipitously, there’s history aplenty — beer history — already serving as bookends to the brewery’s proposed site. A more fitting use of the land can hardly be imagined, for it would link the founding of our city — and our nation’s greatest struggle — to the indelible tale of beer, a story that connects us to the dawn of civilization.

The California-based brewery is eyeing a location on 12.5 acres just east of downtown Richmond. Williamsburg Avenue and Nicholson Street serve as boundaries, with Gillies Creek Park just across the way.

If Stone does indeed build there, folks could one day enjoy a pint of Arrogant Bastard Ale (I’m drinking one as I write this) and savor what I will call the Tale of Two Hills. By looking east from the Stone beer garden, they could view Fulton Hill rising above the houses along Williamsburg Road. If they dialed back their vision to 1607, they would see a Powhatan village there; and if they fine-tuned that vision to a particular day in late May, they would see a party of Englishmen arriving in a boat, just days after landing at Jamestown.

The group included captains John Smith and Christopher Newport. Their mission was to find a route to the South Sea, where untold riches awaited. Among their provisions — according to Gabriel Archer, who chronicled the trip — were “beere, Aquavitae [brandy] and sack [wine].” These libations were intended to break the ice between the visitors and the Powhatans, for relations were ticklish at best.

So they had a party. Seriously. With dancing and all kinds of carrying on. They partied a little too hard, though, for the combination of different drinks left Parahunt, son of the powerful Chief Powhatan, feeling “very sick,” according to Archer. Newport assured Parahunt he would feel better after sleeping it off. When this proved true, Newport achieved status as a medicine man and was bombarded with questions about other maladies.

On the day after the party — May 24, 1607, according to a monument by the city’s Canal Walk — the Englishmen proceeded to the falls of the James River and planted a cross in honor of King James I.

There’s more to the story than I can tell here. Suffice it to say that beer was part of Richmond’s founding, and it was a force for good.

Now, let’s return to that beer garden we hope Stone will build. By looking over the other shoulder, folks might spy Chimborazo Hill and the National Park Service site dedicated to the hospital that stood there during the Civil War. Chimborazo Hospital was one of the largest, most sophisticated and most efficient facilities of its kind in the Confederacy. Over the course of 3½ years, it treated roughly 75,000 sick and wounded people, more than any other hospital, North or South.

A brewery had been built nearby. Details are sketchy, but according to the research I’ve done for my upcoming book (subtle product placement), a man named John Goodman established a lager brewery in 1859. Accounts identify its location as Rocketts, which extended west of today’s Rocketts Landing.

Lager was new to Richmond in those days, and Goodman’s brews were part of a taste sensation. An account in The Richmond Dispatch of Jan. 30, 1860, raved about “the superiority of the beer over that of any other brewery known to the imbibers of that peculiar beverage.”

As the hospital came into use, the nearby brewery, capable of producing 400 kegs at a time, had a medical application, for “alcohol in various forms probably was the most popular drug of the times,” according to one news account. The brewery did not survive, and cellars used to the store the beer were abandoned and sealed.

Now, regarding that potential beer garden. I know profits, growth and product weigh more heavily than history in the formula for business success. But considering that Richmond has a thriving beer presence — a dozen breweries pouring in the extended metro area — and considering the potential for accessing a centrally located market, wouldn’t it be nice to think of the Stone folks looking at Richmond and feeling the pull of destiny as part of beer’s past as well as its future?

To that end, there’s no place like Richmond, just as there’s no place like Stone.

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Chris Squire: A Tribute and a Memory

Reid and I were totally star-struck.

There they were, two members of Yes sitting an arm’s length away in a hotel lounge in Hampton, and Reid and I were speechless. Didn’t ask for autographs. Didn’t tell them how much we loved their music.

The Rickenbacker bass I bought in 1971 is still going strong.

The Rickenbacker bass I bought in 1971 is still going strong.

More than loved, actually, because we spent hours and hours and hours learning the licks and nuances of songs like “Roundabout” and “Close to the Edge.” The technical demands of the time signatures, chords and riffs put musical meat on our bones.

More than that, the bass playing of Chris Squire, Yes’ co-founder, had changed my musical world. I grew up with classical training, but I cut my rock teeth on Paul McCartney, whose lyrical bass lines undergirded the Beatles’ music. I truly knew I wanted to be a bassist, however, when I heard John Entwistle’s playing on The Who’s “My Generation.” Good Golly! A bass solo like a rocket going from one ear to another in your head! I want that!

John Paul Jones. Noel Redding. Jack Bruce. Jack Cassidy. All great, and I learned from them all. But when Reid, my younger brother, guitarist extraordinaire and musical soul mate, brought home “The Yes Album” in the summer of 1971, something clicked. The bass sound — full, round, deep, clean, crisp, bright, sustained — and the playing — delicate at times, hard and heavy at others — defined something that had existed unformed in my head. Like someone articulating perfectly something you had always wanted to say.

We saw Yes that fall at University Hall at William and Mary. Yes was on its “university tour,” playing to college crowds hip enough to get progressive rock. Not that Yes invented it — King Crimson and others had a slight lead on them — but this was heady, intelligent stuff. We had fifth row seats. (Laughable in hindsight, Yes was the opening band for Ten Years After, of Woodstock fame.) It was a powerful show, satisfying in every way. “Close to the Edge” had just been released, but as I recall much of their set was from “Fragile,” (that’s the one with their most identifiable hit, “Roundabout”). Steve Howe on guitar, Jon Anderson on lead vocals, Bill Bruford on drums, a very young Rick Wakeman on keyboards and Squire on bass. What a huge sound.

At the heart of that sound was Squire’s bass. He played a Rickenbacker with Rotosound round-wound strings (which were developed by John Entwistle). The sustain and clarity were unlike anything I’d heard. That winter, I bought a Rickenbacker. The night I brought it home I stayed up so late playing it that I fell asleep with the bass lying across my stomach.

We saw Yes again at Baltimore Civic Center on their “Tales From Topographic Oceans” tour, and by the time the band came to Hampton in 1977, their lineup had changed. Drummer Alan White, not Bruford, was sitting with Squire just a few feet from us in that hotel lounge. It was several hours before their show at the Hampton Coliseum, and they were chilling. Nursing a couple of beers. Graciously accommodating fans coming up and saying the silly things fans say, like “I’m your biggest fan!”

Reid and I, however, were really their biggest fans. We’d begun the day with steely resolve. The plan was to go to Hampton early in the day, track down where Yes was staying and, by jiminy, meet up and hang out with whomever we could find in the group. Steve Howe was tops on Reid’s list; Squire on mine.

We went to a Hampton music store and asked if anyone knew where Yes was staying. Nobody was sure but one guy tossed out some possibilities. We went to one hotel. No luck. At the second, we decided to sit for a bit. Sure enough, Squire and White ambled in wearing their rock star clothes (they were obviously from another planet) and plunked down at the table right next to us.

You never know how you’re going to react in intense, life-defining situations — in combat, for example. Or on a first date. Or when your rock idols are sitting close enough to share a beer.

In retrospect, we certainly should have at least bought them a beer. That’s what Reid said when we were reminiscing last week about the episode. That’s when we got the news that Chris Squire died from erythroid leukemia. He was 67.

I’ll be 67 in November. I still have that Rickenbacker bass. I still can play that signature bass lick in “Roundabout.” I still get chills listening to Yes’ best moments — the closing chorus to “Close to the Edge,” for one. And I still feel Squire’s presence and influence in my playing.

Reid and I look back on that episode and laugh now. I think Squire would have chuckled as well. I couldn’t say it then, so I’ll say it now.

We were your biggest fans.

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Garden Grove brewery ready to blossom

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.

Mike Brandt (left) and Ryan Mitchell are opening Garden Grove Brewing Co. in Carytown. Photo by Lee Graves

Mike Brandt (left) and Ryan Mitchell are opening Garden Grove Brewing Co. in Carytown. Photo by Lee Graves

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.”

Some particulars

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.


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