Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Search and distribute. The Veil’s Reverie Distribution is like a hip indie-rock label for beer.

Posted By on Tue, Jul 17, 2018 at 9:05 AM

For a guy in the business of selling beer, Isaac Bernstein-Miller doesn't act like he's trying to sell anyone a beer.

Reverie, the notoriously elusive beer distribution company he founded in Richmond at the end of 2015, doesn't have a public phone number. There's no website. And anybody looking for Bernstein-Miller's email address might have an easier time asking Ryan Reynolds out to prom on Twitter.

In fact, when trying to reach Bernstein-Miller for this piece, I accidentally ended up calling his wife instead. "Don't worry," she told me. "It happens a lot." But people seek Reverie out for a reason. The company is a little like the beer version of a hip indie-rock label in the 1990s: tight curation, limited runs.

Reverie distributes some of the most sought-after, small-batch beers in the state, including Virginia artisans like Precarious Beer Project, international rarities like Mikkeller Brewing Company, and collaborations from cult obsessions like Vermont's Hill Farmstead.

Only the lucky or well-connected can get hold of the beers – spots like The Birch and Esoteric in Hampton Roads, or The Cask Cafe and The Wink in Richmond.

A slight-figured former Montessori teacher who often wears his hair in a voluminous mop, Bernstein-Miller says he's not trying to be difficult. "We take beer from niche breweries and give it to people who are passionate about beer," he said, "People who are interested in trying new things."

The company started, he says, because he was trying to help out his friends at The Veil, a Richmond brewery whose fans are so fervid they line up at the door each Tuesday for their beer releases (see page 44).

"They couldn't find somebody that lined up with what (brewer Matt Tarpey) was looking for – both in terms of getting beer to market in a timely fashion, and also not requiring a set amount of inventory," Bernstein-Miller said.

Leveraging his ties to not only The Veil, but to the equally tiny Richmond cult favorite The Answer Brewpub, Bernstein-Miller hung up a shingle. For the first year, it was just Bernstein-Miller and a truck, roaming the state with beers from Oxbow, Ocelot, and Commonwealth (which Reverie no longer distributes).

Reverie is part of one of the defining trends in Virginia craft beer. In Virginia, distribution agreements can be as binding and financially painful to end as a marriage. Not only are contracts long-term, says Bernstein-Miller, but they often require minimum inventories that small-batch breweries struggle to meet without sacrificing quality.

Breweries have instead taken to de facto self-distributing. Though breweries can't own distribution arms, brewers like Big Ugly Brewing and Three Notch'd Brewing Company helped form tightly-aligned companies founded by owners they trust, who distribute Virginia beers on brewer-friendly terms.

What makes Reverie different is both its scope and its exclusivity. Rather than just keep a tight network of local brewers, the company also brings beer into Virginia from outside – offering out-of-state brewers the ability to dip their toes into the Virginia market without diving all the way in.

"Our contract is very open-ended," says Bernstein-Miller. "It's 30-day notice for either side, or like, 'Here's your 90-day contract. Let that one lapse, come back for another 90 days.'"

Last May, Reverie added Connecticut's Kent Falls Brewing to its fold alongside a pivotal partnership with Shelton Brothers, a far-ranging Massachusetts distribution company best known for being the first to import Belgium's wild-fermented Cantillon to America.

Reverie was also the first to introduce Virginia to beers like design-conscious stout makers Burial Beer Company in North Carolina and barrel-obsessed American Solera from Oklahoma. They've just signed a deal to bring cult Austin brewery Jester King Brewery to Virginia.

Although Bernstein-Miller insists nothing he's ever done has really been about money – "I taught for 10 years at a Montessori school!" he says – Reverie's distribution model is nonetheless driven by a certain market savvy.

Bernstein-Miller consciously cultivates scarcity – making the beer's arrival an event rather than something beer drinkers can take for granted.

"The market is very focused on variation – they always want to try something new," he said. "Even small-to-large breweries are making one-offs. So even with (Oklahoma's) Prairie Artisan, which can certainly fill the volume, we don't always want to have the full portfolio all the time. We bring it in seasonally: Always have one thing available."

The strategy works. When word gets around Reverie's delivery truck is planning to roll through town, said Kevin Aylesworth of Virginia Beach bottle shop Grape and Gourmet, "I'll start texting Isaac: When are you going to be around?"

The scarcity also leads to a certain economy. The beer is always fresh, and the warehouse is always cleaned out.

"We get it that week, it's gonna be sold that week," said Bernstein-Miller. The truck follows the same circuit over and over: Hampton Roads, Richmond, D.C. suburbs, and then back to Richmond.

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.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Brew FAQ: What is Cider?

From apples to a sometimes fizzy alcoholic drink, this fall favorite has been made throughout history.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 10, 2017 at 11:50 AM

In the simplest, most basic definition, cider is fermented apple juice. In the United States, we’ve gotten our terms for alcoholic and nonalcoholic cider somewhat confused over the decades, so we usually refer to alcoholic cider as “hard cider” while everyone else in the world just calls it “cider.” I follow the global crowd for our terminology: alcoholic fermented apple juice is “cider”; unfermented apple juice is simply “juice.”

True cider, like the kind you make yourself or get from a good craft cidery, is very different from the mass-market cider you may be used to. For one thing, it’s typically not very sweet. It can be tart, sour, balanced, funky, mellow, spicy, dry, bitter, apple-y or wine-like but it’s generally not what most of us would consider sweet. True cider isn’t even always fizzy; many traditional ciders are actually served still (that is, nonsparkling or nonfizzy).

If you, like me, spent your college years drinking cider that was as sweet as candy and as fizzy as soda, then you’ll need to retrain your taste buds. I recommend a cider tasting to get a feel for what you’re about to make. Head to a well-stocked store and pick up a few different bottles. Get a mix of U.S. craft ciders and imported ciders, if you can. Then invite a few curious friends over to your place and start opening bottles. You’ll quickly get an idea of what the wide world of ciders has to offer — and what tasty rewards are in your future when you make your own.

How Cider is Made

All cider starts with juice. How and where you get this juice, its quality, its particular characteristics and its balance of flavors — these are all factors that go into your finished cider. You don’t have to seek out fancy heirloom apples just to make good cider, but you do need to put some thought into the juice you’re using. For now, just be assured that no matter what apples or juice you have available, you can definitely make a tasty cider. No doubt about it.

Once you have some juice, turning it into cider is the easy part. Fresh-pressed juice is so full of natural sugars and wild yeasts that you can practically see it start to ferment in front of your eyes. Even pasteurized, store-bought juice has plenty of sugar to ferment; you just need to add some yeast purchased at a homebrew store.

The yeast eats up the sugar and gives you alcohol and carbon dioxide in return. In a few weeks, you’ll have homemade cider — it really is just about as simple as that!


Making a Modern Cider

People have been turning apples into cider for almost as long as there have been apple trees, so what is “modern” cider? This is cider making tailored to a new generation of cider drinkers. It’s cider made in tiny third-floor walk-ups, sunny country kitchens and suburban garages with the door rolled up. It’s cider that uses what you have on hand, whether that’s picking up a gallon of fresh juice at the farmers’ market, using your juicer to juice your own apples, or cruising the pantry aisle at the grocery store for some bottled stuff. It’s cider on a scale that works for you — small 1-gallon experiments or larger 5-gallon batches to share with friends. It’s cider made with hops, or with fresh pineapple, or with bourbon. Modern cider is your cider; it’s whatever you want it to be.

Friday, October 6, 2017

How Virginia's Laws Struggle to Keep Up With the Booming Craft Beer Industry

Posted By on Fri, Oct 6, 2017 at 1:30 PM

You can find a lot of handy items at Virginia breweries, but there’s one thing you’ll never find: a coupon for beer. Not at a brewery that’s obeying the law, anyway. The Code of Virginia is unambiguous. Offer instantly-redeemable beer coupons, and you’re on the wrong side of the law.

Following this statute and scores of others — collectively known as the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act — is a fact of life for businesses in the state’s growing craft beverage industry. There are laws governing nearly every step of the process, from the moment a recipe flows from a brewer’s mind to the second it quenches someone’s thirst.

Some people within the industry wonder whether it’s time to rewrite the playbook — if not through a major overhaul, then at least tweaks that could better reflect the realities of the 21st century.

Most manufacturers laud recent legislation that has allowed the craft industry to flourish. Since the Virginia legislature’s 2012 passage of the landmark law that allowed sale and consumption on premises at breweries, there’s been a flurry of actions aimed at bolstering the industry. Still, most of the laws that govern craft beer come from an era when society had a different relationship with alcohol.

Travis Hill, chief operating officer of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, says many of Virginia’s laws regarding alcohol originated in the post-Prohibition era. Nevertheless, he says, they are centered on public safety and promoting fair business practices, which remain important today.

Some of the regulations, rightfully or not, call to mind the stereotypical lawlessness of Prohibition-era alcohol consumption. “The interior lighting shall be sufficient to permit ready discernment of the appearance and conduct of patrons,” reads a statute that seems to be aimed at forbidding seedy speak-easies.

Another statute appears to prevent shady financial relationships that shut out competition. When a manufacturer sells alcohol to a retail establishment, the goods “shall be for cash paid and collected at the time of or prior to delivery.” There are even the traces of Virginia’s now-mostly-repealed blue laws, which restricted business on Sundays. “Persons licensed to sell alcoholic beverages at wholesale shall make no delivery to retail purchasers on Sunday.”

While those in the craft beverage community must navigate nearly all the laws at some point, there are a few sections of the regulations they brush against regularly, according to Porter Hardy, president of Smartmouth Brewing Co. in Norfolk and co-chairman of the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild’s government affairs committee.

“Much of what we’re dealing with is what we can and can’t advertise, and what we can and can’t do together with restaurants,” he says.

People in the industry sometimes have trouble understanding all the intricacies of the law. Even Hardy, who practiced law before switching careers, sometimes needs clarification. “There are consistently times we have to check the statutes and work with the ABC agents,” he says. Hill says the department constantly receives questions about regulations as new business practices and technology change the way people communicate about and consume alcohol. One example is the emerging use of social media.

Advertising regulations make up a large part of the ABC Act, and most of the laws are straightforward, as with a ban on advertising alcohol near schools and playgrounds. But social media hasn’t fit so tidily into the advertising models in place when the laws were crafted. The interpretations that come out of discussions hosted by ABC officials offer some workable — if unconventional — solutions. “If five restaurants sell my mead, I can’t highlight one of those on Facebook and say, ‘Go to this or that restaurant,’” says Glenn Lavender, who owns Silver Hand Meadery in Williamsburg. “But if a restaurant posts that they’re selling it, I’m allowed to re-post that.”

ABC agents have also demonstrated flexibility and creative work-arounds within the letter of the law. A hallmark of Virginia’s ABC Act is the three-tier system. Breweries and distilleries must sell their products to retailers through third parties, called distributors. Manufacturers are not permitted to distribute their own beer. But that doesn’t mean that a brewer’s spouse can’t be a distributor. Aaron Childers owns Pretty Ugly Distribution. Her husband, Shawn, co-owns Big Ugly Brewing Co. in Chesapeake. Pretty Ugly distributes beer made by Big Ugly and several other craft breweries in Hampton Roads.

Childers says the idea is not unique. A few other breweries in Virginia have an affiliated — but entirely separate — distributor. She says the separation is key to the business model’s legality. “There has to be crystal clear delineation between the businesses,” she says. “We have completely separate bank accounts and separate records.” That relationship is perfectly legal — even facilitated by ABC officials. “I call them all the time with questions, and my first line is always, ‘It’s me again.’”

There’s a case to be made for a complete overhaul of ABC laws given the fluid evolution of craft beverages, according to Lavender. “When a lot of these laws were made, the industry was not what it is now,” he says. Mead, made from fermented honey and water, is especially tricky to deal with, because it doesn’t fit neatly in a single category. Yet Lavender is certain of ingredients he can’t include. “I’m not allowed to ferment any grain at all, because I don’t have a brewery license,” he says. Lavender thinks making laws based on the outcome of fermentation would make more sense than beer, wine, and spirits categories. “We’re all just fermenting different sugars anyway,” he says.

But Kevin Erskine, owner of Coelacanth Brewing Co. in Norfolk, says some of the laws, though they seem arbitrary, serve to help the industry’s little guys. One regulation he highlights is a rule capping at $10 the value of gifts — wine glasses or hats, for instance — given to patrons as a way to promote their products. Yes, he says, it’s a pain making sure freebies fall within this limit, but this also prevents large corporations with deep pockets from gaining unfair advantage with lavish gifts. Erskine says in aggregate, Virginia’s regulations do a fair job reining in the liabilities inherent in alcohol production, but there can always be improvements.

He says a bigger issue than what some see as nanny-state governance is overlapping jurisdiction. While the breweries must follow Virginia’s laws, they have to mind the regulations of federal and local governments, too, and those different levels of oversight aren’t always on the same page.

Virginia is a good place to be as more people look to wet their whistle with craft beverages, Erskine says. In some other states, such as Florida and North Carolina, there’s outright antagonism between parties within the brewing industry. And lawmakers in other states aren’t always so eager to invest in the craft beverage industry.

“The reality is that, especially here in Virginia, the government is doing its best to help this industry grow,” he says.

Four New Richmond Beers to Ease You Into Cooler Weather

Posted By on Fri, Oct 6, 2017 at 1:05 PM

As the sun falls a little sooner each day and we bid summer adieu, we welcome late nights with good company by backyard fires, snuggly comfort food and plenty of flavorful brews. While the great love-it-or-hate-it pumpkin beer debate rages on, let’s turn our attention to some worthy autumn-tinged gems that warrant a sip and a savor.

Aragonia by Twisted Ales - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Aragonia by Twisted Ales

Aragonia by Twisted Ales
5.3 percent alcohol

This English brown ale pours amber, is medium-bodied and curiously leads with bold espresso notes. It settles sweeter on the palate than you might expect with detectable caramel and chocolate flavors. No bitterness here, folks. With fairly low alcohol, you’re safe to enjoy more than one of these malty delights — but don’t get too twisted. twistedales.com.

Sour Stout by Väsen. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Sour Stout by Väsen.

Sour Stout by Väsen
5.4 percent alcohol

What’s happening here? That’s likely your first reaction to this deliciously deceptive sour stout. A most solid and unexpected fall beer, this one pours dang near opaque, but is remarkably light-bodied. Roasted nibs, chocolate and other flavors you would expect from a stout immediately hit those notes after a swirl of the glass, but a sip reveals all the tartness of a well-crafted sour. Distinctive — but not acidic or vinegary — flavors hang out alongside a smidge of fruitiness before a bizarro return to a dark chocolate finish. Keep an eye on its Scott’s Addition taproom — it’s got a bourbon barrel-aged version of Smoked Farmhouse in the works. vasenbrewing.com.

Reaper's Red IPA by Three Notch'd. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Reaper's Red IPA by Three Notch'd.

Reaper’s Red IPA by Three Notch’d
4.9 percent alcohol

Straight out of the Three Notch’d RVA Collab House comes a devilishly good red India pale ale in collaboration with Creepy Hollow Scream Park. Crisp, refreshing and light-bodied, this brew is perfect for those fall days where it’s hoodie weather at sunup and short sleeves by midday. A taste of this shimmering ruby brew unleashes both caramel and grapefruit notes courtesy of a Centennial and Cascade hop duo and some white wheat, flaked oats and Carared malt. We have a Halloween beer that doesn’t involve a controversial gourd, folks. threenotchdbrewing.com.

English Mild by Intermission. - INTERMISSION
  • Intermission
  • English Mild by Intermission.

English Mild by Intermission
4.2 percent alcohol

This brewery might be the new kid on the block with just two offerings on tap at press time, but we’re expecting good things if what follows is as tasty as its English Mild. This is an easy drinker, with very little bitterness that fills the glass with a deep, rich brown. Roasty malt and caramel flavors stand out, although you might also detect a bit of licorice if you spend some time swirling it around on the palate. There’s a slightly silky mouth feel and some nice lacing on the glass once the creamy tan head subsides. A basic style done just right. intermissionbeer.com.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Richmond's Craft Beer Industry is Overwhelmingly White. How Can That Be Changed?

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 11:19 AM

If only the sea of faces at a brewery were as colorful as the beer pouring from the taps.

A rich imperial stout might be served alongside a pale ale, but only a few black and brown faces mingle in a predominantly white crowd, even in racially diverse Richmond.

Nationwide, the stereotypical craft beer drinker is a white male in his 30s — beard optional — according to demographic data reported by the Brewers Association trade organization in August.

Women and Hispanic craft beer drinkers are increasing in numbers, says the association’s craft beer program director, Julia Herz, and blacks represent 10 percent of craft beer drinkers.

That’s not bad compared with national numbers, considering that blacks make up 12 percent of the population. But it’s a poor showing for metropolitan Richmond, whose population is about 50 percent black.

There’s no hard data on the demographics of Richmond beer drinkers, but anecdotally, observations at breweries and beer-centric restaurants reveal a heavy white skew.

The racial reasons are as complex as the chemistry of brewing, infused with centuries of oppression and conflict, sometimes overt but often subtle and unintentional. The problem is more complex than who’s drinking what beer and where.

As a white woman, I’m no more qualified to pontificate on black America than a man can empathize with pregnancy, but I crave a colorblind America, so I’ll give it a stab.

Carena Ives serves a variety of local beer at Carena’s Jamaican Grill: “Putting ‘craft’ in front of it makes it this other thing.” - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Carena Ives serves a variety of local beer at Carena’s Jamaican Grill: “Putting ‘craft’ in front of it makes it this other thing.”

Neighborhood Placement

Location, location, location. Mostly for reasons of rent and industrial zoning, craft breweries often situate themselves where customers must seek them out, beyond neighborhoods that otherwise might attract minority customers.

But consider beer-focused businesses in Old Towne Petersburg.

“We have a very diverse crowd, including color, age and gender,” James Hartle of Bucket Trade says, citing nearby Virginia State University and the military as key drivers.

Amanda Marable, marketing manager at Loveland Distributing, says she’s noticed that demographic lines at restaurants have blurred in the past decade. “You find pockets of beer lovers all over now,” she says, “in every neighborhood.”

Two examples are Mama J’s and Carena’s Jamaican Grill, both of which offer a handful of craft beers.

The owner of the grill, Carena Ives, likens craft beer to NASCAR. “It’s not like we can’t go to a NASCAR event, but not many people of color do,” she says. “If it’s embraced by one segment of the population that we don’t have anything in common with, then it’s just assumed that it’s not for us.”

When it comes to the beers on tap at her restaurant, she says: “I don’t even call Legend a craft beer. I say it’s a local beer. … Putting ‘craft’ in front of it makes it this other thing.”

In many ways, the status quo reflects a chicken-and-egg conundrum. A neighborhood’s average income, its restaurants’ menu prices and community popularity of products influence beverage offerings.

A budget-conscious restaurant serves inexpensive beers and upscale restaurants focus on wine lists. When restaurants don’t carry craft beers, brand reps don’t visit them, so regulars don’t have the opportunity to try new products. Because beer has a limited shelf life, bar managers have another reason to avoid buying unproven products.

And from a business standpoint, location carries risk. Breweries tend to open closer to an established fan base rather than pioneering in areas where success is less assured.

Bobby Faithful is the front of the house manager at the Answer Brewpub, owned by An Bui of Mekong Restaurant. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Bobby Faithful is the front of the house manager at the Answer Brewpub, owned by An Bui of Mekong Restaurant.


Bobby Faithful, who works as front-of-house manager at the Answer Brewpub, recently helped launch a brewing certificate program at the University of Richmond.

Faithful initially became interested in craft beer as a consumer, he says, before taking a job with a well-known Delaware brewery, Dogfish Head.

The company promoted “off-centered ales for off-centered people,” he says, “so I felt like I fit in even though I was the only black guy.”

He finds the Answer to be a comfortable workplace, he says, with an Asian owner and female and minority management.

Black Richmonders fill other important roles at local breweries, including Triple Crossing Brewing Co., Stone Brewing, Ardent Craft Ales and Trapezium Brewing Co. in Petersburg. One area brewery, 7 Hills Seafood and Brewing Co., now is black-owned.

Someone who’s observed the issue up close is Sterling Stokes, known across social media and the blogging world as RVA Beermeister — a regular in the beer community.

“For the most part,” he says, “I think our local community is very accepting of diverse backgrounds.” He notes Hardywood’s Heart and Soul Brew Fest as an example: “It was very uplifting to see more African-Americans like myself at a beer event. … Honestly, it was something I didn’t know was missing from my life.”

Owner Michael Abdelmagid brews 7 Hills Seafood and Brewing Co.’s beer on site. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Owner Michael Abdelmagid brews 7 Hills Seafood and Brewing Co.’s beer on site.

A Molehill

Michael Abdelmagid, owner of 7 Hills, has another theory: Craft beer simply is a relatively new concept to the black community.

“It isn’t necessarily part of broad African-American culture right now,” he says. “Not even all of white America or Asian-Americans like craft beer.”

There also are fewer women than men, Abdelmagid says: “It’s not like there isn’t inclusion. … It just takes time to catch on.”

Integrating the craft beer community can be small part of a solution to today’s broader problems. As a safe place where the focus is on fun and relaxation, breweries and beer-centric bars can begin to break down barriers.

“The community is completely inclusive in some ways,” says Jacob Brunow of Brown Distributing. And as someone from a diverse family, he says he’s attuned to racial tensions. “We need to diversify badly, but how do you bridge that gap?”

To that end, Brown has been the host of wing, bacon and barbecue festivals that attracted a wide range of people who want to drink craft beer. Exposure is the answer, he says: “Get beers in people’s hands.”

Abdelmagid agrees with that approach. “Market it to different people in different ways, pair it with foods and events,” he says. “They’ll enjoy the beer and get exposed to it.”

At 7 Hills, he holds a variety of events that bring in people who wouldn’t have come only for the beer brewed on-site.

And white America may just need to step outside of its comfort zone too. It’s time to visit restaurants, businesses and organizations that aren’t on regular rotation. In my dream world, as more of us embrace the diversity of beer styles, our appreciation for the diversity of people will increase as well. S

Monday, March 6, 2017

Richmond Recipe: Beer-Brined Pork Chops

Posted on Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 10:21 AM

Metzger Bar and Butchery’s Brittanny Anderson, a James Beard Foundation semifinalist for 2017 Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic, shares this recipe to pump up the flavor of an ordinary pork chop.

1 1/4 cups salt
3/4 cup sugar
5 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
1 onion, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
5 cloves garlic, crushed
3 quarts water
32 ounces beer
4 bone-in pork chops


Combine all the ingredients except the beer in a large pot and bring to a boil. Once the salt and sugar have dissolved, turn off the heat and allow the mixture to steep for 30 minutes. Then add the beer and chill until it’s cold.

Using a large bowl or gallon-sized freezer bag, pour the beer mixture over the pork chops. Brine for three hours in the refrigerator.

Remove the pork chops, pat them dry and season to taste with salt and pepper. Grill the chops on each side for 5 minutes or until they’re medium.

Brittanny Anderson - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Brittanny Anderson

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Väsen Brewing Co. Will Open in Scott's Addition This Summer

Posted By on Tue, Feb 28, 2017 at 10:26 AM

Väsen Brewing Co. is big. It takes up most of the back end of the HandCraft Building in Scott’s Addition, a cavernous space still under construction.

Steel framing is slowly getting covered by drywall, pipes stick out of dirt trenches and there’s a whole lot of gravel around. Part of the concrete flooring is in, but it’s still important to watch your step.

The plan is to produce 2,750 barrels of beer in the first year and swell to around 17,000, co-founder Tony Giordano says. He wants to try out different varieties to see which ones sell the best. Just because a brewer likes it, he says, doesn’t mean customers will.

On this cold day, it’s hard to imagine the space full of beer drinkers. But opening day is closer than it looks, Giordano says: “I think it’s a real possibility that we can be making beer here in about three months and opening in about five [months].”

Giordano, an Army veteran and a University of Colorado graduate, began working at Boulder Beer Co. with a plan to learn as much as he could about the business and then start his own brewery with his cousin Joey Darragh.

They grew up in Northern Virginia, and both were introduced to the burgeoning craft beer and home-brewing scene out West. While Giordano was in Boulder, Darragh was living in California where he worked as an engineer for Apple and Tesla Motors.

Two years ago, the bearded cousins moved to Richmond and immediately fell in love with the HandCraft Building.

“We wanted to take what we’d learned on the West Coast and bring it back here,” Giordano says. “Opening this kind of brewery in Boulder — we probably would have been successful, but it would have been just another brewery.”

They also were ready to come home — although not back to the Washington area. “We wanted more of a laid-back scene,” he says.

And that’s helped drive the message behind the brand as well.

Giordano and Darragh look at it as a lifestyle brand. The word “väsen” means inner spirit, or essence, in Swedish. Before moving to Richmond, the two traveled to Europe to learn as much as they could about brewing and beer styles. Their last stop was in Sweden, and when they heard the word’s translation they knew they had the name for their business.

“We want our brewery to be a place where people can be themselves,” Darragh says.

They also want to pair the company with such groups as the American Alpine Club and Blue Sky Fund. They plan to sponsor athletes, too — in fact, Väsen’s first event will be with the Richmond Kickers.

Although they see their beer as something that can ride along in a kayak on the river or get thrown in a backpack for a hike, along with the nonprofit Blue Sky Fund, Väsen’s also working with One Percent for the Planet.

“The environment is really important to us,” Darragh says. “It goes beyond the outdoor athletic community.”

Until then, they’re focused on developing different recipes with head brewery scientist Jonathan Warner. He’s isolated several yeast strains from local trees and fruits to use in the fermenting process. This is the kind of research and development that will set Väsen apart from other breweries, the cousins say, as they play around with traditional styles and infuse them with American beer-making techniques.

“We’ve created this whole other thing,” Giordano says. “It’ll be interesting to see how Richmond takes it. It’s not going to taste like anything they’ve ever had before.”

Monday, February 27, 2017

Five Hopping Richmond Brews to Jump-Start Spring

Posted By on Mon, Feb 27, 2017 at 11:40 AM

While plenty of tasty winter warmers remain out there, the abundance of fresh India pale ales in this city and unseasonable weather makes us long for porch drinks, river rock hangs and longer days. After exploring what’s to come, I’ve rounded up offerings from both ends of the spectrum to make sure to keep everyone happy and satiated.

  • Scott Elmquist

Helles Frozen Over
5 percent alcohol
Strangeways Brewing

They said it would never happen. The curious purveyors of strange have crafted a good, old-fashioned lager. To be fair, it’s anything but ordinary. Hopped with Glacier, Galena and Centennial, it’s low on bitterness with a robust, malty backbone and light to medium body. This crafty creature is an easy drinker sure to please lager heads as well as those looking for something that can take them through the evening without a headbanger in the morning.

  • Scott Elmquist

8.5 percent alcohol
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

Fans of this 2015 release will rejoice knowing it’s now back annually. Lots of hops come together to tantalize your buds with citrus zings and a wallop of tropical aromas. This imperial IPA pours hazy amber with a pillowy head. It has a hearty helping of malted barley from Copper Fox Distillery that offers up a nice balance. Despite the alcohol, it’s not a booze bomb.

  • Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery

Kentucky French Toast
10 percent alcohol
Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery

Another stellar offering from the farm. This barrel-aged imperial brown ale boasts a prominent bourbon flavor that hits you right up front. Swirl it around in your mouth to reveal subtle maple and vanilla notes followed by a smidge of cinnamon at the finish. Its creamy mouth feel and medium body make this one an easy drinker — even before noon.

  • Scott Elmquist

Malibu Nights, Tangerine Dreams
6.5 percent alcohol
Champion Brewing

A unique brew that’s the cool kid at the party based on looks alone, this American IPA pours pinkish amber with an off-white head. Brewed with tangerines and hibiscus, it’s dry-hopped with Citra and Amarillo hops, making it tangy, dank and bursting with fruity aroma. Bonus points to Champion for crafting a label akin to an album cover straight out of the ’80s that would make Duran Duran proud.

  • Scott Elmquist

Piece of the Action
7.0 percent alcohol
The Answer Brewpub

Fans of Mosaic hops will absolutely want in on this citrusy little number. Pours hazy golden and immediately delivers a phenomenal floral bouquet that includes hints of pineapple, papaya and mango. The finish is nice and dry. This beer will make you want to punch winter square between the eyes.

Copyright © 2022 Style Weekly
Richmond's alternative for news, arts, culture and opinion
All rights reserved
Powered by Foundation