Top craft beer award has special meaning for James River

Redemption comes in many forms.

For Blake Sherman and others at James River Brewery, it came Tuesday in the form of perhaps the world’s ugliest trophy.

But trophies are symbols of achievement, and for the Scottsville gang, the Best of Show award at the 2016 Virginia Craft Beer Cup competition was a thing of beauty, signifying far more than brewing one great beer. It was about turning an operation that initially suffered bumps and a bad reputation into a top-drawer destination for beer lovers.

Blake Sherman (from left), Shannon Brown and Carlean Stevens celebrate with the Best of Show trophy. Photo by Lee Graves

Blake Sherman (from left), Shannon Brown and Carlean Stevens celebrate with the Best of Show trophy. Photo by Lee Graves

“I’m completely shocked,” said Sherman, head brewer, at the ceremony at Westrock in downtown Richmond. “I’m on cloud nine. We didn’t expect this. We came in here hoping for the best, and I’m just amazed that this even happened.”

“We’ve had some tough times and overcome some reputation issues. To have this is huge—huge!” he said, flanked by two James River stalwarts—Shannon Brown and Carlean Stevens. He held the bulky metal trophy, made from parts of a beer keg joined in Frankenstein fashion.

The winning beer was River Runner ESB. The initials stand for English Special Bitter, a style with British roots and a reputation for drinkability, medium hop bitterness and a caramelly sweetness from the malt. This version sports 5.6 percent alcohol by volume and 12 International Bitterness Units. If you want a taste, the brewery will be pouring River Runner at the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest Saturday at Devils Backbone Basecamp Brewup & Meadows near Wintergreen.

Sherman credited John Bryce, formerly with Old Dominion and Starr Hill breweries and one of Virginia’s longtime brewing gurus, with the recipe for River Runner. Bryce and Jacque Landry, former brewer at South Street Brewery and currently at the soon-to-open Basic City Brewing Co. in Waynesboro, have been pivotal influences in turning James River around.

The brewery opened in September 2012 with a one-barrel pilot system using plastic fermenters. That quickly proved unequal to the task in terms of both volume and consistency. The search for a bigger and better setup took the owners to China, where they purchased a 20-barrel system.

James River Brewery was quick to post notice of its award at the Scottsville tasting room. Photo by Lee Graves

James River Brewery was quick to post notice of its award at the Scottsville tasting room. Photo by Lee Graves

Unfortunately, installing it and getting it running proved elusive. It wasn’t until Bryce and Landry came on the scene with their extensive professional experience that James River hit its stride.

Now it takes some pretty good legs to keep up with the pace set by craft brewers in Virginia. The competition has grown from 35 beers entered by 24 breweries in 2012 to 378 beers entered by 83 breweries in 2016. It’s one of the few competitions where all the judges—37 in this case—are certified according to Beer Judge Certification Program standards, said Bill Butcher, founder of Port City Brewing Co. in Alexandria.

James River’s Best of Show wasn’t the only award to raise eyebrows. Tony Ammendolia’s Final Gravity Brewing Co., a sister to his Original Gravity homebrewing supply store on Lakeside Avenue in Richmond, came away with four awards in his first year of competition. Two of those were in the Double IPA category, bronze for The Message and gold for Venus Rising.

“I’m totally thrilled,” Ammendolia said. “I had high hopes for the stout and the amber ale, but I had no expectations for any of the IPAs, going up against some of the guys like The Answer.” Larceny, an IPA brewed by Brandon Tolbert at The Answer in Richmond, won the 2015 Best of Show.

Long-time observers also noted that the awards were spread out among numerous breweries throughout the state. Silver Best of Show went to Old Bust Head Brewing Co. in Warrenton for its Oktoberfest; bronze went to Backroom Brewery in Middletown for its Lemon Basil Wheat Beer. All in all, more than 50 breweries won medals, representing areas of the state ranging from Virginia Beach to Harrisonburg, from Alexandria to Abingdon.

It wasn’t so long ago that Devils Backbone Brewing Company dominated the competition. In 2014, for example, it swept all three Best of Show medals. With the announcement in April that it was being acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev, however, it no longer qualified as a craft brewery under the definition established by the Brewers Association.

Traditionally, the awards ceremony has been held at the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest, which has been at Devils Backbone since its inception. Brett Vassey, president and CEO of the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild, said moving it to Westrock was partially because so many breweries now enter the competition.

“Also, quite frankly, what we thought was important was to be able to separate the events.” Vassey said. “This was the year to do it. We wanted to be able to set a precedent of having it at an independent location and having this stand on its own two feet.”

“We were concerned that if we separated the two events that it would diminish one or both,” Vassey said. “It’s turned out actually to expand both.”

Keeping the focus on small breweries is important, Vassey said. “I was amazed at how many brewers who have been in business less than a year got gold. That’s a great testament to the focus on quality.”

Evidence of a good event could be found in the many smiling faces that roamed the reception after the event. The space buzzed with chatter and congratulations, for newcomers like Ammendolia to veterans such as Tom Martin, whose Legend Brewing Co. won gold for a bourbon-barrel aged version of the iconic Legend Brown Ale, which won bronze.

Shannon Ely, sales representative for Old Bust Head, was one of those glowing after that brewery received the silver Best in Show. “This is wonderful. We’re in with a great bunch of breweries, so this means a lot.”

The full list of winners at the 2016 Virginia Craft Beer Cup follows:

Best of Show: James River Brewery, first for River Runner ESB; Old Bust Head Brewing Co., second, Oktoberfest; Backroom Brewery, third, Lemon Basil Wheat Beer.

Light American Beer: Beer Hound Brewery, first for Olde Yella; Wolf Hills Brewing Co., second, Carry on Wheatward Sun; Beer Hound Brewery, third, Teddy.

Czech Lager: Port City Brewing Co., first for Downright Pilsner; Lost Rhino Brewing Co., second, Rhino Chasers Pilsner; Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery, third, Pony Pasture Pilsner.

Munich Lager: Fair Winds Brewing Co., first for Hells Navigator; Three Notch’d Brewing Co., second, Brew Betties Maibock; South Street Brewery, third, My Personal Helles.

Kolsch: Mad Fox Brewing Co., first for Kolsch Ale; Ornery Beer Co., second, Kolsch; Bull and Bones Brewhaus, third, Kolsch.

German Pils and International Lager: Sunken City Brewing Co., first for Dam Lager; Back Bay Brewing Co., second, Gringo; Escutcheon Brewing Co., third for John Riggins’ 4th and 1 Pilsner.

Marzen and Vienna Lager: Old Bust Head Brewing Co., first for Oktoberfest; Starr Hill Brewery, second, Jomo; Caboose Brewing Co., third, Crossroads Vienna Lager.

German Wheat Beer: Lost Rhino Brewing Co., first for Final Glide HefeWeizen; Starr Hill Brewery, second, The Love; River Company Brewery, third, Farmhouse Hefeweizen.

British Bitter: James River Brewery, first for River Runner ESB; Lake Anne Brew House, second, Lord Fairfax English Pale Ale; Port City Brewing Co., third, Monumental IPA.

Old Ale and Wee Heavy: Backroom Brewery, first for The Ferminator; Heritage Brewing Co., second, King’s Mountain; Redbeard Brewing Co., third, 221B Baker Brown.

Darker European Beer: Ardent Craft Ales, first for Schwarzbier; Big Ugly Brewing Co., second, Ghost Rider Porter; Bull and Bones Brewhaus, third, Appalachia Alt.

British Dark Ale: Pleasure House Brewing, first for No Waves; Midnight Brewery, second, Not My Job; Three Notch’d Brewing Co., third, No Veto Brown Ale.

Irish Red Ale: Dirt Farm Brewing, first for Red Merl; Pale Fire Brewing Co., second, Red Molly; Capitol City Brewing Co., third, Irish Red Ale.

Irish Stout: Backroom Brewery, first for Oatmeal Stout: Final Gravity Brewing Co., second, Irish Goodbye; Old 690 Brewing Co., third, Old 690 Chocolate Milk Stout.

American Blonde and Brown Ale: Caboose Brewing Co., first for Caboose Brown Ale; Castleburg Brewery and Taproom, second, Bishop’s Brown Ale; Legend Brewing Co., third, Brown Ale.

American Pale Ale: Pro Re Nata, first for Old Trail Pale Ale; Three Notch’d Brewing Co., second, Ghost of the 43rd Pale Ale; Beltway Brewing Co., third, Rain or Shine.

American Amber Ale: Final Gravity Brewing Co., first for Fire Station 5; O’Connor Brewing Co., second, Red Nun Ale; Lake Anne Brew House, third, Reston Red.

American Dark Ale: Old Ox Brewery, first for Black Ox; Sunken City Brewing Co., second, The Columbian Coffee Stout; Port City Brewing Co., third, Porter.

American IPA: The Answer, first for Larceny; Fair Winds Brewing Co., second, Howling Gale IPA; Old Ox Brewery, third, Hoppy Place.

Specialty IPA: Sunken City Brewing Co., first for Red Clay IPA; Lost Rhino Brewing Co., second, Dawn Patrol Session IPA; Parkway Brewing Co., third, Factory Girl Session IPA.

Double IPA: Final Gravity Brewing Co., first for Venus Rising; Pale Fire Brewing Co., second, Village Green; Final Gravity, third, The Message.

Strong Ale: Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery, first for Virginia Black Bear; Triple Crossing Brewing Co., second, Black Dolphin; Studio Brew, third, Czardust.

Belgian Blond and Saison: The Bold Mariner Brewing Co., first for Scurvy Dog; The Virginia Beer Co., second, Saison Tournante; Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, third, Singel.

Sour European Ale: Strangeways Brewing, first for Uberlin Berliner Weisse; Ornery Beer Co., second, Go Go Gose; Corcoran Brewing, third, Life Gose Round.

Belgian Wit, Pale Ale and Biere de Garde: Starr Hill Brewing Co., first for Sublime; Bull and Bones Brewhaus, second, Sun Lit Wit; Reaver Beach Brewing Co., third, Full Broadside.

Strong Belgian Ale: Apocalypse Ale Works, first for Brohead Fred; Garden Grove Brewing Co., second, Death; Chaos Mountain Brewing, third, Agents of Chaos.

Wild Yeast Specialty Beer: Triple Crossing Brewing Co., first for Brett Saison Anniversary Ale; Reaver Beach Brewing Co., second, Reaver’s Salvation; Reaver’s Beach, third, Reaver en Noir.

Fruit Beer: The Answer, first for Mami Cereza; Midnight Brewery, second, Watermelon Lime Kolsch; Big Ugly Brewing Co., third, Mango Rockers IPA.

Spice, Herb or Vegetable Beer: Backroom Brewery, first for Lemon Basil Wheat Beer; Beer Hound Brewery, second, Snots; Steam Bell Beer Works, third, Tiramisu Stout.

Specialty and Experimental Beers: Parkway Brewing Co., first for Floyd Fest Hi-Test; South Street Brewery, second, Peanut Butter Cup Soft-Serv; Fair Winds Brewing Co., third, Sirens Lure.

Smoked or Wood-Aged Beer: Legend Brewing Co., first for Bourbon Barrel Brown; Adventure Brewing Co., second, 2nd Anniversary Barleywine; Ardent Craft Ales, third, Bourbon Barrel-Aged Honey Ginger.

 

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Family support adds to Steam Bell’s appeal

Visiting with Brad Cooper and his family at Steam Bell Beer Works reminds me of an episode in my youth.

Two of my brothers and I were in a rock band while I was a student at William and Mary in the late 1960s. Music was our passion, and we were earnest if not talented players. The sounds of the day—what we now call classic rock—were fresh then, and we were smitten.

The handiwork of Tom Cooper, Brad Cooper's father, and others is apparent in the brewery's sign. Photo by Lee Graves

The handiwork of Tom Cooper, Brad Cooper’s father, and others is apparent in the brewery’s sign. Photo by Lee Graves

We faced one gig without an amp that had been stranded in Northern Virginia. My parents agreed to load the amp in the car and bring it to Williamsburg. They arrived with the rig in the trunk and stayed for our show. My mother had even made flowery bell-bottoms to wear so she could join in the fun.

That kind of family support and engagement is part of the story of Steam Bell Beer Works, which will hold its grand opening on Saturday, June 11, at the brewery in Chesterfield County. The beers, the furnishings, the planning, the marketing, the administrative duties, even the funding—all reflect involvement of family and friends to bring Brad’s dream to fruition.

Take the tables in the tasting room, for example. Tom Cooper, Brad’s dad, scavenged hundreds of pallets from Lowe’s and similar places. “We got them wherever we could find them,” Tom said, and the result is an assortment of unique, handcrafted tables that offer a woodsy welcome for patrons imbibing Steam Bell beers.

The Steam Bell Beer Works crew consists of (from left) Bryan Hicks, Jacob Morgan, Maggie Pearson, Brittany Cooper, Tom Cooper, Brad Cooper, Connie Cooper and Joey Johnson. Photo by Lee Graves

The Steam Bell Beer Works crew consists of (from left) Bryan Hicks, Jacob Morgan, Maggie Pearson (front), Brittany Cooper, Tom Cooper, Brad Cooper, Connie Cooper and Joey Johnson. Photo by Lee Graves

Those brews—ranging from a spicy, low-alcohol Belgian-style saison called The Grisette to a bold 9 percent milk stout called Tiramisu Stout made with coffee, vanilla beans and rum-soaked oat chips—have evolved from recipes that Brad brewed at—where else?—the family home in Chesterfield’s Donegal Forest. Connie, Brad’s mom, remembers one of those first batches. “It boiled over and made a big mess,” she recalled with a chuckle.

It took a bit of a mess for Steam Bell to be born. Brad, 28, had moved up through the ranks at a mining company to be in charge of its quality control for much of Virginia. He’d heard rumblings of layoffs and in 2014 got a phone call while at Goochland’s Field Days of the Past that he was jobless.

Ever since those first days of homebrewing when he was 21, he’d envisioned opening a brewery. So he sold his brand spanking new pickup truck and moved in with his parents, who were among those advising him that if he wanted to boldly go in a new direction, this was a time to do it. “Tom and I both were just on board with it,” Connie said. “We felt like he had that entrepreneurial spirit.”

He leased a 6,000-square-feet space in the Oak Lake Business Park off Genito Road near Southside Speedway. The area has about 100,000 residents within a five-mile radius, Brad said, and there’s a dearth of family-oriented places to imbibe adult beverages in a brewery setting. Chesterfield County’s only other brewing operation is the brewpub at Extra Billy’s Smokehouse and Brewery on Alverser Drive.

A private equity fund-raising campaign proved successful. “Most of it is from parents of friends I’ve had since I was in Boy Scouts,” Brad said. He’d mentioned his plans while at Sergio’s Pizza and caught the ear of Joey Johnson, a fellow homebrewer whose experience in beer service includes jobs at Corks & Kegs, Sergio’s and Brew Gastropub. Now Johnson is on board as second in command, mainly managing the taproom operation. “That will allow Brad to do what he does best, which is brew,” Johnson said.

Brad’s brewing is informed by stints at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery—where he started as a volunteer and worked up to an assistant brewer—and Old Dominion Mobile Canning. He’s received help from many sources, including getting equipment through Ardent Craft Ales.

The bulk of the brewing will be done on a 10-barrel system with 20-barrel tanks for fermentation and conditioning (one barrel equals 31 U.S. gallons). A 20-gallon pilot system is available for test brews and one-offs. The target for production is 1,500 barrels a year initially, and Steam Bell has signed on with Brown Distributing to get beers to market.

Unlike some breweries that hang their hats on the IPAs that dominate the craft beer scene, Steam Bell will focus on beers that are distinctive and diverse—saisons, sours, barrel-aged brews. “I originally didn’t even want to do an IPA,” Brad said. But he’s developed a floral, farmhouse approach with Time is Money IPA, which has a modest 50 IBUs and 6.3 percent alcohol by volume. It will be one of eight brews—including a bourbon-barrel aged wee heavy Scotch ale made in collaboration with the local MASH homebrew club—available at the grand opening (more taps will be online Sunday). Don’t confuse Steam Bell’s name with steam beer, the style trademarked and made famous by Anchor Brewing of San Francisco. The reference is to a piece of equipment used by coopers (get it?) to shape the staves of wood by using steam.

Brad is effusive about the Richmond beer community and the help he’s received to reach opening day. The support has made him feel, well, like family. “Everybody has been amazing. I don’t know how else to say it.”

Just don’t expect Connie to wear homemade bell-bottoms to the grand opening.

Check out the latest details about Steam Bell Beer Works and its grand opening at www.facebook.com/steambellbeer/?fref=ts

 

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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 http://s.si.edu/FoodHistory.

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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 www.bitesbarrelsandbrews.com. 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.

Coolship

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. www.facebook.com/events/968215616549202. Check out The Veil’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/theveilbrewing.

 

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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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