UK beers rock, but IPAs from the USA punch my ticket

I’m feeling guilty.

But not too guilty.

Les Strachan, AKA Beer Buddy, and I have been in Scotland four days. We’ve been conscientious about trying local beers—or at least ales brewed in the home country.

We started with Skye Red from the Isle of Skye Brewing Company.

Les Strachan savors a glass of Skye Red in Arisaig, Scotland. Photo by Lee Graves

Les Strachan savors a glass of Skye Red in Arisaig, Scotland. Photo by Lee Graves

This seemed appropriate since we were nearly on the Isle of Skye. Arisaig, to be exact, which is a lovely little fishing village with a wicked little golf course that beat us up so badly that we did indeed need a beer. Several, in fact, factoring in that we were under the influence of jet lag after flying out of Dulles International Airport the day before.

Skye Red came to us in a bottle while we savored the waning sunlight of a rare blue sky in early September. At 4.2 percent alcohol by volume, it leaned more toward the sessionable side—typical of many British ales—than the beefy profile of some American craft counterparts. The brewery’s website says Skye Red is brewed with three kinds of malts (pale ale, crystal and roasted) milled on site, which is not atypical for many breweries. Challenger, Fuggle and Pioneer hops provide 15 IBUs and a modicum of hop aroma, more earthy than citrus or piney as with American styles. The Red was clean and highly drinkable, but in the end it left us wanting a bit more substance.

That’s when Les and I started realizing we were spoiled by American craft brewing. More specifically, we had become hop heads of the most addicted sort. We should be attending support groups—Hop Heads Anonmyous. Hop-Anon. On the 12-step program, the first step of which is to acknowledge being powerless over the seductive magic of hops.

That explains why I’m feeling guilty at the moment. Here in the Scottish town of Peebles, a few leagues south of Edinburgh, I discovered a pub that carries American craft beers. Not just any craft beers, but West Coast IPAs pumped with mouth-puckering IBUs.

It’s not that brewers in the UK are clueless about IPAs. After all, the Brits originated the style, renowned for its high-gravity, high-hop intensity that made it suitable for sea voyages from Liverpool or Burton to Calcutta or New Delhi. But let’s keep in mind that IPAs had disappeared from the face of the earth until American brewers—Fritz Maytag at Anchor and Bert Grant with Grant Ales—revived them and sent them on the path to becoming the predominant style in the United States.

Brewdog's Punk IPA was a finalist in the IPA category in this year's Scotland beer awards. Photo by Lee Graves

Brewdog’s Punk IPA was a finalist in the IPA category in this year’s Scottish beer awards. Photo by Lee Graves

In fact, British brewers are making some rewarding versions, including the Punk IPA from BrewDog that was my second beer of the trip. At 5.6 percent ABV and 45 IBUs (IBUs stands for International Bitterness Units), this Scottish brew uses six varieties of hops—Chinook, Ahtanum, Amarillo, Cascade, Simcoe and Nelson Sauvin—to create “our tribute to the classic IPAs of yesteryear.” I doubt if Nelson Sauvin, a New Zealand hop, was available when Hodgson and Burton breweries made the style popular in the 1800s, but BrewDog calls it “post modern,” which gives it a Clockwork Orange twist. Punk IPA was among the finalists this year in the first Scottish Beer Awards, as was another IPA I sampled—Pale Keith from Keith Brewery Ltd. I would have given Keith an award for the clever wording in its marketing. Example: “This strong and refreshing hop beer has American hops added at every stage of the brewing process. This makes it anything but bland—a bit like America in fact. But smaller.” It also should be noted that English IPAs are not the same beasts as American IPAs; the stylistic guidelines differ, according to the Beer Judge Certification Program. English versions generally are more moderate with hop profiles emphasizing earthy, grassy and/or floral characteristics.


Anyway, Les and I enjoyed several evenings of sampling cask ales—Caledonia, Belhaven, Strathaven, An Teallach, Glenfinnan and even a pale ale brewed on a nano-system at the Old Inn in Gairloch. All were in the sessionable category, meaning they were relatively low in alcohol to allow the imbiber to have a drinking “session” with minimal hangover and liver damage. Creamy, quaffable, satisfying but not challenging, these beers left us trembling for a hop fix.

Here in Peebles, I did some Googling and discovered that the Cross Keys pub offers Lagunitas IPA from sunny California. Plus the online beer menu sports Resin, a double IPA from Six Point Craft Ales in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Les enjoyed a pint of Strathaven poured by Rab Wallace, owner of The Bankfoot Inn. Photo by Lee Graves

Les enjoyed a pint of Strathaven 80-shilling Scottish ale poured by Rab Wallace, owner of The Bankfoot Inn in Perthshire. Photo by Lee Graves

I boogied through the evening mists to Cross Keys, a bustling bar in the town center, and ordered a bottle of Lagunitas IPA (Point of clarity–Lagunitas is now 50 percent owned by Heinekin, which puts it outside the craft brewery category as defined by the Brewers Association). At 51.5 IBUs and 6.2 ABV, it was a definite step in the right direction for my spoiled taste buds. It was the perfect accompaniment to a conversation that I struck up with a fellow at the next table, a gent who had spent 30 years in London before returning to his beloved Scotland, where he was intent on indulging his passion for fly fishing. Judging from the copper-hued brew in his pint glass, he was drinking one of the “real ales” that dominated the Cross Keys beer menu.

It wasn’t until I ordered Resin that I achieved true beer enlightenment. Named for the resins in the lupulin glands in hop plants that provide the acids and oils that give bitterness, flavor and aroma to beer, this brew rocked the casbah with 103 IBUs. That sounds off the charts—and to some palates, it probably is—but Six Point pushes the grain bill to balance the hop howitzer with malty sweetness. My accompanying meal was a smoked salmon, cream cheese and “rocket” bagel (“rocket” is an leafy vegetable with a slight bitter taste similar to arugula).

Hurl all the “American beer snob” invectives at me that you can muster. I deflect them by saying Les and I have not had a bad beer while in the U.K. Every one has been well made and well served, particularly those from the cask engines that require special attention. The Strathaven 80-shilling Scottish ale we drank at the Bankfoot Inn was particularly delicious. And you’d be hard pressed to find American breweries offering the same variety of milds that are common in many British pubs.

But when it comes to appreciating the skill of American brewers in certain styles—well, color me guilty.

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Governor hops on beer collaboration train

You’d have to use all your fingers and toes, teeth and nose—and maybe even your ears—to count all the collaborations among Virginia’s craft breweries.

None that I know of, however, has included the state’s governor. On Tuesday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe changed that by adding a couple of bags of hops

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe dumps hops into the collaboration imperial stout brewed at Stone Brewing Co. in Richmond. Photo by Lee Graves

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe dumps hops into the collaboration imperial stout brewed at Stone Brewing Co. in Richmond. Photo by Lee Graves

and some political pizzazz to an imperial stout that represents the efforts of three Richmond breweries—Hardywood Park, Ardent and Stone.

The last of those has been a game-changer in the RVA brewing scene. The extent and nature of that change has been much discussed since 2014, when Stone, a top-10 craft brewery based in Escondido, Calif., announced it would build its East Coast production facility in Richmond. Talk around town in the beer community at the time was mixed. Stone’s beers were held in unanimous high regard, but would the big dog overshadow the vibrancy of the local breweries?

Tuesday was testament to the contrary, and it was only the most recent evidence that Stone, brewers of some of the nation’s feistiest beers, embraces the concept of community in an industry that prides itself on cooperation and collaboration.

“Most business is a little bit more like a hockey game. You’re there to beat your opponent, and sometimes you are throwing elbows,” said Stone co-founder Greg Koch as he sat with McAuliffe and others around a conference room table at Stone’s RVA brewery.

State officials and representatives of Stone, Hardywood Park and Ardent craft breweries sample beers at Stone's RVA plant as part of the collaboration event. Photo by Lee Graves

State officials and representatives of Stone, Hardywood Park and Ardent craft breweries sample beers at Stone’s RVA plant as part of the collaboration event. Photo by Lee Graves

“I think of craft beer as more like a foot race—more about your personal best. Yeah, you are often egged on by the guy catching you over your shoulder—OK, I’m being spurred to perform a little bit better. But if somebody goes down, you lend them a hand. It’s not about beating up the other guy.”

Eric McKay, co-founder of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, said the idea for the collaboration blossomed over informal talks in various settings. “It was very organic,” he said. Patrick Murtaugh, Hardywood’s other founder, also was on hand for brew day, as were Tom Sullivan, co-founder of Ardent Craft Ales, and other members of the RVA brewing community. Stone’s contingent included co-founder and president Steve Wagner, COO Pat Tiernan and Peter Wiens, director of brewing operations for the East Coast.

Brewing an imperial stout requires a hefty and diverse grain bill, and "Give Me Stout" is no exception. Photo by Lee Graves

Brewing an imperial stout requires a hefty and diverse grain bill, and “Give Me Stout” is no exception. Photo by Lee Graves

The choice of beer styles—an “aggressively hopped” imperial stout named “Give me Stout or Give me Death”—reflects McAuliffe’s love of bold flavors (as every lover of history knows, the words play off Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech in 1775 at St. John’s Church in Richmond. But did you know that Patrick Henry also was a beer lover????? Further, did you know that Triple Crossing Brewing Co. in RVA has a robust porter named “Liberty or Death?” Hmmm???? Of course you knew!).

“When I drink a beer, I want to know I’m having a beer,” McAuliffe said. “As I say, go big or go home. That’s the same thing I want in my beers.”

The Stone collab’s recipe includes Virginia-grown blackberries and raspberries, plus barley malted at Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville. Todd Haymore, Virginia’s secretary of agriculture and forestry, remarked how the craft beer boom has been a boon to farmers around the commonwealth. Brewers take pride in using local ingredients, spurring cultivation of hops, barley and other agricultural products.

Greg Koch (right), co-founder and CEO of Stone Brewing Co., shares a sample of the imperial stout wort with (from left) Todd Haymore, Virginia secretary of agriculture and forestry; First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe; Peter Weins of Stone; and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. Photo by Lee Graves

Greg Koch (right), co-founder and CEO of Stone Brewing Co., shares a sample of the imperial stout wort with (from left) Todd Haymore, Virginia secretary of agriculture and forestry; First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe; Peter Weins of Stone; and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. Photo by Lee Graves

Tuesday’s event included a tour of Stone’s facility, an expansive 220,000-square-foot building in the east side of town that is projected to produce 100,000 barrels of beer during the first full year of production (one barrel equals 31 U.S. gallons). Bottles filing through the filling system provided a steady clinking; robotics moving packages of beer loomed like mechanical beasts; the bready aroma of beer-in-the-making laced the air.

Stone also is opening a brewery in Berlin, and Koch pulled out his cell phone to show McAuliffe photos of that facility. The second phase of Stone’s Richmond operation will include a restaurant and beer garden fronting the James River. If it’s anything like the Escondido layout, it will be another game changer for RVA.

I know some of you beer geeks are interested in more details about this beer, especially considering the life-or-death consequences of not drinking stout. McAuliffe’s contribution included Nugget hops for bittering; Belma hops also are being used for flavor and aroma. The grain bill consists of two-row barley malt, chocolate malt, Virginia Special Malt, oats, Special B, Carafa 3 and Golden Naked Oats. Alcohol by volume is expected to be 9.5 percent. Look for the beer to debut locally in September and be available at retailers in December.

“I will be very unhappy if we’re not in every tap in every bar in the United States,” McAuliffe joked.

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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


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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

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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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