We spent our 2013 holidays visiting Darcey’s parents in Chesterfield, Virginia, just outside of Richmond, and we also made a short side trip to Washington, D.C. Naturally, we scheduled as much of our visit as we could around DC and RVA breweries and brewpubs, and yet we were left with the impression that we barely scratched the surface of these exciting beer scenes.
The first brewery that we hit was Isley Brewing Company, coincidentally also one of the newest to the Richmond scene, having opened just a few months before our visit. They were also kind enough to give us a tour of their small but highly sophisticated brewing operation. The brewers at Isley told us they were brewing only a few different styles to start out (although their website shows they’ve added an IPA to the rotation since last December), and then creating variations on those styles by infusing them with various adjunct ingredients. We had a hard time deciding whether we preferred the clean flavors of their The Bribe oatmeal porter or the peanut butter-infused version known as Choosy Mother.
From there, it was on to Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, which we were lucky enough to visit on the day of the Illumination festival, an annual solstice celebration that features a lot of their rare and barrel-aged beers. Hardywood is another relative newcomer to the Richmond scene, but their warehouse-sized tasting room/brewing space is genuinely awe-inspiring, more on the scale of something like Green Flash than a mere microbrewery. Their beers are also extremely unique and ambitious, including Bourbon Cru, a barrel-aged quad, and a bourbon barrel-aged version of their justifiably famous GBS (Gingerbread Stout), but even their relatively simple, Belgian-inspired Singel was tremendous.
We moved on to DC the next day, and practically bee-lined over to the famed Churchkey bar, where we met up with a couple of our Sacramento beer buddies who were also visiting Virginia for the holidays. The entire group tore through the sizable beer list via a litany of tasters, including our first-ever samples of beers from Great Lakes, 3 Stars, DC Brau, and XBeeriment. However, the undisputed champ of the night was the cinnamon-spiked Abraxas from Perennial, a legendary Imperial Stout that deserves every ounce of its reputation.
The next night, we went to a D.C. beer bar called The Black Squirrel, where we ordered a couple of rounds of tasters. It was another mixed bag of styles, including an Almond Porter from 21stAmendment and a Union Craft gose, but the highlight of the night was undoubtedly the Tasmanian IPA from St. Louis-based brewery Schlafly. For all of the rare breweries and styles that we tried, though, we were just as thrilled to sample East Coast stalwarts that we can’t get here, such as Yuengling Lager or Brooklyn Brown Ale, in our hotel bar. Other stops along the way offered opportunities to sample exotic-to-us East Coast beers, like the Troegs Hopback we found in the café at the Smithsonian, or the Victory DirtWolf six-pack we scored at an area CVS.
Back in Richmond, a day spent sightseeing through the city was capped off with a trip to Legend Brewing, the oldest operating microbrewery in central Virginia. Legend opened in 1994, and as such they are rooted in the standard beer styles that every brewpub offered back then (lager, porter, stout, repeat), but they are also expanding the roster with their Urban Legend series. We sampled most of their offerings, all of them quite good, but the easy winner was the Bourbon Barrel Golden IPA, which offered notes of butterscotch, pineapple, and hard alcohol.
Our last night in Virginia was spent at Richmond’s Mekong Café, where a delicious menu of Vietnamese cuisine is augmented with an absolutely bonkers beer list of local favorites and world beaters. This gave us an opportunity to recommend the Schlafly Tasmanian IPA to all of the hopheads in our group, and we were able to sample more Virginia offerings like Center of the Universe’s White Russian-inspired El Duderino milk stout, and Strangeways’ sublimely malty Belgian-style brown ale Woodbooger.
Of course, we could have spent our entire trip working our way through the beer menu at Mekong Café, and still come away with only a sliver of the picture of the emerging DC/RVA beer cultures.