”He was a wiseman who invented beer.” – Plato
Greetings and salutations to all from the glorious Commonwealth of Virginia! My name is Sean and it is my mission to introduce the world to the wonderful beer and similar beverages being created here. We are fortunate to have several different breweries and cideries being showcased during Virginia Craft Beer Month during August of this year. I have taken the liberty of visiting the following breweries in celebration: Ardent Craft Ales, Isley Brewing Company, and Strangeways Brewing Company, all located in Richmond, Virginia.
Ardent Craft Ales was my first stop in my whirlwind tour. They have a large outdoor beer garden in addition to a comfortable indoor seating area near the bar. I sampled their Virginia Common Lager, Saison Farmhouse Ale, India Pale Lager, and Honey Ginger Summer Ale. The Virginia Common Lager (5.3% ABV) had a decent drinkability with a slight crispness and balanced flavor. The saison (6.7% ABV) had a spicy kick that accompanied a rustic flavor with an unfiltered quality. The India Pale Lager (4.9% ABV) featured a lighter hop flavor and aroma than traditional IPAs. The aroma comes from the dry hopping during fermentation. My favorite sampling was the Honey Ginger Summer Ale (7.8% ABV). The ginger spiciness coupled with the sweet tang of the honey made for a treat for the palette. It won a silver medal at the Virginia Craft Brewer’s Conference.
Quite literally around the block in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood of Richmond, Isley Brewing Company features a variety of interesting beers served in their comfortable tasting room. They had about ten beers to choose from on tap and I sampled: “Dark Palm” Chocolate Dunkelweizen, “Off the Boulevard” Red Ale, “The Bribe” Oatmeal Porter, “Choosy Mother” Peanut Butter Porter, and “Jah’s Fire” Barley Wine. The Dark Palm (5.5% ABV 11 IBU) was a real treat as I enjoy darker beers. It featured a light coconut flavor combined with cocoa and coffee notes due to the malt. It made me think of an Almond Joy or Mounds bar without the overpowering sweetness. Off the Boulevard Red Ale (5% ABV 16 IBU) was surprisingly drinkable. I t wasn’t overly hoppy and I got a hint of apple in the aroma. The Bribe (6.6% ABV 19 IB) was a malty, balanced porter. It had notes of coffee and cocoa similar to the Dark Palm but with a more bitter mouth feel and taste. The Choosy Mother (6.6% ABV 19 IBU) had a similar character to The Bribe but with a delicious peanut butter flavor and aroma. The peanut butter went well with the dark malt of the porter. I think I enjoyed that beer the most. Jah’s Fire was my first barley wine and it had a strong fermented taste with noticeable savory umami qualities. Although not one of my favorites, it had an interesting flavor.
Strangeways Brewing Company rounded out my beer adventure. The atmosphere and variety of beers on tap is best described by their motto, “Think strange, drink strange.” On this visit, I tried “Eternal Youth” Biere D’Apricot, “Wake Me Up Before You Gose,” “Albino Monkey” White Ale, “Woodbooger” Belgian Brown Ale, “Phantasmic” East Coast IPA, and “Gwar Blood” Red Ale. Eternal Youth (5.2% ABV 15 IBU) had a balanced, slightly sour apricot flavor while the beer had some of the rustic qualities one would find in a saison. Wake Me Up Before You Gose (4.6% ABV 10 IBU) is a style of sour beer called gose that originated in Northern Germany and is made mostly from fermented wheat. This particular beer was conditioned in ghost pepper rum barrels which lent a slight vinegar aroma and flavor. Albino Monkey (5% ABV 25 IBU) had a very peppery aroma, with a spicy flavor and hint of orange. It was lighter in body and crisper than a Blue Moon for comparison. Woodbooger (6.0% ABV 20 IBU) had a sharp roasted aroma with hints of cocoa and vanilla which combined for a complex, refreshing flavor. Phantasmic (7.0%ABV 70 IBU) featured a strong piney aroma with a crisp, surprisingly drinkable flavor over hoppier West Coast IPAs. Gwar Blood (5.5% ABV 70 IBU) gets its name from famous costumed heavy metal and Richmond native band, Gwar. The flavor of this red ale is hoppier than some other red ales I have tried, including the Phantasmic.
Ardent, Isley, and Strangeways are but three of over a hundred craft breweries and cideries to choose from in Virginia. Their uniqueness and creativity in bringing out less common traditional methods and steering traditional varieties in new directions benefits the beer enjoying community as a whole. I am happy to celebrate craft beer in Virginia not just during the month of August, but year round as well.
— Sean Peters, Contributor