As recently as 2010, there was only ONE brewery in the city of Richmond.
The capital of Virginia possesses a long and storied history when it comes to the adding of yeast to wort, stretching back centuries to the days of David G. Yuengling Jr. and his massive James River Steam Brewery, but as in so many other cities, the period of consolidation following national Prohibition spelled an end to local brewing efforts for many decades. It wasn’t until 1994 when Richmond’s oldest operating brewery, Legend Brewing Co., kicked off the city’s modern craft beer revival, but for a long time the going was very slow. Finally, a trickle of openings in 2011 and 2012 gave way to a flood of new Virginia breweries, helped along by 2012 legislation that finally allowed the sale and sampling of beer on brewery premises. The stage was set for an explosion of high-profile brewery openings that mirrored the simultaneous growth of beer scenes in other cities such as Chicago, Seattle or Atlanta.
Today, there are almost 40 breweries in the immediate Richmond vicinity, including quite a few that have made persistent national buzz, slowly making the city into a bonafide beer geek road trip destination, among the finest on the East Coast in terms of volume and quality. Here at Paste, we’ve come to know a number of Richmond breweries quite well through our large-scale blind tastings and rankings, which have included prominent finishes in a variety of blind tastings for breweries such as Triple Crossing, The Veil, Hardywood Park and Final Gravity Brewing Co. It has, in short, been a remarkable decade of growth for the Richmond beer scene, especially considering that the city’s population is still less than 230,000. Outside of perhaps Asheville, NC, there are few cities with a more impressive, higher quality brewery-per-capita ratio.
How fortunate, then, that Richmond, Virginia also happens to be where I now reside! Arriving in 2019, I immediately set about the task of visiting every possible brewery, with the eventual goal of writing this exact city beer guide. Since then, I’ve seen both new brewery openings and brewery closures, and I can now report that I have visited every single one of them, 37 in total (for now), which is a checklist that even many longtime RVA beer geeks probably haven’t gotten around to completing. The time had come to finally put pen to paper, as it were. Sadly, several breweries have shut down since I started writing this—the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in that to be certain.
Some of the breweries in this guide are located within what anyone would recognize as “urban Richmond.” Some are on its outskirts. Some are quite a distance away, but located in small towns that are still considered to be within the gravitational pull of Richmond. Regardless, in every single case I have physically visited the brewery and sampled a variety of its beers. For each brewery I’ll give at least a basic description of its vibe and its beer lineup, along with any notable beers they produce. Note: This isn’t including Richmond’s impressive cider scene, which can boast half a dozen cideries of its own. The only breweries not included are corporate chain brewpubs and brewpubs with only a minor beer focus.
For the sake of organization, I’ve split the breweries into geographical zones of the city and its surrounding areas.
“Downtown” Richmond, in this context, includes both downtown proper and the bigger and more urban neighborhoods that surround it to the east, including Union Hill, Church Hill, Shockoe Bottom and more. Unfortunately, this area has seen multiple brewery losses since I first started compiling this list in early 2020. First of the new decade to close was Shiplock Brewing, which lasted just over a year in the polished taproom space in Shockoe Bottom formerly occupied by 7 Hills Seafood & Brewing. Following it during the COVID-19 pandemic was the Shockoe Bottom taproom of Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery, a particularly sad loss given that it was one of the few brewery taprooms in the city with a dedicated kitchen of its own. As a company, Lickinghole Creek is still in operation, but its sole brewery is located roughly 45 minutes west of the city in rural Goochland. That leaves only two more breweries operating in the immediate downtown Richmond area.
There have been several historic breweries by the name of “Richbrau” in Richmond over the years, with this Richbrau as at least the third example, paying deference to the others as it opened in 2019. Located in Shockoe Bottom and surrounded by high-rise apartments, it has an urban, industrial taproom vibe and a small cluster of streetside seating that is pleasant on a nice day. One gets the sense that the clientele is probably largely made up of the high-rise dwellers who are able to stop in as their first or last drink of the night.
The beer lineup here is very much focused around the current hype cycle, consisting mostly of hazy IPA, flavored imperial stouts and a variety of flavored sours. Still, they make a few beers with nuance to them, like the crisp Floodwall pale ale, and it’s hard to go wrong with an all-Citra IPA like Psychic Horse. The big stouts, on the other hand, such as the coffee-infused Edgar, seem to have a tendency to be overtaken by their flavorings.
If you’re into fanciful, randallized imperial stouts that have been rested atop ingredients such as carrot cake, Chips Ahoy cookies or brownies, Richbrau may be worth a look.
Notable beers: Floodwall (pale ale), Psychic Horse IPA
This is the original location of Richmond’s beloved Triple Crossing, a brewery that has been very well represented in the top tier of Paste blind tastings over the years. Unlike the larger Fulton location, the Foushee St. Triple Crossing has more of an old-school vibe, with lower capacity, low lighting and a “drinking in a friend’s basement” sort of feel, although you’re likely to be more focused on the spectacular array of beers than the decor. Like the other Triple Crossing location, a wide variety of beer is on tap here, along with a cooler that will be selling a few varieties of cans—whatever is new that particular week. Small batches are brewed on this site, with larger operations running out of the Fulton location.
In terms of beer, Triple Crossing made a name for itself during the rise of hazy IPA, and we’re willing to make the claim that they’re still making the most dependably great IPAs in the Richmond area—an assessment also shared by many other Richmond brewers. Flagship Falcon Smash is dependably awesome, as are occasional releases such as the Interstellar Burst DIPA. At the same time, though, Triple Crossing makes a name for itself with spectacular versions of many other styles, especially pilsner (multiple different releases), dark lager, imperial stout and mixed fermentation wild ales. They are the total package, and deserve whatever hype they’ve received over the years.
The Foushee location likewise serves a small array of pizzas made at the larger Triple Crossing Fulton, but the menu here is smaller, with more of a “bar snacks” vibe. For a full-on dinner, the Fulton location may be a better bet. The beers, however, are equally awesome regardless of location.
Notable beers: Falcon Smash IPA, Interstellar Burst DIPA, Little Hilltop (kellerbier), Czech Dark Lager
Starting from the center of Richmond, “east” is pretty much the only direction that isn’t exceedingly brewery rich, as there are only a couple in this direction currently. They are, however, two of the most notable in town. If you continue east and leave Richmond, you won’t run across any other breweries until you get near Williamsburg, VA.
California craft powerhouse Stone opened their East Coast headquarters in Richmond in 2016, which came along at a time when too many regional breweries were unfortunately overextending themselves, assuming that the growth of the craft segment would hold steady rather than decrease. That didn’t ultimately spell any kind of doom for this taproom location, but it didn’t help either—the promised Stone World Bistro & Gardens never materialized in Richmond, and negotiations with the city and state dragged on interminably. After the closure of Stone’s location in Berlin, and subsequent cost-cutting measures, one has to assume that the full Stone experience won’t ever be coming to RVA, but the (gigantic) brewery and taproom remains.
What we have here is a big, polished taproom, albeit one without a kitchen (expect food trucks), which occasionally plays host to bands and features some experimental, local Stone beers. It’s the loud, boisterous sort of experience you’d expect from Stone given the company’s famously in-your-face branding, with a variety of IPAs, but some sneaky good lagers and kettle sours backing them up. With that said, the place feels like it was built to accommodate significantly larger crowds than what you’re actually likely to see on a weekday night. Their influence is felt more in the local restaurant and bar scene, where Stone beers are ubiquitous.
Notable beers: Fear.Movie.Lions DIPA, Enjoy By IPA, Espresso Totalitarian Imperial Stout
Now the flagship location for Triple Crossing, the Fulton brewery down the street from Stone Brewing reflects all of Triple Crossing’s Richmond success this decade, being much larger and more multi-purpose than the original, pub-like brewery on Foushee St. As implied above, the food menu here is significantly more robust, with an array of delicious, crispy pizzas and an increasingly varied menu of charcuterie, entrees and specials.
Seating is plentiful, whether inside the main brewery or on the patio, with an outdoorsy feel that is lovely on nice days. The beer is obviously just as good here as well, with lots of options, although pricing is a bit steeper than at some of the less-acclaimed RVA breweries, with incentives toward buying larger pours rather than smaller ones—it’s often “pay $1 more for 6 more ounces,” which feels foolish to pass up.
This location also has a pretty active events calendar (before COVID anyway), which has included such activities as film screenings, videogame tournaments, musicians and more. Triple Crossing also uses the abundance of back room space to host festivals like Covenant Beer Fest or Can Jam, making Fulton a location you’re likely to visit for many reasons. But mostly because the beer is just so good.
Notable beers: Falcon Smash IPA, Interstellar Burst DIPA, Little Hilltop (kellerbier), Czech Dark Lager
This group includes a variety of breweries that are vaguely North (and somewhat west) of downtown Richmond, but still within what you’d call Richmond proper. Three of them (Castleburg, Hardywood Park, Main Line) are in the same small industrial area, just east of the RVA brewery district of Scott’s Addition, but we’re filing them here because there’s already so many to file into the upcoming Scott’s Addition section.
Castleburg Brewery in many ways feels like a throwback, reminding me of places that I would have visited early in my beer exploration in the mid-2000s. Part of that is location—situated in a small industrial strip mall, its facility is on the minimalist side, lacking some of the amenities of fancy beer gardens and patios. The other element is the beer lineup, which focuses less on currently hyped styles and more on non-adjunct versions of classical styles such as pale ale, IPA, brown ale, porter, saison and stout—this is something easy to appreciate in an era that is so defined by only a handful of heavily adjuncted and flavored styles. And then there’s the medieval theming, which is the kind of commitment to an esoteric idea that you don’t really see anymore, but it’s everywhere here. The brewery, for instance, is “the castle.” The rewards club is the “Knights of Malta.” They’re all in on the medieval theme, for better or worse.
With that said, there are some interesting beers here, as we noted in our list of Richmond-area stouts, which included the brewery’s excellent raspberry milk stout, The Siege. It’s also quite notable for its focus on gluten-reduced beers, with often half the lineup or more being gluten-reduced versions of styles that you don’t often see presented that way. Gluten-reduced mango DIPA? They’ve got that here, so if you’re looking for gluten-reduced beer, this is a place to note.
Also of note: A small snacks menu is available, and events (trivia, musicians, movies) are plentiful.
Notable beers: The Siege (raspberry milk stout), Bishop’s Brown Ale
One of Richmond’s best breweries tends to fly under the radar in a national sense, but locals know that they’re making some of the best IPAs and stouts in town. Final Gravity is a small place, growing out of the connected homebrewing shop, aptly titled Original Gravity. It resides north of downtown Richmond, and is probably the furthest you can get north in terms of breweries while still calling it “Richmond city” proper.
We were already familiar with Final Gravity, however, given that the brewery surprised us by placing two IPAs into the ranked portion of our 324 IPA blind tasting. That included taking home the #12 spot overall with a beer called The Doppler Effect, now effectively the Final Gravity flagship. Although hard to find around Richmond, it is absolutely one of the city’s best hazy (or semi-hazy) IPAs, standing toe-to-toe with the better-known selections from the likes of Triple Crossing and The Veil.
On a more universal level, though, Final Gravity is just a very solid brewery in general. They demonstrate a passion for non-adjunct porter and stout, which I can definitely appreciate, often having multiple ones on at the same time, and also tend to brew a smattering of Belgian styles and lagers in addition to excellent hazy IPAs. The only knock, perhaps, is the lack of an attractive and functional website with an updated draft list—which should be essential when one’s beers are only available at the brewery. Luckily, you can typically find that information on Untappd.
Notable beers: The Doppler Effect IPA, Obelisk (American stout), Irish Goodbye (export stout)
As we stated above, as recently as 2010 there was only one brewery in Richmond (Legend Brewing Co.), so you really have to give a lot of credit to Hardywood Park for kickstarting the modern RVA brewery revival when they opened in 2011. No other brewery in the city has been so tied to its boom period since that date, and Hardywood remains perhaps the most recognizable Richmond brand on a national level, even if the likes of The Veil perhaps receive more beer geek hype. Hardywood, however, is probably second to none in terms of the respect they receive from other breweries in town.
This is the original Hardywood Park location, right down the street from Castleburg, and just east of what would become the major RVA brewery cluster in Scott’s Addition. It’s a fairly open facility, with plenty of newly revamped outside seating and room for big band performances inside. New for 2021 is the installation of an in-house pizza kitchen, which gives Hardywood its own restaurant/brewpub-like vibe for the first time in its history.
As for the beer, Hardywood Park displays a pretty balanced lineup of lagers, IPAs, Belgian ales and big stouts, being particularly well known for their pioneering flavored stouts such as Gingerbread Stout (GBS) and its many, many variants. Lagers such as Pilsner and Richmond Lager are very well-spread around the city, being perhaps the most commonly sighted Richmond craft beers in general, while brewery exclusives are typically plentiful. It’s a brewery that has also given rise to several other locals, as former Hardywood Park brewers have moved on to start their own breweries, further perpetuating the growth of RVA’s beer scene.
Notable beers: Hardywood Pils, Fightin’ Hokies Lager, Peach Tripel, Gingerbread Stout
This brewery, one of the younger players in RVA, opened quietly in the closing days of 2019 and is pretty clearly still getting its feet under it, not helped by the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic limited the ability of local beer fans to visit. Located just around the corner from Hardywood Park and Castleburg, and in the same building as Richmond’s Cirrus Vodka distillery (that’s a plus), they have space to spare for performances, events and larger crowds. The wood-heavy taproom still feels a bit on the thrown-together side, but they do seem to have at least a modicum of loyal supporters.
The beers are an array of styles, ranging from basic and approachable (blonde ale, honey cream ale), to the necessary IPAs, to flavor experiments like “salted caramel stout” that actually turned out pretty well. It’s a place that feels like it was built for casual weeknight hangouts and occasional band performances, but the jury’s still out on if they’ll find a way to stand out in an increasingly crowded market.
And yes, there’s a few in-house hard seltzer brands.
Notable beers: Bombshell Blonde, Velada (imperial brown ale)
Another younger brewery, Tabol Brewing opened in early 2019 and immediately distinguished itself by focusing almost entirely on wild ales, up and down its entire roster, regardless of style. That’s all legitimate wild ales—no kettle sours here at all, which is unusual indeed. Those beers run the gamut from primarily funky, complex wild ales from locally sourced yeast, which are terroir-driven, to more tart, lactic-driven true “sours.”
Actual beers include saisons in a variety of strengths and tartness levels, wild pale ales, and lagers and IPA aged in large puncheons to give them a mildly funky character. They’ve even taken on wild imperial stouts apparently, but I can’t yet report how that experiment went. What I can say is that they’re certainly filling a niche here that was underserved, especially in their exploration of new concepts like “brett ale aged on coffee.” There’s a lot of beer in Richmond, but I don’t think anyone else is doing that. The downside is arguably that drinkers might find Tabol to be TOO specialized, and want a bigger variety of clean styles, but there’s no shortage of that elsewhere. Although this may already be changing—on more recent visits to Tabol, I’ve noticed far more clean beers and comparatively fewer wild ales.
As for the taproom, it’s an attractive place with a hilariously diverse array of tables and chairs, and a playful sense of design. Food trucks are a common sight, and there’s an ample amount of outdoor seating.
Notable beers: Sezono (tart saison), Hejmo (wine barrel local yeast ale), False Flowers (red wine barrel sour), Top Pilsner
The general idea of “west of downtown” would definitely include Scott’s Addition, but we’ll break that off entirely to the next section, as that particular neighborhood is chock full of breweries. Rather, this portion will simply include additional breweries West of downtown Richmond, but still roughly within Richmond’s urban sprawl.
Richmond’s Mekong Restaurant was one of the cradles of RVA’s beer civilization, as it were. As one of the first restaurants in the city to maintain a serious, curated beer list in the mid-1990s, the Vietnamese restaurant became a focal point around which the local beer scene coalesced. It only made sense that two decades later, the ownership of Mekong would later branch out into a brewery of their own, right next door.
Thus, Richmond was granted The Answer, one of the city’s best-known brewpub destinations. The menu here is Vietnamese fusion of sorts, similar to Mekong next door but with a more playful, often fried, bar food focus rather than the more traditional dishes of Mekong. The beer, meanwhile, is hyper-modern, with a strong focus on hazy IPA, intensely fruited sours and flavored stouts, although other styles do squeak through the cracks as well. Those who travel to The Answer for its own beer are often in search of the extremes, however, either in the form of the “Joose” series of fruited smoothie beers, or the “Andall” stouts, which are all fancifully flavored. Be aware, these beers do not deal in subtlety; they’re all about extremely bombastic flavors.
Notable beers: AF (series of hazy session IPAs), Joose (series of extremely fruited sours), Andall stouts (series of creatively flavored stouts)
Perhaps the closest brewery to the heart of the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, Canon & Draw has a definite “student party hangout” vibe to it. Lounge chairs, couches and dark booths give areas for conversation, but pool tables and games make it clear that this is also a spot for games and probably some raucous nights. It’s a nice interior overall, though, with a feel that some serious money was spent making the place look nice.
As far as the beer goes, these guys are all-in on hype-seeking modern IPA, with lots of flavored examples. The ‘n Cream series of lactose/milkshake IPAs reflects the attitude, with names like Orange ‘n Cream (brewed with orange juice, apparently) or Berries ‘n Cream. Other regulars include the Hop series of rotating pale ales, or the “Corrosive Haze” series of fruited sours, with occasional unfruited kettle sours, saisons or stouts thrown in at the fringes. All in all, they pride themselves on their IPAs, but most are a bit loaded with adjuncts for my taste.
Notable beers: Hop (rotating pale ale series), Berries ‘n Cream (fruited lactose IPA)
Richmond’s most steadfastly original brewery, without a doubt. Even with more than 30 in the area, there’s nothing else quite like Garden Grove, because this is a company that elected to follow its own whims rather than chasing trends, and I can’t help but love them for it. In a marketplace that is filled with hazy IPA, pastry stout and fruited sours, these guys made a choice to do essentially everything else.
Within the warm, pub-like confines of Garden Grove, you can expect to find a wonderful variety of beers that often hark back to European inspirations: Franco-Belgian saisons, abbey ales (tripel, quad), German and Czech lagers (pilsner, helles), hefeweizens, stouts and porters, and yes, the occasional pale ale and IPA. Here, though, IPA often takes up a single tap handle, rather than half or more of them. And that’s not even getting into Garden Grove’s cider, mead and wine production, which comes entirely from grapes grown at Virginia vineyards. Word to the wise: Even if you’re a beer geek, don’t sleep on the wines, as varietal expressions like the Virginia Petit Verdot are routinely fantastic. The Czech Pils also made our list of essential Richmond pilsners.
Throw in a diverse array of events, and you have an unmatched social hub in Richmond’s Carytown neighborhood. Garden Grove (before COVID, anyway) has quite a few regularly occurring scheduled events, such as weekly trivia, weekly D&D, monthly taproom dinners and bands pretty much every weekend. Variety is the watchword here, and perhaps no one in RVA does variety better.
Notable beers: Czech or German Pils, Evangeline (or any saison), Lucifina (milk stout)
The epicenter of Richmond’s brewery scene (not to mention several cider, mead, wine and spirits producers) is the small neighborhood of Scott’s Addition, which can currently boast no fewer than eight breweries within a few square blocks. Unsurprisingly, this is a very popular area for visitors to park for an afternoon, traipsing to various breweries and restaurants that are all within walking distance. Most of the breweries here are on the younger side, although there are also some outposts of older and larger breweries as well. All are seeking to benefit from the proximity of so many other breweries and the reputation of the neighborhood as a beer mecca, although those same factors also mean a lot of increased competition. You can sense there is definitely a push-and-pull for attention here.
From top to bottom, across a bevy of styles, Ardent is one of the most solid, dependable breweries in RVA. They’re one of those places that everyone seems to like and respect, although they might not be the first one that a beer geek would necessarily think to seek out. Unlike the nationally famous Triple Crossing or The Veil, Ardent is more of a brewery you tend to discover slowly while spending time in Richmond, but it’s almost inevitable that it becomes a favorite watering hole.
The word that comes to mind here is “balanced,” as Ardent almost always has a decent array of styles represented in its tap list, and they’re almost all above average in execution. The flagship IPA X is sneakily among the best local examples of juicy modern IPA, while the spicy year-round saison is a godsend, given that it can be found all around the city. They also do well with big stouts, such as the decadent (and adjunct-free) Dark Rye, or the base Imperial Milk Stout, which is further dressed up in a number of variants. They even have a respectable wild program, to boot.
Beyond that, the popular and spacious Ardent patio is undoubtedly the most chill place to have a beer in Scott’s Addition, a neighborhood that has a tendency to be a bit hectic and loud. It’s a great little island of composed sanity to relax in with a beer and a snack, from the brewery’s still new kitchen.
Notable beers: IPA X, Dark Rye (imperial stout), Ardent Saison
One of the few Richmond breweries that can make a claim to specifically building themselves around lagers, Bingo Beer Co. can fly a bit under the radar, despite the fact that their 16 oz cans have fairly wide distribution around the city—wider than many of the other RVA locals, in fact. Like Ardent, they display what we’d call a “high batting average” in terms of the number of their releases that are quite good, and above average for style—especially when it comes to classic German lager styles like pilsner, schwarzbier or Vienna lager. Beyond the lagers, however, they do just about everything else as well, from solid goses (standard and fancifully fruited) to mixed ferm saisons and hazy IPAs.
In terms of physically visiting the brewery, though, what sets Bingo apart from others around RVA is the taproom’s focus on games and sociability. With an interior that evokes a rather ebullient, Dave & Buster-y type vibe, it’s a place you’re likely to see families with younger kids, right alongside 20 and 30-somethings playing skeeball, pinball or ping pong. That can make it loud and bustling on any given night, which can seem a bit at odds with a menu full of carefully crafted European lagers and saisons, but what do we know? If you fall into the vociferously “no kids in taprooms!” camp, though, it’s something you’ll probably want to know.
Of course, if you want a more quiet vibe, the multi-level backyard patio is also one of the better equipped in town. Bingo is also one of the few RVA breweries with a full kitchen, serving a full menu of sandwiches and fried appetizers.
Notable beers: Bingo Lager, Black Lager, Fassionola Gose
Isley has been in operation since 2012, which makes it one of the elder statesmen breweries in town, and part of the same 2012 class that included Midnight Brewing Co. and Center of the Universe Brewing Co. In practice, though, when visiting Isley you’re likely to assume that the place is even older. There are a few reasons for this, starting with the fact that the taproom has a homey, neighborhood sports bar sort of vibe that makes it feel like a “townie” hangout, and it lacks the hipster types you’re more likely to see at other Scott’s Addition breweries like The Veil or Väsen Brewing Co. Beyond the casual vibe, though, there’s also an unfortunate sense of regressive branding that can exist here, with frequently sexualized beer labeling and product names like “Drunk Uncle” and “Going Mintal,” which you know the younger breweries would be wary to touch. Compared with their nearby competition, it can make Isley stand out in an unfavorable light—more representative of where craft beer has been, than where it is hopefully going.
As for the beer, Isley has some solid representations of classic styles, like The Bribe Oatmeal Porter, but also throws in heavily behind flavored kettle sours, with many riffs on flavored Berliner weisse in particular. These flavored beers are all over the place: Banana cream Berliner weisse, peanut butter porter, strawberry shortcake Berliner weisse and blueberry witbier are only a few examples. If that’s what you’re looking for, you may find Isley up your alley, but we have a tendency to find beer labels like this one a little difficult to ignore.
Notable beers: The Bribe (oatmeal porter), Rhizome Sun IPA, Choosy Mother (peanut butter porter)
Starr Hill is actually the largest Virginia craft brewery in terms of production volume, and their planned extension into RVA took longer than initially expected to finish construction. We were rewarded, however, with one of the city’s more attractive and professional-looking taprooms, with plenty of space and a vaulted patio on the building’s roof that is a lovely venue for beers on a warm summer evening. They don’t have their own kitchen on site, but there’s always at least one food truck parked out front.
Starr Hill is a brand that I believe some beer geeks are overlooking these days—an older craft brewery that has done a good job of reinventing itself and staying relevant, in a way that reminds me of Connecticut’s Two Roads Brewing. Their beer lineup hasn’t remained stuck in the past, but embraced new styles, and if I’m being honest, they’re currently making beer that is comparable to other local RVA breweries that are considerably more hyped, especially if you’re talking about taproom exclusives.
Excellent recent beers include hazy IPA Looking Glass, which is probably the best pure IPA I’ve had from Starr Hill to date, and selections like pilsner The Warehouse or a solid passionfruit kettle sour that can hang with the best of them. There’s actually a nice variety of ales and lagers here most of the time, missing perhaps only a handful of Belgian ales. Regardless, Starr Hill deserves more looks from people who had written it off as an older “legacy” brewery, and this attractive taproom will likely help with that.
Notable beers: Warehouse (pilsner), Mariah (passionfruit gose), Looking Glass (Hazy IPA)
Strangeways followed the class of 2012 breweries by opening its first location in 2013, and currently operates two locations in Richmond, and one in Fredericksburg. One gets the sense that the Scott’s Addition location was likely built only a mile or so away from the other Strangeways facility in order to jump on the bandwagon of brewery taprooms in this particular district, which benefit heavily from foot traffic. In terms of the vibe, Strangeways S.A. feels like a pretty typical, homey taproom, lacking a kitchen of its own but allowing for delivery of food from a variety of Scott’s Addition restaurants, and selling various snack packs. Trivia is also big here, with all the Strangeways locations usually featuring trivia nights weekly.
The beer, meanwhile, has a tendency to be all over the map both in terms of both variety and quality. This location in particular manages to maintain a huge array of different beers—35 on tap, one time we visited, although some are flavored spin-offs of others. There’s a definite focus on sugary kettle sours and flavored beers of all kinds, and noticeably less commitment to IPA than many other breweries in the area, which can be a refreshing change of pace. Strangeways isn’t afraid, however, to honestly market their many dessert beers as overtly sweet, with names like “Imperial Smuckers Jelly” and “Lucky Charms.” At the same time, however, they do make some space for non-adjunct classic styles as well, making entries like a solid oktoberfest lager and excellent standard gose. This is a brewery where it can feel like the gimmick-laden flavored beers are the reason for its existence, but they’re arguably at their best when being more subtle.
Notable beers: Dyson Sphere (gose), FEST Bavarian Style Lager
Three Notch’d doesn’t always feel like a major presence in Richmond, or even in Scott’s Addition, but the brewery has no fewer than four locations in Virginia, with hubs in Charlottesville, Roanoke and Harrisonburg as well. The lower profile may be due more to the easygoing vibe—this strikes us as one of the friendliest and most low key of Richmond’s taprooms, with particularly friendly, chatty staff and quite a few daily drink specials. It can be quite friendly to the wallet as well, with beer flights sometimes running a mere $6—not something you see very often these days. That value alone can make visiting this industrial taproom an attractive proposition. And by the way, if you’re with someone who prefers wine, there’s a wine bar right next door as well.
As for the beer, Three Notch’d largely seems to stick to classics of the genre: Lots of IPA in a variety of styles, a handful of stouts, a line of fruited goses, and maybe some lager if you’re lucky. This is more a place for kettle sours than ambitious or esoteric wild ales, but they produce some excellent versions of styles you might consider “brewpub classics,” especially the sneaky-good American pale ale known as Ghost. All in all, Three Notch’d strikes an unpretentious, casual vibe, and feels like it’s filled with drinkers who care a bit less about the geekier fine points of what they’re drinking, and are more interested in the camaraderie of drinking together.
Notable beers: Ghost (American pale ale), Jack’s Java Espresso Stout, Blood Orange Gose
Judging from the crowds alone, you’d soon be able to deduce that Väsen has become one of the trendier Scott’s Addition breweries, sharing that title with The Veil—we would suspect that many visiting beer geeks hit one, and then the other. This can result in the taproom—it rocks something of an outdoorsy, “hikers and cyclists” theme—being packed to the gills on weekends, and seating can become scarce as a result. The beer fans, however, put up with the crowds thanks to the wide variety of interesting beer. In the COVID era, this has meant that reservations are a must.
If you were just casually glancing at the Väsen beer list, you might initially peg it as simply another one of those hyper-modern breweries that is specializing entirely in massively fruity hazy IPA, and indeed popular DIPAs like Feasta fit that profile nicely, exploding with huge notes of peach and orange. But as you peruse the beer list, it becomes clear that there’s also considerably more going on at Väsen, as there’s almost always a few Belgian riffs on styles such as tripel or dubbel in the rotation, along with classic German ales, a few lagers and some truly funky, brettanomyces-forward wild ales. Some drinkers may ignore more humble, solid options like Väsen’s simply named hefeweizen, but these beers give depth to a lineup that could otherwise have been dominated by modern IPA and fruited sours. All in all, it’s easy to see why Väsen seems to possess “next big thing” status in the minds of many RVA beer geeks, as you know there will always be something interesting on tap.
Notable beers: Feasta DIPA, Goldenbear Tripel, Hefeweizen, various fruited sours
The biggest hype players of the RVA craft beer scene, The Veil has a tendency to dominate conversation about Richmond beer, especially when it comes to out-of-town beer geeks who often travel to Richmond with the express goal of loading up on Veil cans.
The truth of this particular brewery is more complicated than it might appear to either devotees or detractors—what The Veil does best is catering to several different crowds at the same time. On one side of the spectrum, you have its ostentatiously flavored beers—ridiculously fruited smoothies, insanely complicated BA imperial stouts with half a dozen dessert adjuncts, and triple (and quadruple!) IPAs so loaded with plant matter that they strain the boundaries of credibility.
At the same time, however, The Veil also produces beautifully nuanced, artisanal beers on the sidelines—gorgeous, rustic lagers, occasional Belgian ales and stunning mixed fermentation beers and fruited sours that appeal to more refined palates. These beers are reason enough to visit on their own, although the IPA saturation (I once saw 11 IPAs on tap at a single Veil taproom) can sometimes crowd out the other selections. At their best, though, The Veil produces some of the best lager and mixed ferm beers in town in particular.
The company’s three facilities in RVA reflect these different sides of the same ethos. The flagship Scott’s Addition taproom is crowded and busy, full of out-of-towners buying cans by the case and carrying them away, and IPA consumption seems to be king. Just west (outside of Scott’s Addition), however, the tiny “Funkhaust” location functions as The Veil’s barrel-aging warehouse, and features smaller, cheap pours of mostly lower-ABV beers and wild ales with a markedly more relaxed atmosphere. And finally, the recently opened Veil location in Forest Hill, south of the James River, is more of a pure, polished taproom with its own in-house Mexican restaurant. There’s a little something for any kind of beer drinker.
Notable beers: Never Never Forever Forever (passionfruit gose), Master Shredder IPA, Cave (pilsner), anything “mixed fermie.”
South of the James River, one finds a collection of quieter Richmond neighborhoods and a handful of breweries to sustain them. Whereas the areas immediately north of the river are more urban and crowded, the south side of the James is home to many converted factory apartments, townhomes, and neighborhoods of single family homes. A cluster of breweries can be found in the neighborhood of Manchester, which houses the city’s oldest operating brewery, Legend Brewing Co., in business since 1994. Overall, there’s not a ton of beer down here, but the history and quality make it worth a visit—one gets a sense that even longtime Richmond residents sometimes forget that these places south of the river exist.
Basic City Beer Co. is primarily based in the Virginia city of Waynesboro, but it also maintains this outpost and small-scale brewery in Manchester. The converted factory setting gives Basic City plenty of indoor space—far more than the location really needs most of the time, but that also has the advantage of making it one of the city’s easiest breweries for social distancing, especially in the expansive game room. It makes for a natural tandem when visiting Legend, which is just a few buildings down. Basic City has been through a few food concepts, but currently offers a small selection of frozen pizzas—more than enough when you need a quick nosh at the brewery.
In terms of the beer, Basic City produces an array of solid hazy IPAs, none more consistently excellent than the flagship DIPA/tropical fruit bomb Bask, which is perennially one of the better and more underrated hazy, hoppy beers in Richmond. It’s the kind of IPA that would receive considerably more attention (and higher Untappd ratings) if it had Triple Crossing or The Veil’s label on it, to be frank. Basic City can also boast an excellent, year-round pilsner (Our Daily Pils), a very good porter (Transient), and an imperial stout called Grin that can be found in several equally tasty iterations, from vanilla to “mole.” All in all, Basic City is a quality brewery with solid year-rounders, but one that doesn’t always receive the local attention it deserves.
Notable beers: Bask (DIPA), Our Daily Pils (pilsner), Transient (porter), Grin (imperial stout)
For several years, a stretch of Hull Street in Manchester had been receiving an extended facelift, as gentrification of Manchester south of the river heralded the arrival of many new businesses and upscale apartments. That included Dogtown Brewing Co. as a lynchpin to the new construction in this area—a full-service brewery and kitchen with an urban vibe, on a busy street, and boasting one of the most attractive rooftop patios in the area. Unfortunately, a combination of the challenges of COVID and legal issues connected to the owner. threw many of the businesses in this area into flux, which resulted in Dogtown closing its doors in early 2020. Unlike other breweries in Richmond, it failed to reopen to the public during the subsequent summer/fall of 2020, although no official announcement has ever been made of its closure. For the last year, the brewery has simply been in stasis, without any social media presence.
When it was open, Dogtown stood out primarily for its attractive location and trendy design, boasting a marble bar and subway-tiled walls on the ground floor, and a short elevator ride to what was arguably the city’s prettiest rooftop brewery patio, with an excellent view of the Manchester neighborhood. The beer, on the other hand, had a tendency to be hit and miss, ranging from a satisfying, doughy kolsch to a year-round oyster stout. It’s safe to say that this was a location where the patio was doing most of the heavy lifting, but it remains to be seen if it will ever reopen under new management.
Notably, a second brewery called Manastoh was intended to move into the former Bank of Commerce & Trusts building across the street from Dogtown, but the same issues of ownership seemingly stopped that project in its tracks.
Notable beers: Fetch (kolsch), Manchester Standard (pale ale)
Richmond’s oldest operating brewery truly is a torch-bearer at this point for an earlier era of the industry, but one that seems to happily keep steaming along, doing a robust business. Considering what a beer center the city is today, it’s almost unfathomable to think that Legend was the only brewer in the area between 1994 and 2010, a span of 16 years. Imagine going 16 years with no local competition, and then a decade later there are now more than 30 other brewers in the area. And yet despite it all, Legend has maintained a devoted local following—no doubt aided by its riverfront patio, which is exceptionally nice on a summer night.
This place has the epitome of “classic brewpub” vibe, with a full menu of burgers, sandwiches and fried finger foods, and an interior where seemingly every object is wooden and worn, including a dedicated game room. A mug club proudly chronicles the history of the brewery’s supporters, with the mugs of prominent deceased patrons on display. It’s just that kind of place where you can immediately feel that countless pints have been drained.
As for the beer, Legend comfortably delivers classic styles—the fact that its classic flagship is a brown ale illustrates how different things were in the decades prior. Also pleasant is the spicy, woodsy Legend Pilsner, and the understated, endlessly drinkable Legend Porter. It’s not a brewery that chases brewing trends particularly often, but to their credit they often pull off serviceable takes on kettle sours/hazy IPA when they choose to do so. The heart and soul of Legend, however, rests with pints of brown ale on the patio, ideally at sunset. That’s the ethos that has gotten them through 27 years to date.
Notable beers: Legend Brown Ale, Legend Pilsner, Legend Porter
As previously mentioned, this is one of three locations for The Veil in Richmond, after the original Scott’s Addition taproom and the tiny “Funkhaust Cafe” barrel-aging facility. This newest locale opened in the last year and was clearly built with volume in mind, sporting considerable indoor and outdoor space to throw back a few pints. Beyond the impressive building, which houses a few Airbnb rentals, there are two notable points to this location:
— The tap list tends to be very large, with even more variety on tap here than at the Scott’s Addition location. If you’re looking for a specific Veil beer on tap, this is probably your best bet.
— Unlike the Scott’s Addition location, which typically hosts rotating food trucks, this location has a permanent, in-house Mexican restaurant that is very much worth a taste.
Notable beers: Never Never Forever Forever (passionfruit gose), Master Shredder IPA, Cave (pilsner), anything “mixed fermie.”
And finally, we have one last array of breweries that collectively fall outside of what you would probably describe as Richmond city limits, but are still clearly within the gravitational field of Richmond, also known as simply “RVA.” These breweries can be found to the North, to the South, and to the West—curiously, there’s very little in the way of breweries east of Richmond until you get close to Williamsburg, VA. They include a few of the older and more historically significant breweries in the area, as well as some of the youngest RVA-area breweries. Together, these breweries will take us well beyond 30 in total.
Center of the Universe was one of the first breweries of the modern RVA brewery boom to follow in the footsteps of Legend and Hardywood Park, opening its doors in 2012. That’s only nine years ago now, but the generational divide present between “early 2010s” and “late 2010s” makes COTU feel like more of an elder statesman among the many up-and-comers, as they established themselves before innovations such as the mainstreaming of hazy IPA. Situated just south of the tourist town of Ashland, Center of the Universe can boast plenty of space and a pretty nifty patio for outdoor drinking, and can usually supply in-house food from Puerto Rican vendor Freekin’ Rican.
The beer lineup for Center of the Universe caters to both classics and somewhat more adventurous fare, and there has been some effort here to keep up with modern trends, although not a total embrace of them. Flagship IPA Pocahoptas is well-balanced, bright and pleasant—pretty much exactly what you’d expect or hope for in a brewery founded in 2012. Center of the Universe does well in executing less common styles such as English mild, but they also make some excellent lagers such as their annual Oktoberfest marzen. They also have a running gag of The Big Lebowski appreciation, which manifests in beers like El Duderino White Russian Stout, Donny Coffee Brown Ale, and The Jesus Mexican Hot Chocolate Stout. Further north, in Ashland itself, COTU also operates its Origin Beer Lab, which serves some of the brand’s year-rounders but also serves as an experimental brewhouse.
Notable beers: Pocahoptas IPA, El Duderino White Russian Stout
The only cidery on this list, Courthouse Creek is included for the fact that they also brew a handful of beers on site—all of which are gluten free. Courthouse Creek until recently also operated a small, too-often overlooked taproom in Scott’s Addition, but their farmhouse location west of Richmond, in Maidens, VA, is far more impressive to visit. This truly is one of the more picturesque locations in the RVA-area alcohol industry, set on a farm growing numerous heirloom apple varieties, never far from the buzz of happy honeybees. It’s a lovely farm setting that is plenty popular, as much of the outdoor seating is often filled on weekends, when musical performances are also common.
All in all, the vibe here very much feels like a farm winery, but with the addition of solid gluten-free beers and excellent ciders—especially the wild and barrel-aged stuff. You’ll be surprised how bustling Courthouse Creek tends to be on a nice day, despite its relative distance from Richmond, but the allure is easy to understand.
Recently celebrating its one year anniversary, Crazy Rooster Brewing Co. is a no-frills brewery in an industrial park located west of the RVA suburb of Midlothian, albeit one that seems to have gotten off to a running start as far as the quality of the beer is concerned. There’s no in-house food here beyond a few snacks, but food trucks are a common sight, and a front patio gives a decent amount of outdoor seating. Founded by Grateful Dead devotees, the vibe is unsurprisingly easygoing.
The brewing aesthetic here nods primarily toward classic beer styles of yore, with a year-round American pale ale that feels particularly like a statement of grounded principles. The dank, weedy, bitter West IPA Fadeaway is an excellent West Coast IPA that genuinely captures the vibe of the style as it tended to exist a decade ago—notably different from how the term is now being used by some brewers to imply IPA’s next evolution. Crazy Rooster also features a solid year-round oatmeal stout (Crowin’ Midnight), and even their ventures into hazy IPA are quite pleasant, with the Late Day Shadow NE-IPA displaying a pleasantly restrained stone fruit juiciness. Their beer likely won’t be easy to find in RVA just yet, but it’s a brewery that immediately puts itself forward as young, focused and capable.
Notable beers: West IPA Fadeaway, Crowin’ Midnight (oatmeal stout), Lore (American pale ale)
Another brewing entity that opened its doors to the public during the pandemic, Dancing Kilt is a determined throwback to the breweries and pubs that typified craft beer not just 10 years ago, but decades ago. This feels very much like a passion project, and an avowedly old-fashioned one, which has made the most of its strip mall interior to evoke the warmth of an English or Irish pub in the middle of industrial Chester, VA, south of Richmond. From the moment you walk in, greeted by the strains of Irish folk music and the smell of pub grub, it’s clear that the atmosphere is meant to evoke a homey watering hole somewhere in the U.K. Notably, there is no space for outdoor seating here, making it one of the only RVA breweries that is indoor only. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the clientele seems to trend older.
The beer styles, fittingly, are almost entirely Continental, surpassing even Richmond’s Garden Grove in terms of dedication to this particular theme. Traditional British ales, German ales and lagers, and Belgian styles all abound, offering eclectic choices between styles such as Irish red ale, nut brown ale, Czech pils, hefeweizen and various Belgian abbey ales. Unfortunately, though, the beer itself seems to vary rather wildly in quality, and one gets the sense that the brewer may still be adjusting to brewing recipes on large-scale equipment. In particular, the porters and stouts seem to suffer from astringency and off-flavors, making them difficult to enjoy.
It’s hard not to be charmed by the throwback theming of Dancing Kilt’s taproom, and I admire their dedication to brewing European styles that are badly underrepresented in the modern American beer market. I can only hope the consistency of these beers improves with time, because the brewery’s theme deserves that kind of execution.
Notable beers: Kubik Pilsner, Perchta Hefeweizen
Fine Creek is one of the most unique breweries on the outskirts of the RVA scene, in the sense that it functions as part of a larger compound, catering primarily to the wedding industry. The Mill at Fine Creek is an event space for weddings and celebrations, with a surrounding satellite of supporting businesses—a bakery, some cabins, and the brewery. Knowing this, you’d be forgiven for expecting the brewery to be a “play it safe” venture, designed solely to provide fresh beer for thirsty, non-picky wedding guests—and indeed, there’s really no reason that Fine Creek’s beer would need to be great in order to serve its function. That makes Fine Creek’s status as one of RVA’s best overall breweries all the more surprising, as their output greatly exceeds what anyone would expect of it.
Fine Creek possesses a beautiful venue with roaring fireplaces indoors, and copious amounts of seating outdoors on vaulted porches and sprawling patios and gardens. They need the space, too—despite the fact that many Richmond drinkers don’t seem very familiar with their beer, the place is regularly packed on nice days despite its remote location in Powhatan County, VA, suggesting that their quality is well known in beer circles.
As for the styles brewed here, it’s a solid array that displays impeccable craftsmanship, from crisp and bready helles lager to stylistically pitch-perfect American stout. IPAs are present, but rarely feel like the focus—instead, Fine Creek’s best beers are often wild ales, as they legitimately produce some of the best brettanomyces and mixed-culture saisons the state has to offer. Of all the breweries on the outskirts of Richmond, Fine Creek easily justifies a pilgrimage.
Notable beers: Dry-hopped brett saison, helles lager, American stout
The West Creek location of Hardywood Park, unsurprisingly located west of Richmond proper, is as clear an indication you’ll find of what a decade of success in the craft beer industry can buy a company. This massive facility is a testament to the impact that Hardywood Park has had on the Richmond brewery scene since its founding in 2011, and its ability to grow into a regional powerhouse by establishing themselves in the market before the waves of subsequent breweries that would open in the decade to follow. Beautiful to look at, and entirely powered by renewable energy, the space combines ample indoor seating with tons of outdoor space, both in the form of patios and wide-open grassy areas that slope down toward the titular creek. Guests are free to stroll the grounds with a beer in hand, and it’s common to see entire extended families doing so at once. If you’ve ever visited Sierra Nevada’s Asheville-adjacent brewery in Fletcher, NC, Hardywood Park West Creek evokes some of the same theming on a smaller scale.
Perhaps surprisingly, there isn’t an in-house restaurant on site, but there’s always a food truck or two operating at West Creek. Beers cover all the same bases as the original Hardywood Park location, but keep your eyes out for collaborations here, including a few collaboration wines with local vineyards, emblazoned with paintings of Virginia bird species, many of which can be seen on the West Creek grounds. This brewery location is simply an impressive spectacle, but one that can get quite crowded on the weekends, or during events.
Notable beers: Hardywood Pils, Fightin’ Hokies Lager, Peach Tripel, Gingerbread Stout
Just outside the northern orbit of Richmond proper, and just a minute off the busy I-95 corridor, you’ll find Intermission Beer Co., a humble operation with a particular (but understated) focus on gluten-reduced and beers. This is an interesting aspect of Intermission’s business, given that they don’t seem to heavily promote the gluten-reduced aspect, but it applies to almost all of their releases—valuable information for drinkers to be sure. That fact alone makes Intermission one of only two Richmond-area breweries with a particular focus on gluten-reduced beers, along with Castleburg.
This is a homey, welcoming little taproom full of games and sociable folks—it feels like a place where a D&D group might meet every week, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that was the case. Pre-pandemic, it apparently hosted a very popular weekly trivia night. The beer runs the gamut from gluten-reduced, fruited wheat beers to solid Belgian ales, hazy IPA and the occasional flavored stout, with no particular style being dominant. And yes, there’s a line of hard seltzers as well.
Notable beers: Insignificant Other (IPA), Conjured Darkness (milk stout)
Tucked away in the same West Side area that is home to Hardywood Park West Creek, you have Kindred Spirit Brewing, a friendly “neighborhood” brewery that feels like it could easily fly under the radar. Founded in 2016, they’re a reliable presence with a nice, inviting taproom that projects more of a sports bar/venue kind of feel, with TVs airing live sports—something of a rarity in the Richmond scene. Kindred Spirit also seems to host live entertainment fairly often on the weekends, and you’ll often find a singer-songwriter or small band practicing their craft on the patio.
Beer-wise, Kindred Spirit typically maintains double digit numbers of draft lines flowing, with most of them dedicated to a wide assortment of pale ale, IPA and DIPA, both clear and hazy. The hop-forward beers are supplemented by a handful of lagers, occasional Belgian ales and typically an imperial stout or two, all of which tend to be flavor bombs. At the end of the day, the brewery isn’t necessarily the most memorable locale in town, but given its proximity to Hardywood Park West Creek, it’s only natural to visit both of them at once when you’re on Richmond’s western perimeter.
Notable beers: Headspace (IPA), Goodness (imperial stout)
The original Lickinghole Creek brewery location is located on a farm in Goochland, VA that, even by rural Virginia standards, is pretty much in the middle of nowhere—as I can attest after driving out there. It’s a beautiful, wide-open place with a ton of land, allowing for rambling walks on the brewery’s property. Until 2020, the brand also operated a Shockoe Bottom taproom in Richmond proper, but it sadly closed during the pandemic, robbing RVA of an easier way to taste Lickinghole Creek beer on a more regular basis.
are nicely paired alongside a selection of hop-forward beers and big stouts, many of which are often adjunct-free—another rarity in the modern beer scene, which is so focused on pastry stout.
As for specific beers, the citrus-heavy 9 Mile IPA is one of Richmond’s better flagship IPAs, while I appreciate the consistent presence of the adjunct-free One Lion “tropical style stout” as well. There’s usually some barrel-aged variants on tap here, which include such styles as imperial stouts (especially in the “Despot”) series, doppelbock, barleywine and Belgian quad. In fact, the lineup tends to swing in the direction of “big” beers in general. In particular, year-round DIPA Nuclear Nugget is a bruiser and something of a throwback, with an unabashedly boozy profile that reminds me of the prime era of Bell’s Hopslam.
Notable beers: 9 Mile IPA, One Lion (tropical stout), Hide the Despot (imperial stout)
Quietly one of the older and more dependable producers of classic styles in the area, Midnight Brewery was founded in the class of 2012, alongside Center of the Universe Brewing Co., with whom they have several things in common. Unlike some of the other breweries of their era, which attempted to expand as far and wide as possible, Midnight maintains a more humble footprint—a local stalwart that doesn’t seem to be trying to break the mold, but has instead focused on perfecting their year-rounders. Their taproom west of Richmond, just off the I-64 corridor, has the feel of a well-worn neighborhood hangout, with a frequently updated calendar of bands and rotating food trucks. It feels like a place that long ago reached some kind of homeostasis, and is quite comfortable in its identity.
As for the beer, what you’ll typically find here is on-point executions of classic beer styles. They do lighter styles pretty well, be that dead-center kolsch or Vienna lager, and have even adapted to the era of hazy IPA pretty handily—flagship IPA Luputopia is a concentrated dank and citrus bomb that also manages to be fairly balanced and approachable. You won’t find much in the way of wild ales here, but you will be rewarded with what might be RVA’s best year-round, standard-strength, non-adjunct dark beer, Midnight Granite Oatmeal Stout. Those who appreciate that kind of undervalued style will likely find a lot to love about Midnight Brewery.
Notable beers: Midnight Granite (oatmeal stout), Luputopia (IPA), New Beginning (kolsch)
Utterly unique among the local breweries, in the sense that nobody else has yet built a brewery inside a small-town bicycle shop, Molly’s Blind Dog Brewery oozes oddball charm. It has long been observed that there’s no craft brewery theme that’s been run into the ground with more regularity than dog-themed breweries, but cycling dogs is at least novel in its own silly way. And indeed, that’s the vibe in this younger brewery—very casual, very laid back and quirky, very “flying by the seat of our pants.” In almost all aspects, it looks and feels like someone’s upscaled homebrewing system, but despite that, there’s often pretty good beer to be had here as you sit among the bicycles.
Styles tend to be basic, but well-executed, ranging from things like IPA and brown ale to Irish red and strawberry blonde. And yes, there’s a hard seltzer—no telling how long they get away with calling that one “White Paw.” Highlights include the nutty, chocolatey American stout known as Mr. Nubbs, along with a spot-on west coast DIPA I sampled during my last visit that brought me back to a specific place and time around 2008.
All in all, it’s pretty hard not to be charmed by the humble outreach of Molly’s. They don’t seem to be striving to be anything more than a great local hangout, and each time we’ve visited this place, it’s been filled with locals doing exactly that.
Notable beers: Mr. Nubbs (American stout), West Coast DIPA
One might actually make the trip up north of Richmond, to this Ashland, VA brewery without realizing that it’s an extension of Center of the Universe Brewing Co., but even if you did, you wouldn’t likely end up disappointed—Origin has a charm that’s all its own. Located in the tourist-friendly main strip of Ashland—most definitely a tourist town—Origin functions as the research brewery for COTU, developing new recipes and generally tinkering with things, hence the science theming and a mug club known as the “Lab Rats.” There’s even an air of “customer participation” here, as evidenced by a whiteboard where customers can cast their votes on which beers the brewer should produce next. It makes for a unique atmosphere, as do the train tracks that run directly outside the brewery door, occasionally punctuating conversation with the roar of passing cars. It makes for a hip, geeky counterpoint to the more classic brewery experience at COTU.
Darker beer styles seem to be a specialty here if you ask us, as our visits have yielded a spot-on schwarzbier and excellent, non-adjunct imperial stout on several occasions. There’s also an inspired historic beer series, available at both this location and COTU, which focuses on recreating such styles as World War II-era British mild, or an 18th century Philadelphia porter. It doesn’t feel like the kind of theme that would ever move a ton of product in supermarkets, but we applaud the ingenuity, because it certainly helps Origin (and COTU by extension) stand out in a positive way.
Notable beers: Downtown Lager, schwarzbier, nectarine gose
The original brewery from the same ownership team that eventually opened Canon & Draw Brewing Co. in the heart of Richmond, Steam Bell is located a ways southwest of the city in the requisite sort of industrial complex you would expect. It has a fair amount of outdoor seating in the back, and I’ll always remember it as the first brewery we visited for outdoor service during the pandemic—the first of many.
In terms of the beer lineup, Steam Bell feels like a somewhat more sophisticated and eclectic older sibling to Canon & Draw, with a beer selection that focuses less intently on hazy IPA and heavily fruited beers, and instead includes some more rustic styles such as traditional saison and grisette. Wild ales can frequently be found here as well—I once tasted a lovely brettanomyces saison, aged two years in wine barrels and conditioned on raspberries and blackberries. Other highlights have included a very burly and well-executed American barleywine and routinely excellent kettle sours, such as a pink guava or margarita gose, in addition to the brewery’s very popular Tiramisu Stout and its many variants. This is a brewery that quietly does a lot of things well, but perhaps isn’t noticed quite as often due to its relatively remote location. Certainly worth a trip.
Notable beers: Tiramisu Stout, Extra Plenty Gose: Margarita, various wild ales
This is definitely stretching even the boundaries of what might be considered “RVA-adjacent,” but considering that I made the trip down to Petersburg, VA to check out Trapezium, it falls solidly into the “might as well include it too” camp. This is a fairly impressive-looking brewery with a large taproom in downtown Petersburg, boasting both a pizza kitchen and a brewery on site. Outdoor seating is plentiful, as the brewery is essentially built with an attractive, plaza-like courtyard out front that shows off the exposed brick of the building. It makes for an obvious warm-weather hangout, and the vibe is congenial and inviting for hang-outs with friends over pizza and beer.
As for those beers, they come primarily in classic styles, with occasional flourishes of more challenging flavors. A witbier with notes of chamomile and rose hips is perhaps the most dependable flagship, and you’ll also find both classic and modern IPA styles, a few approachable lagers and perhaps even a “baklava”-flavored imperial stout. There are occasionally mixed culture wild ales to be found here as well, although it doesn’t feel like a major focus. Most of the beers here seem calculated for maximum drinkability and thirst-quenching properties, which is okay by us.
Notable beers: Lucky 47 White Ale, Lucky 39 IPA, Houseboat Blonde Ale
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident craft beer geek. You can follow him on Twitter for much more drinks writing.