There are a lot of great craft beer cities on the East Coast, but outside of perhaps the likes of Asheville, North Carolina, few of them can compare to the sheer density of Richmond, Virginia. Despite this, Richmond isn’t always heralded as a great “beer city” to the average consumer—despite having in the neighborhood of almost 40 breweries in the greater RVA area, it still occasionally flies under the radar on the national front, except in beer geek circles. Those who pay close attention to beer know that Richmond is a gem.
For the last two years, I’ve had the pleasure to live smack dab in the middle of this beer paradise, which eventually culminated in a very long and very thorough Paste guide to every single brewery in the greater Richmond area. If you’re trying to get a feel for the vibe of any particular RVA brewery, you’ll find them on that list.
Say you’re only passing through Richmond, however, or spending a weekend in the city, and you want to get the best possible feel for the beer scene while you’re here. Consider this a guide as to how you can spend a great beer weekend in Richmond, Virginia, including some of the best breweries and restaurants you might be able to visit in the course of a typical weekend.
On Saturday of your Richmond visit, you’ll want to take advantage of a few things you won’t be able to do on Sunday, because not every brewery facility in the area is open on both days. We’ll also make time for dinner at one of the most important Richmond beer institutions, a restaurant that was deeply influential in turning the RVA beer scene into what it is today.
Early afternoon: The Veil Funkhaüst Café
The Veil is Richmond’s most famous and hyped brewery in beer geek circles, known for their ridiculously dense double and triple IPAs, chunky fruited sours and outlandishly flavored imperial stouts. You can get all of those things at flagship Veil locations in either the Scott’s Addition or Forest Hill neighborhoods in Richmond, but we suggest instead visiting this out-of-the-way destination, which offers a more contemplative and subtle side to The Veil that can often be lost on those who have focused only on the IPAs.
The Funkhaüst Café is open only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons, and is located in an industrial park that houses The Veil’s barrel-aging warehouse. Here, they pour small, inexpensive (everything is $5) glasses of primarily session-strength Veil beers, which typically include beautifully subtle lagers and wild ales, as you sit among the barrels illuminated by candlelight. It’s an extremely laid-back environment in comparison to the louder and crowded Veil taprooms, and it offers an opportunity to appreciate the complexity of the company’s barrel-aging program. If you ask nicely, you can even score some free cheese as a snack!
Dinner: Mekong Restaurant
Without Mekong, one wonders if the RVA beer scene would have almost 40 breweries today—it’s easy to imagine that the number would be far lower. Founded in 1995 by beer-lover Ahn Bui, Mekong is a traditional Vietnamese restaurant that hides one of the best pure craft beer draft lists in the country. The sheer quality of this draft list made it a complete novelty when it first arrived in Richmond, and it’s still likely the best overall beer bar in the city in terms of what they’re pouring on any given day. Mekong went on to be instrumental in building the city’s beer culture, and all the local breweries know just how key securing a tapline there can be. On the kitchen side, meanwhile, Mekong has an extensive menu of Vietnamese classics, all of which are made that much better by the superb draft list.
Next door, meanwhile, Bui eventually opened his own brewpub The Answer, which serves a more simplified menu of Vietnamese and pan-Asian pub grub while maintaining its own impressive draft list. Deciding which to hit is really just a flip of the coin, as both feature great food and beer. The Answer, in particular, focuses its beer list on modern IPA, sours and flavored stouts (many are very sweet), while Mekong’s draft list contains more variety and balance.
Evening: Hardywood Park West Creek
Richmond is primarily home to small, modest brewery taprooms that are designed for functionality rather than aesthetic appeal, but this expansive facility west of the city is an exception to that rule. It’s the closest thing the city has to the beautiful gardens of a brewery like Asheville’s Sierra Nevada, and it can accommodate probably more guests at one time than any other brewery in the area. It’s a truly beautiful building and facility, and a perfect place to take in a sunset in particular.
Hardywood Park is one of the city’s old guard of craft breweries at this point, leading the revival that began in the early 2010s and has continued to this day. The brewery’s original location can be found near the brewery rich Scott’s Addition neighborhood, but this more recent expansion was clearly designed to impress and delight the senses with its vaulted ceilings and wide open spaces. Without a doubt one of the best breweries in the area to visit for outside drinking, Hardywood Park West Creek even allows drinkers to go for a stroll down near the protected marshlands that the property borders. There’s no better place in RVA to feel close to nature while also downing an imperial stout.
Sunday will be another busy day of eating, drinking and making merry in Richmond, and we’ll be highlighting three RVA beer destinations that are all quite different from one another.
Lunch: Triple Crossing Fulton
Triple Crossing is likely Richmond’s best pure brewery, a sentiment that will be shared by many drinkers and especially many of the city’s professional brewers. From their tropically accented IPAs, to their crisp lagers, burly stouts and elegant wild ale program, it’s hard to find a bad beer here. You can confidently order just about anything on the menu.
The Fulton location of Triple Crossing is a bit more user-friendly than the charming, original Foushee location, which feels more like drinking in a friend’s basement. Fulton includes considerably more outdoor and indoor seating, along with a full menu that highlights the company’s skill with their pizza ovens. Highlights for a beer lunch include the neapolitan pizzas of course, along with upscale versions of pub grub staples like “potato tostones” and blistered shishito peppers. Check out the wings as well if you think you can stand up to the spice … but we’re warning you that they’re no joke.
Afternoon: Ardent Craft Ales
There’s any number of places that you might be interested in hitting in the brewery center neighborhood of Scott’s Addition in Richmond, including up-and-comers such as Väsen Brewing Company, or cideries like Blue Bee, but it’s hard to set foot in the neighborhood without eventually being drawn to Ardent. One of the city’s most genuinely beloved breweries, Ardent has the peculiar quality of feeling universally praised but underrated at the same time. They’re the kind of brewery that every local beer fan loves, but out-of-towners have never sampled before.
Ardent is known for a balanced beer list that embraces all kinds of styles, from lagers and Belgian ales to modern IPAs, wild ales and stouts. Their patio radiates a particularly laid back and welcoming vibe, as does the sun-soaked taproom—in general, Ardent possesses one of the best brewery atmospheres in the area. They have their own kitchen on site, but be sure not to miss access to locally produced Nightingale Ice Cream Sandwiches, which are sold here as well. If you’re really lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of the shy brewery cat known as “Runaway,” who lives under the patio deck and occasionally emerges to solicit pets from the chosen few.
Evening: Garden Grove Brewing & Urban Winery
Garden Grove is located in the restaurant-dense Carytown neighborhood, which should give you no shortage of dinner options. Afterward, ramble down the street to this quaint brewery and “urban winery,” which has one of the most proudly individualistic taplists in the area. Rather than embracing hyped modern styles, Garden Grove is a proud booster for Continental European beer styles in particular, typically presenting a list of German lagers and ales, Belgian saisons, and the occasional English ale to boot. In a city almost completely dominated by IPA factories, this is a very significant divergence.
And then, for some additional novelty, you also have the fact that Garden Grove produces its own wine and cider! And that wine is genuinely among some of the best I’ve had from any Virginia winery, particularly the well-liked and spicy Petit Verdot. Between the beer, wine, cider and mead (they’ve got that too), it makes Garden Grove a place that offers a fantastically diverse array of flavors.
Still thirsty afterward? A few blocks down, you’ll find the ideal nightcap at The Jasper, a hip cocktail lounge that can boast what is easily one of the city’s best drink lists.
We won’t blame you if you only complete some rather than all of these destinations in the course of a weekend, but there’s no better way to experience the beer scene of Richmond, Virginia.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.