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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Black and Tan

Five new beers to heat up the holidays.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 12:06 PM

Although it's stout and porter season, some of the lighter varieties can illuminate the season, too — and we've got a few standouts that are classically styled, easy drinkers worth some attention for achieving greatness in their simplicity. We've put together a mix-pack of goodness and guarantee they all go down nicely beside a fire, whether you want to soak up malt-fueled choco bombs, or throw back a few crisp, clear beverages — there's something for everyone.

Richmond Lager
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
5 percent alcohol content

The guys at Hardywood decided to kick it old-school with a classic lager — unfussy, solid, and easy-drinking — and nailed it. They've created a new fridge staple that celebrates all the glory of Richmond. Composed partly of Virginia-grown hops and barley, this unfiltered brew pours clear and golden with a surprising hop character that emerges at first sip immediately, followed by satisfying biscuit flavors and a malty backbone. There's even a smidge of citrus at the supercrisp finish. This one can — and should be — enjoyed cold, straight out of its very cool little stubby bottle.

Up All Night
Isley Brewing Co.
6.6 percent alcohol content

Packing a desserty punch, Isley puts a decadent spin on its classic Bribe Oatmeal Porter with a coffee kickin' variant, Up All Night. Clocking in at just over 6 percent, you can savor all the velvety mouth feel yumminess it has to offer without getting socked by a booze bomb. It matters because you'll want to enjoy a couple of these bad boys. Roasted coffee notes are prominent on the nose, while chocolate, cherry and pecan flavors do some palate dazzling. Pairs well with all the holiday sweets that'll fill your belly in the coming months. Bonus points to Isley folks for keeping it local with Lamplighter Coffee Roasters' Tall Bike Blend coffee beans.

Gingerbread Oak Barrel Aged Gourd of Thunder Imperial Pumpkin Porter
Strangeways Brewing
9.2 percent alcohol content

Strangeways goes to total beast mode with its gingerbread-infused Imperial Pumpkin Porter aged in oak barrels. According to those weirdos at the brewery, "It›s the perfect collision of fall meets Christmas." Chock-full of locally grown gourds, this pours black as death metal cranked to 11, but lands easy on the palate with a silky smooth mouth feel. It unleashes a burst of woody bourbon, vanilla and all the spices of a freshly baked batch of gingerbread cookies. You can snag it in bottles to impress your friends and family during seasonal gatherings or indulge by your lonesome with a draft pour at one of two Strangeways tasting rooms — while it lasts of course. Simply put, this brew slays.

Ember Ale
Legend Brewing Co.
5.8 percent alcohol content

A new, seasonal treat from an old Richmond favorite. Legend Brewing gave its classic Winter White a break and ushered in colder temps with an excellent extra special bitter. The Ember Ale pours copper and clear with some light lacing, unleashing a bounty of sweet, fruity aromas and a bevy of bready, almost crustlike, flavors. Balanced as heck, a swirl on the palate reveals caramel and toasted malts, with little to no bitterness. The finish is pleasantly dry and biscuity. It's quite a surprise to taste this much flavor in such a light-bodied brew, but we aren't complaining.

Crimson Walrus
Väsen Brewing Co.
7 percent alcohol content

This beauty is part of Väsen's Walrus delish stout series, so you know you're in for a treat before your first glass finishes pouring and that creamy-tan head settles. Smooth and ever-so-berry-forward, this black-as-night stout boasts roasty malt vibes with hints of cocoa nibs and possibly some clove. Let it be known, it's all about those tangy raspberries emerging from chocolatey goodness that offer up a bit more complexity and possible debate from fans of this style. Curiously, some folks still taste more chocolate than fruit. However, everyone agrees this less than ordinary variant is as big as its name might suggest.

The Domino Effect

The craft beer industry not only spawns breweries, but related businesses as well.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 12:00 PM

Some people look at the 5,300 breweries and brewpubs in the United States and see a crowded industry. Others, like Andrew Coplon, see opportunity. Earlier this year, the businessman and his wife, Stacie, started Secret Hopper, a Norfolk-based company that provides discreet, professional feedback to craft breweries through the use of "mystery shoppers."

He is among a growing list of entrepreneurs who, while not directly involved with brewing, are banking on the rising popularity of craft beer.

Coplon sends in vetted, detail-oriented secret shoppers to drink beer and interact with staff at breweries. Owners pay for the service, and what they get in return is credible, specific feedback. Unlike popular review sites online, the secret shoppers can offer perspectives from a certain demographic — women in their 30s, for instance — and pay attention to particular details brewers want assessed, such as lighting or staff friendliness.

Coplon has hit on a service that appears to be in demand — four months after launching, the business is working with six breweries in Virginia and 50 more nationally. "In food service, there is more than just the meal," he says. "There is the total experience. When we were thinking of how we could become part of the craft beer industry, that was it. We started with our love of craft beer and decided we could help make the brewery experience better."

Businesses such as Secret Hopper find a niche in area where an industry is so concentrated it requires ancillary professional services. Economists refer to this as "clustering," the phenomenon where numerous other businesses exist to serve and support a core manufacturer.

For example, San Diego has about 150 breweries, which creates a cluster so big that Candace L. Moon was able to start the Craft Beer Attorney, a law firm that works exclusively in the industry. Two years after starting her own practice, she realized craft beer offered full-time work. Four years in, she hired other lawyers to help. In August, Moon's firm became part of an even larger practice.

Closer to home, RVA Yeast Labs began nearly four years ago in Richmond when its owner Malachy McKenna recognized a need for yeast propagated locally.

The product loses its freshness when shipped and most suppliers are in the Midwest and West. Also, RVA Yeast Labs helps the nearly two dozen Richmond breweries keep their beers local by offering strains of yeast found growing wild throughout the region.

The clustering effect also gives existing businesses a new revenue stream. In 2003, Dave Libengood, a former special agent with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, founded Industry Consulting to help businesses navigate the byzantine labyrinth of ABC laws. Originally, the bulk of his clients were restaurants and hotels, but in the past few years he has taken on 10 Virginia craft breweries.

This ancillary craft beverage business has the potential to be a major economic driver, according to Jill Davidson, president of the San Diego Brewers Guild, which represents some 110 of the city's 150 breweries. When you take into account all brewery-related businesses, such as tourism, marketing and apparel, the industry in San Diego accounts for more than 4,500 jobs, she says.

Coplon is optimistic that a similar story will play out here. The 15-year food service veteran sees the signs that businesses locally could grow exponentially in the coming years. It just takes people with a vision to see what is possible.

"There is a huge demand for these other services, whether it's production equipment, label design [or] brewery tours," he says. "With 5,300 breweries, you have to do more than make good beer."

This story originally published in Hampton Roads Growler.

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