The craft brewery boom has beer lovers everywhere hopped up, and Virginia is no exception.
The Commonwealth boasts 206 breweries, 13th most in the nation. They produced nearly 300,000 barrels of traditional and wildly innovative brews last year. That’s part of an explosion that’s seen U.S. craft breweries triple in number to more than 5,000 in just five years.
Not coincidentally, 2012 is also when Virginia’s General Assembly passed Senate Bill 604 allowing breweries to sell beer and their patrons to drink it on-site. That’s translated into an amazing 486-percent increase in Virginia breweries.
Craft breweries, though, are so much more than high-ceiling warehouses cranking out lagers, stouts, porters and IPAs with cool labels and catchy names. Craft tasting rooms have become modern cultural centers, warm and welcoming community hubs - family and often dog-friendly - that are fun, vibrant boosts to their town's quality of life.
Shadowed by looming stainless steel tanks where the hops, yeast and water join forces, tasting rooms thrive now as special-event venues, trivia parlors, music halls, food-truck and corn hole fests, even yoga studios.
Craft breweries and beer tourism add over $9 billion to Virginia’s economy, according to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who calls Virginia “a premier destination for craft brewers and consumers from all over the world.”
Craft brewing is a collegial world in its own right. It thrives on the principal that all who brew are colleagues, not rivals, inspiring each other to greater creativity and beer innovation.
We’ll drink to that!
Here are just a few of our favorites for relaxed, beersavoring good times with friends in and around Richmond, a nationally acclaimed hotbed of craft breweries:
Center of the Universe Brewing Co.
11293 Air Park Road, Ashland
COTU recently celebrated five years of brewing in the heart of central Virginia. Founded by brothers Phillip and Chris Ray – Chris pitched in the major leagues for six seasons – the brewery features four year-round brews: Ray Ray’s Pale Ale, Chin Music Amber Lager, Pocahoptas IPA and Slingshot Kolsch. Enthusiastic former home brewers, the Rays use traditional, all-natural methods to brew their ales with whole ingredients. They’ve created a comfortable and friendly tasting room - food can be brought in or ordered for delivery - with plenty of space and two dozen options on tap.
Speaking of plentiful, COTU frequently holds Plant Nite, where horticulturally inclined patrons can get their gardener on while sampling the fruits of the Rays’ labor.
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
2408-2410 Ownby Lane, Richmond
It’s true destiny that childhood friends Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh teamed to open Hardywood Park in
2011. McKay worked in the craft beer industry for years, becoming a recognized expert, and Murtaugh comes from three generations of brewmasters. They named their own brewery after an Australian sheep ranch familiar to them both. Business is definitely hearty: Hardywood has expanded to Charlottesville and is set to open a brand-new brewing facility in Goochland in 2018.
The owners’ expertise has produced one of Virginia's top rated and most awarded breweries. Hardywood complements its flagship Singel, Pils and VIPA with a staggering number of seasonal, barrel, pilots and “brewer
and artist series” offerings.
Stone Brewing Richmond
4300 Williamsburg Avenue, Richmond
Craft-beer aficionados know that Stone rocks. Competition was fierce among cities a few years ago for California-based Stone’s East Coast brewery and distribution center. Richmond’s sky-rocketing craft-brew scene won out.
The evidence is Stone’s striking 220,000 square-foot brewery and company store, part of the Fulton neighborhood's revival. Stone also has plans in the work to build an RVA version of its Southern California World
Bistro and Gardens next door.
IPAs are Stone’s trademark game. It brews six different varieties for year-round enjoyment as well as an impressive menu of seasonals, special releases and collaborations.
Brewery tours are popular, but just relaxing in the comfortable, picnic-table filled tasting room fronted by a
family-friendly patio is fun, too. Pay attention getting to Stone, though: there is no outdoor signage, so it’s easy to drive past the parking-lot entrance.
Veil Brewing Company
1301 Roseneath Road, Richmond
Despite operating only 1½ years, Veil fans rave that their favorite place is among the best and busiest craft
breweries on the East Coast. Located in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood, the cushy tasting room is already famous for a cool vibe and very welcoming service. Veil draws high marks for all facets of its operation, not the least of which is a pair of its most delicious flagships - Master Shredder, a wheat IPA, and double IPA Crucial Taunt.
Co-owned by brewer Matt Tarpey, Veil in fact was named the third-best new brewery – in the world! – by
RateBeer.com. Make a note to yourself: Must. Visit. Veil.
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