Brecker in the Rye
by Kyle Stinson at Tarrant’s West
2 1/2 ounces of Bulleit rye
1/4 ounce toasted fennel syrup
2 dashes of Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters
1/4 ounce Branca Menta
2 ounces Breckenridge Brewery Nitro Vanilla porter
Stir all of the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain over ice in a rocks glass and float the beer on top. Garnish with an orange twist.
Although the explosion of microbreweries across town seems like a recent phenomenon, Richmond has always had a strong brewing tradition. After the Civil War, the city directory listed 16 different businesses brewing or bottling beer.
In 1868, D.G Yuengling Jr., the oldest son of the owner of Pennsylvania’s D.G. Yuengling and Son — now owned and operated by the family’s fifth generation — built a five-story brewery, the James River Steam Brewery, at Rocketts Landing. Unfortunately, its success was short-lived, and it closed in 1878. But while the German community in Richmond swelled, so did the business of beer.
Author Lee Graves, former beer columnist at The Richmond Times-Dispatch, explores the ins and outs of this city’s love of beer in his book, “Richmond Beer: A History of Brewing in the River City.” In a modified excerpt he shares with RVA Growler, Graves details just how heated the competition could get at the end of the 19th century. — Brandon Fox
Michael Brandt has a vintner’s eye and research scientist’s sense of precision. He’s been both.
Garden Grove Brewery’s co-owner and brewer trained at Naked Mountain Winery & Vineyards, and then at Linden Vineyards under legendary winemaker Jim Law. He has a graduate degree in environmental studies and worked as an agricultural research scientist at Virginia State University.
That background gives Brandt a very different perspective on brewing beer — and you’ll hear some fairly radical things come out of his mouth.
“I don’t see why there has to be a separation of anything,” he says. “Why do we have [beer] styles? Why do I have to make these things that were predetermined in the past?”
Case in point: Brandt hands me a foaming, pale yellow glass of what might almost be wine, but certainly isn’t beer. Honey Sparkler is made from sorghum, honey and hops, and although it has a sweetness that echoes mead, there’s an acidity and bitterness from the hops, plus a thick effervescence and a good kick from its 8-percent alcohol that resembles beer. It’s also gluten-free — Garden Grove plans to always have a gluten-free option available — and it’s unquestionably its own beverage.
The next gluten-free batch will be made with juice from Petit Manseng and Vidal Blanc grapes. “We’re going to make a Belgian quadruple with red wine grapes like merlot,” Brandt says. “I have lots of wineries that are itching to give me grapes and have us do collaborations.”
How do these kinds of experiments differ from winemaking? For one, the brewery doesn’t press grapes or do extensive barrel aging. Brandt starts with juice and processes it like beer. For him, creating a perfect balance among flavors is the biggest lesson he learned from winemaking.
“It’s very tricky to add things so that everything gets to talk,” he says.
Breweries like to experiment, and new offerings can be found on shelves and taps almost before you had a chance to sample the ones that preceded them. To narrow the field a little, we asked a few local beer experts what they’re drinking right now.
Page Miller Hayes
River City Beer Betties
I’m a big fan of IPAs, and Triple Crossing’s Nectar and Knife (pictured) is a delicious double IPA. Ardent is also brewing some great beers. I’m a big fan of their saison, and when it’s available, their honey ginger is delightful. The small breweries swap out stuff all the time, so you have to be flexible.
RVA Rural Beer Brigade
The trio of Strangeways Wyld Sisters [Beatrice, Olivia and Portia], and its Oscillate Wildly, have been a great foray into wild ales for the local beer scene. I’m really looking forward to more. With stouts being popular this time of year, I’ve really enjoyed the rye stout from Ardent Craft Ales (pictured) and the Black Bear series from Lickinghole Creek.