For a city so rich in history and tradition, it’s not so surprising Richmond, Virginia remained in the dark ages during the early stages of the craft beer movement. However, one bill quickly changed that. In the summer of 2012, a law passed in Richmond allowing breweries to finally serve customers pints in their tasting room, instead of the measly samples they had become accustomed to.
Since then, a flood of breweries has opened their doors in the capital city. Despite the growth, the city is nowhere near a point of saturation. Each brewery has developed their own complementary niche with the styles they offer, fitting together like pieces of a puzzle. Working together, local breweries have formed the Richmond Breweries United, helping to make Richmond a destination for beer enthusiasts everywhere.
Fifteen years ago, life-long friends Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh met up at Hardywood Park sheep station in Australia. At the end of each day, the two would wind down with a glass of the park owner’s amber ale. Little did they know that experience would forge their future. Ten years later, the farm’s owner gave Eric and Patrick permission to carry on the Hardywood name in the states. While they initially wanted to open their location farther south, they fell in love with Richmond’s independent restaurant scene, thinking many restaurants would be willing to take a chance on craft beer. To Patrick there was a sense of adventure in the city. He thought it was small enough to make an impact, but big enough to make a name for themselves with the brand. So, they opened Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond in 2011.
Over the last few years Hardywood has been at the forefront of the Richmond beer scene, pushing the boundaries with an array of styles, many of which use locally sourced ingredients. Patrick recalls the time a local came in with a huge piece of ginger he had been growing on his farm nearby. That experience would give birth to one of their most well-known beers, Gingerbread Stout (GBS). Be on the lookout in the next month for an announcement of what Hardywood plans to drop this December.
Located a mile from the only location in America where three trains cross at a single point sits a brewery owned by three friends looking to bring their love for the West Coast IPA to their hometown. Even though Triple Crossing has been pumping out a range of styles for locals since opening in 2012, the group likes to focus mainly on their hoppy treats, which are their personal favorites. While you can swing by their tasting room located in downtown Richmond to try some of their brews on-site, keep an eye out for the opening of their Fulton location, which will feature a rotating menu, both crowlers and growlers, and four-packs to take home with you. If hoppy beers aren’t your thing, Triple Crossing is currently working on starting a barrel program, featuring spontaneously fermented beers aged in wine barrels.
A lot has changed since An Bui first opened Richmond’s true craft beer bar back in 1995, a Vietnamese restaurant called Mekong. An says you would have been “hard pressed to find anything other than Sam Adams back then.” Nineteen years later, An opened the Answer Brewpub, connected to the restaurant that started it all with a goal to not only provide his own beers, but also showcase the beer Richmond has to offer. Despite operating on such a small system (5bbl), An has quickly made a name for himself, especially with his hoppy beers, which are offered on-site and in crowlers to take home.
However, one thing that makes the Answer Brewpub unique is the Andall, a system similar to the randall. Venture in to the back of the establishment to be greeted not only by a killer tap list, but the Andall menu, what An likes to call “The Art of Adjuncts.” This menu features 8-10 beers that An runs through his “Andall” system, which is similar to the Randall developed by Dogfish Head. But unlike the Randall, An runs his beer through a keg and then directly to the line. For those that aren’t looking to drink big beers, the Andall pumps out sours as well.
Perhaps the most well-known name coming out of the Richmond beer scene right now is The Veil Brewing Company. A little over two years ago, co-owner Dustin Durrance was making regular trips up to Vermont to score some of his favorite beers when he was connected with Matt Tarpey, who had worked at The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, and did an apprenticeship at Cantillon. The two quickly became friends through their shared love of great beer, and one day Dustin mentioned that if Matt was ever interested in opening a brewery in Richmond (Matt and his wife are from Virginia), it would be something he could make happen.
Once Matt was on board, Dustin and co-owner Dave Michelow went into brewery mode, and 18 months later, The Veil was open. Located in an industrial area of Richmond, The Veil has made a name for itself through its hoppy beers, extending the reach of the northeast IPA down the coast. It’s also home to one of the more eclectic tasting rooms you’ll see, sporting an industrial chic vibe, covered in concrete and punctuated with chandeliers, taxidermy, and a full glass mirror behind the bar.
For those visiting the brewery, The Veil offers several beers on tap for on-site consumption. While growlers are not currently an option, cans are released on Tuesdays, and if you’re lucky they’ll last a few days. For those of you looking to see how Matt’s experiences at Hill Farmstead and Cantillon will shape his spontaneous beers, you’re going to have to wait a few years. In the meantime though, swing by to enjoy a cold one; we promise you won’t be disappointed.
Opened in December 2012 by Jay Bayer and chef Adam Hall, Saison has created a location for visitors to not only grab an excellent meal or cocktail, but also, more importantly, a great beer. The 49-seat restaurant and bar located in Historic Jackson Ward offers an award-winning beverage program with 12 rotating draft lines that take seasonality and culinary pairing into consideration.
For those looking for something a little more casual, or something to take home, check out the attached market/cafe Saison Market, which is fully stocked with interesting and delicious beer. Everything on the shelves or in the cooler is available to go, but if you want to stay awhile, the market also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as espresso from their full service espresso bar. The owners of Saison are more than proud to be the neighborhood place to grab an early coffee and a late beer.
The Cask Café and Market has been serving locals with unique beers from around the country since the fall of 2013. While the Café serves wine and a select food menu that features local ingredients, their main focus is and has always been beer. Located just south of Carytown, also known as SoCA to the locals, Cask is the perfect setting for craft beer enthusiasts to grab a pint and hang-out. For those that are looking to grab some beers for the weekend, Cask was also one of the first bars in Richmond to offer visitors the option to take their beers home in growlers.
Jason Stein is a New York-based beer nerd. You can find more of his writing on NYC Beer Society.