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Beers of Richmond

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(I will preface this post by saying there were several different forums this could be listed in, so Don please feel free to re-categorize as you see fit.)

I've never loved Richmond, and I've tried.  My wife is from there and desperately wants to move back.  I've done countless weekends, drive-bys, neighborhood tours, etc and I just haven't gotten there, so its fair to say that a weekend in Richmond is an uphill climb for me.  That being said, my wife had to spend last weekend there for work, so I figured this was a fine time to see if, perhaps, I could learn to like it via my favorite method - a beer tour.  Mostly, a solo beer tour (I'm very efficient).  Note- this was spread over three days.  

Sparing further details and heading straight for the goods -

Capital Ale House - I started low.  A regional mini-chain, this downtown beer bar has a bit of something for many.  Live music at times, a pool hall, a main floor dining room, etc.  Their claim to fame in my mind used to be the chilled metallic strip in the middle of the main bar to keep your beer cold - unfortunately that was recently torn out, something about ice and wood not playing well together.  I would stay away from the food menu unless its late in your day and you need to soak up some suds.  The beer menu here is both long and disappointingly limited - its also frustrating to see a beer you want but is only available at the other bar.  We stopped in here on an unseasonably warm Friday before a meeting with a financial advisor - I needed a drink, but was looking for something on the light side.  Bells two hearted was the 'lightest' option available, though if I'd wanted a stout I would have been set.  The bottle list also lacks some creativity, but this is a very pleasant bar if you are in the business district.

Legend Brewing Company - This brewpup 'across the rivah' must surely be among the older Richmond breweries, it was not new when I first visited about 6 years ago.  The main attraction here is the popular patio overlooking a riverfront that is practically screaming 'develop me'.  I stuck to the Year Round page, and finally found the pilsner I had been looking for.  The Brown Ale - reportedly their most popular - was pleasant enough, but the addition of bourbon barrel on the Taproom series that I sampled didn't do this Brown any favors.  The Beer Cheese with pretzel bites was worth whatever it cost.

Mekong - A Vietnamese restaurant on the west side of town, Mekong seems to have achieved a cult following for their beer selection (it certainly isn't for their food).  Their beer list was much more creative than Capital Ale House, but I also found it a little narrowly focused to darker, heavier brews, which didn't appeal to me with spicy vietnamese food.  That being said, the list was locally focused, esoteric, and had some rare finds.  Because of the aforementioned pairing concern, I wound up with a Hardywood Pils x2.

Day 1... meh.  But then...

Strange ways Brewing - Strange Ways Brewing's tasting room is... fun.  In addition to beer flights, they offer snack flights with your choice from 6 different snack offerings.  Their flights also come with gratis peanuts, and a fridge of various snack foods is available.  The day I was there, empanadas were also an option, and that night they were holding a 'Casino Night' fundraiser.  SWB's 'nucleus' (core) offerings trended toward uber IBU hop bombs, but they had a decent belgian and solid Berliner Weisse.  Once you got away from the Nucleus taps, they had a wide variety of other styles, many of which were off the beaten path.  I tried a grape ale that was similar to Abita Purple Haze but with a more nuanced grape flavor that was actually very good, particularly when the clock is still reading in the AM (SWB opens at 11).  

Stone Brewing - for being such a 'big deal', Stone Brewing is not easy to find.  No sign to speak of and the parking lot entrance is not on the main road, but is behind the building where you then cross a foot bridge.  While I was there for a short time, three separate people had three separate conversations, all containing the sentence 'This is such a big deal for Richmond.'  Most were relieved that it wasn't a large multinational.  The facility itself was beautiful - it was clear this wasn't a start up in a warehouse district, but a substantial production facility with a pleasant, but modestly sized, tasting room and outdoor patio.  Stone's main offerings largely speak for themselves, but they had a carrot beer on tap that was fascinating.  I can't think of a way to describe it other than carrot cake without the frosting, but smooth and not overly sweet/spiced.  I would have bought some to-go if they sold it by the bottle.  For what its worth, Stone is the only facility I visited twice - not because I loved it, but because I wanted to show my wife, since it was such 'a big deal for Richmond'.  There was a food truck but I'm not sure if they offered any food for sale on-site beyond basic snacks.

Hardywood Park - as the name suggests, this was a fairly large facility, with several bars open between the production facility and more of an office entryway.   The pils and raspberry stout are easy to find (the raspberry wasn't my jam [couldn't resist], the cream ale available by the can was pleasant enough but I wouldn't have classified it as a cream ale if not on the can.  Very limited food was available for purchase, and food trucks were there.  Live music was being set up for the evening.  Perhaps there was an event there and I was unaware, but this was, by far, the frattiest environment I've been in since I was an undergrad, and I was honestly a little uncomfortable through no fault of the brewery's.

Saturday > Friday.  And honorable mention to Bottom's Up Pizza, which has a pretty solid beer list themselves.

Ardent Craft Ales is where I began Sunday.  Located in the Scott's Addition neighborhood, this is a good area if you want to walk from brewery to brewery.  Ardent has its own parking lot and a nice outdoor patio, in addition to the bright and clean tasting room.  This place also had my favorite beers of the weekend.  If you are looking for an IPA, you may find better elsewhere, but the Honey Ginger Ale was malty and smooth - not at all cloying sweet.  But the best beer of the weekend award goes to the Earl Grey Brown Ale.  At 20 IBU and 6.5 ABV, this was an incredibly smooth brown that had strong but not overpowering flavors of tea.  Snacks were available for purchase and a food truck was outside.

Three Notch'd - seriously folks, get a better sign.  After driving around the block three times and trying a marked entrance that was locked, I found my way in!  I'd been excited to try this more than the others, as it seems to be gaining fast popularity in the area.  Unfortunately the bartender completely botched my flight, giving me every beer I hadn't wanted and none that I had (inverted the list - I can see how it happened).  My fault for not correcting, but I hate to waste good beer...  The espresso stout had too strong of an espresso flavor for my taste, and I found the grapefruit witbier to be unpleasantly bitter.  I did try to order a tasting of the Stately Neighbors IPA, but was told they don't sell individual tasters (I believe the only brewery all weekend with that policy).  If food was sold, it was snacks only with no food truck.

All-in-all, I found the beer in Richmond to be really solid.  Often when I go to tastings out in Loudoun, I find one or two solid choices, with most being forgettable and a couple that I can't finish - I'd say the ratio over my weekend in Richmond was reversed.  I need to go back to see if they sell that Earl Grey in six packs...


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