by Billy Hallal
Raise a glass, Richmond: you’re America’s Beer City. The rapid expansion of breweries — more than 30 in the metro area mostly founded in the past decade — would be impressive enough, especially for a city of less than 230,000. That so many of them have received national recognition and awards proves RVA has earned its accolades.
Though Richmond’s brewery explosion is fairly new, beer and other forms of booze have been essential to the city since the start of the American experiment. George Washington knew it, winning an election by giving out cider and rum at the polls. Nineteenth-century industrialization brought a wave of German immigrants, along with their brewing knowledge and practices. Before long, the local beer scene looked promising enough that the son of David Yuengling left Pennsylvania to start a brewery in Virginia’s capital. Like many other American cities, Richmond’s brewing industry took a huge hit with Prohibition and things mostly remained stagnant for the next 50 years. Then SB 604 was passed in 2012 — and the floodgates opened.
To help narrow the field of the best Richmond breweries, we focused on locations within city limits. This city of breweries, with its indomitable arts and music scene, is walking firmly into the future of the New South.
The brewers of Hardywood are doing their part to save the earth, and they’re making blockbuster beers while doing it. Founded in 2011, Hardywood anticipated and helped pave the way for a craft beer resurgence in Richmond. In the process, it’s grown into the largest Virginia-owned brewery in the state, complete with a massive outdoor taproom offering bocce and concerts. Our love for the seasonal Gingerbread Stout is well-documented, and its Fresh Can Friday Releases bring new hazy IPAs and kettle sours to RVA each week.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: With a bottle drawing on old-school beer imagery, the Richmond Lager has become the brewery’s best-selling beer. Cascade hops give the lager a touch of citrus, and floor-malted barley provides a light sweetness. It’s golden, unfiltered, and perfectly approachable. Sometimes the basics are the best.
Named for a Richmond railroad crossing unique in the US, Triple Crossing understands the importance of presentation in craft beer. The brewery uses slow-pour faucets that create a pretty foam head and bring out the aroma of its beers. The bartenders are sticklers for using the proper glassware to showcase each style of beer. And what a diverse style list it is. Triple Crossing boasts rarities like Cinder, a German-style smoked rauchbier that deserves a wider audience, as well as complex barrel-aged barleywines and a lager program more diverse than most breweries of its size. And if you’re drinking at the Fulton location, save room for food — the Neapolitan-style pizza ovens are no joke.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: The Falcon Smash has nothing to do with any video game, but it’s delicious all the same. Built in the “smash beer” style of “one beer, one hop,” this year-round IPA comes in swinging with a big aroma and a 7-percent ABV. Falconers Flight hops and the expressive house yeast combine for a profile that’s tropical and piney, with a hint of orange marmalade. You’ll smash this smash.
Variety is the spice of life and beers at Ardent, which grew out of a homebrew collective in Church Hill, opening a commercial space in the hop heaven of Scott’s Addition in 2014. The rotating draft list is a beer geek’s delight, covering a variety of styles in creative ways. Perhaps you’re feeling a walloping 11.5% barrel-aged honey ginger beer, or maybe you’ll try the seasonal culture sour aged in red and white wine barrels. The brewery’s no slouch at events, either. The anniversary party in June shuts down the whole block, and the Swine & Brine fest in April pairs beer with the best of local pork, seafood, and Virginia oysters.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: We think it’d be a shame if you missed out on the Ardent Pilsner. Brewed only with ingredients sourced from Germany, the pils has the aroma of warm bread, a creamy head of foam, and a finish that’s clean and dry. We can’t guarantee it would pass Bavarian purity laws, but it would come pretty darn close.
Three Notch’d, named for the road taken by Revolutionary War hero Jack Jouett, started its life in Charlottesville. But the brewers made a point from the beginning to integrate themselves into the local scene. The cozy Scott’s Addition space serves mostly to highlight a series of weekly collaborations with Richmond musicians, restaurants, and businesses — and its this concerted approach that brings in customers from all walks of life. Take the Blood Orange, Sweat, and Gears, a gose produced as a post-workout beer with the RVA Bike MS branch. Or Soul Bliss, a blackberry and molasses porter created in partnership with The CapSoul Collective, an area craft beer magazine and podcast.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: An annually recurring collaboration comes from New Lions, a beloved band from Richmond’s music scene. The Blonde Stout backs off from the intense, malty sweetness of its darker cousins. It starts life as a pale ale. Then coffee from Rostov’s, lactose, and other stout staples turn it into something that’s thicker and sweeter, but ultimately more sessionable than your typical coffee-vanilla stout.
Eschewing the open-warehouse feel of many of its contemporaries, Garden Grove achieves a neighborhood bar vibe in the cozy Carytown district. There are three staples on tap: a lager, a pilsner, and a farmhouse saison. The rest is rotation and experimentation, including some intriguing hybrids. Take the ominously named Death, a Belgian quad aged in cabernet sauvignon barrels. Is it beer? Is it wine? All we know is it’s 10% and it makes us feel ready for karaoke. The Grove is also known for its ongoing, biweekly Dungeons & Dragons game, which brings plenty of people out on Tuesdays.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: The Give Em Helles Lager, brewed with organic barley, makes a great companion to the brewery’s pilsner, but it’s a star in its own right. It’s more on the malty side than its Czech cousin, a little sweeter, and a little more floral.
The Veil is a brewery of mad (but chill) scientists in complete control of their creations. Rising to national acclaim very quickly after opening in 2016, Veil executes beers that sounded like gimmicks — Oreo stouts and an ale made with fried chicken — with the utmost seriousness. You’ll certainly find on-trend hazies in the post-industrial cool of the Veil’s taphouse, but you’ll also find a diverse and constantly rotating array of styles like Tasmanian IPAs and spontaneously fermented beers. The recent addition of Funkhaust Cafe just outside gives the brewery even more room to showcase its funky Lambic-inspired and mixed fermentation efforts. This is head-spinning, jaw-dropping beer.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: Try the open-fermented beers from the brewery’s koelschip. The open-air chamber, which allows for natural and spontaneous fermentation, is one of only about 40 in the US, a testament to co-founder Matt Tarpey’s time as an apprentice brewer in Belgium. Currently, Dwell is a solid example, an open-fermented lager conditioned in wine barrels that’s somehow both funky and crisp.
Open for just over two years, Väsen has quickly attained national recognition. Named for the Swedish term for “inner essence,” the brewery reps the Scandanavian heritage of its founders, who use the Norwegian yeast Kviek to ferment several of its beers. Outside some traditional perennials, the beer rotation at Väsen is “a perpetual cycle of funkiness” with sours, farmhouse ales, and wild beers. The current tap menu offers eccentricities like The Mint-Lime Otter gose, the Everything Floats on Jelly concord grape sour, and The Smoked Candy Cap Walrus stout, which attains a big maple flavor not through syrup, but rare mushrooms. We know it’s weird.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: Hane (Norwegian for rooster) is a true traditional farmhouse ale. Brewed in collaboration with Norfolk brewery Benchtop, Hane is barrel-fermented with “wild” yeast brettanomyces (a mainstay of funky brews), and then dry-hopped with Bavarian, Laurel, and other traditional hops. The result is a golden and bright 6.9% with notes of floral, spice, and true farmhouse funk.
Both a reference to a customer’s bon mot (“Beer is the answer!”) and a play on owner An Bui Mekong’s name, The Answer Brewpub brings together Vietnamese food and craft beer. It’s not a typical pairing but, man, do hazy IPAs and banh mis elevate each other in some beautifully unexpected ways. In addition to bridging cultures, food offerings like the Wake N’ Bacon, bacon-fried rice topped with a sunny-side up egg, hit the perfect drunchies spot. The Answer’s beers are tapped straight from the tank, which makes your drinking experience super fresh.
The beer you shouldn’t skip: There are the aforementioned, abundantly fresh hazies like Warrant Served, which is triple dry-hopped and still balanced as hell. Then there are the Joose beers, which run the gamut from pleasantly tart to intensely juicy without being cloying — and you can get them as slushies, too!
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