Richmond Craft Beer: A New Industry Emerges

richmond craft beer

Any Virginian with even a passing interest in beer knows that Richmond has become a serious contender on the craft beer scene in recent years. With Legend Brewery leading the way, local craft breweries have popped up all over Richmond and Central Virginia, helped along by some favorable legislation around 2014. What you may not know is that Richmond’s history with beer and brewing dates back significantly farther than the 1990s. Try the 1790s, actually. We’ll take a look at the history of brewing in Virginia and give you a taste – so to speak – of some of the best that the Richmond craft beer scene has to offer.

In the early days of our nation, some very prominent Virginians experimented with home brewing as they were looking to break away from dependence on imports for their beer needs. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both known to have brewed beer at their Virginia homes of Mount Vernon and Monticello. There is even some evidence of a Richmond brewery from the colonial period that is thought to have been destroyed in the Revolutionary War.

Another brewery calling itself the Richmond Brewery opened on Canal Street around 1800. Details of breweries in the Richmond area are somewhat sketchy for most of the 19th century. However, brewing in Richmond experienced a resurgence in the wake of the devastation of the Civil War. German immigrants were the main players in this brewing renaissance. The beer trade in Richmond had its ups and downs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but that all came screaming to a halt when Prohibition was passed in Virginia in 1916, a year ahead of the national ban.

After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the beer industry slowly sprang back to life. There were still significant regulations on beer, but legal brewing could once again commence. Richmond’s Home Brewing Company, which had weathered Prohibition by switching to soft drink manufacture, began brewing beer again. Home Brewing Company continued as Richmond’s only local brewery until closing their doors in 1969. There was a strong preference for large, national brands during the mid-20th century. Smaller local breweries were seen as quaint at best, and Home Brewing was an unfortunate casualty of this market trend.

A slow shift in public sentiment began in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Small local businesses began to be perceived as authentic and interesting rather than old fashioned. Among other industries, beer took on the “craft” descriptor during this time, signaling this change in perception.

Craft beer made its debut in Richmond in the form of Legend Brewing Company in 1994. Another brewery, Richbrau Brewery, opened around the same time and enjoyed more than a decade of success. Unfortunately Richbrau closed its doors in 2010, unable to survive the recession.

Despite the loss of one brewery, the 2010s have proved to be a time of incredible growth for the local craft beer industry. Regulations stemming from the end of Prohibition have lingered for decades, being repealed and replaced slowly and only piecemeal. In 2012, Virginia passed a piece of legislation that has had a massive impact on the local brewing industry. This law allows brewers to offer tastings and retail sales of their products on the brewery premises, which had not previously been legal. This streamlined distribution method has led to dozens of new craft breweries opening in the region. The growth is so impressive that Richmond is now garnering national and even international attention. The Travel Channel recently named Richmond as one of the “Top 7 Beer Destinations” in North America.

The future of Richmond craft beer is looking bright. Below you’ll find a list of notable local breweries and craft beer destinations.

Legend Brewing Company

The first on the scene and still very much the reigning champion, Legend Brewing Company has spend over 20 years perfecting their brewing techniques. Legend is one of the few breweries in the region offering both lagers and ales, which require different brewing techniques and environments. Visit their full service pub to enjoy a meal along with your beer. Try the Pilsner or Golden IPA, or get adventurous with one of their seasonal offerings.

Legend Brewing Company
321 West 7th Street
Richmond, Virginia 23224
Pub: (804) 232-3446
Brewery: (804) 232-8871
Website

Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery

Lickinghole Creek is a unique farm brewery that opened in 2013. They use sustainable farming practices to grow their own hops and barley on their 290-acre farm in Goochland County. Their innovative beers have won several awards and considerable recognition although they have been open for less than two years. Try a Virginia Black Bear Russian Imperial Stout or Three Chopt Tripel. Keep an eye on their website for tastings and events and the farm.

Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery
4100 Knolls Point Drive
Goochland, Virginia 23063
(804) 314-4380
Website

Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

Founders Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh were first inspired to enter the world of craft brewing while traveling in Australia. The brewery’s name comes from the sheep station where they first encountered the trade. Hardywood Park Brewery opened its doors in Richmond in late 2011 and has become very well respected since that time. Visit their taproom or schedule a brewery tour to learn more about Hardywood Park’s brewing process. Try the Hardywood Singel Blonde Ale or one of the seasonal offerings such as blackberry for summer or pumpkin for fall.

Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
2408 Ownby Lane
Richmond, Virginia 23220
(804) 420-2420
Website

Strangeways Brewing

Neil Burton, founder of Strangeways Brewing, actually had a hand in encouraging the craft beer renaissance in Virginia. He helped to pass a bill through the Virginia legislature that permits local breweries to rent their brewing facilities to others. After this legislative victory, Strangeways Brewing was born. Try one of 25 beers on tap in their taproom, which is open daily. Try the Phantasmic East Coast IPA or the Totally Tubular Tangerine Radler.

Strangeways Brewing
2277A Dabney Road
Richmond, Virginia 23230
(804) 303-4336
Website

Garden Grove Brewing Company

Carytown’s Garden Grove Brewing Company has a unique focus on sustainability and brewing practices that exist in harmony with the community and the environment. Their taproom is open seven days a week, and brewery tours can also be scheduled. Try the Hibiscus Harlequin or the Bittersweet Marriage Chocolate Porter.

Garden Grove Brewing Company
3445 West Cary Street
Richmond, Virginia 23221
(804) 918-6158
Website

Midnight Brewery

Family owned and operated, Midnight Brewery is located in Goochland just a few miles from the Short Pump area. Midnight’s focus is on creating approachable, yet interesting beers that appeal to both beer novices and dedicated enthusiasts. Visit their tasting room during open hours to try the Rockville Red or the Not My Job.

Midnight Brewery
2410 Granite Ridge Road
Rockville, Virginia 23146
(804) 719-9150
Website

Steam Bell Beer Works

One of the newer breweries on the scene, Steam Bell Beer Works is bringing a passion for brewing to the Midlothian area. Steam Bell aim to create fresh takes on time-honored favorites. Visit their taproom Thursday through Saturday to sample some of their latest offerings. Try the Time Is Money or the Grisette.

Steam Bell Beer Works
1717 Oak Lake Boulevard
Midlothian, Virginia 23112
(804) 728-1876
Website

Ardent Craft Ales

In true entrepreneurial spirit, Ardent Craft Ales began life as a side project operated out of a garage. Interest in the unique ales grew rapidly and founders Kevin O’Leary, Tom Sullivan, and Paul Karns were able to move into brewing full time. Ardent officially opened its doors in June of 2014. Ardent’s taproom and beer garden are open seven days a week. Plan a visit to try the Virginia Common or the seasonal Honey Ginger.

Ardent Craft Ales
3200 West Leigh Street
Richmond, Virginia 23230
(804) 359-1605
Website

Visit Richmond Breweries United to learn about even more local breweries.

What’s your favorite local brewery? Don’t forget to share with friends and family!

Photo: Alex Lehner

 

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