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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Exploring Richmond's Beer Caves at Rocketts Landing

These cellars are the last vestige of a 19th-century brewery.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 18, 2016 at 4:31 PM

Richmond beer lovers may have heard of them, but few locals know about the now-abandoned beer caves at Rocketts Landing. And if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you may miss them entirely.

They look like so many other architectural ruins scattered about a city with a long history. But the arching entrances are some of the few signposts that remain of Richmond’s pre-Prohibition brewing industry.

The caves, blocked by chain-link fencing, officially are listed at 4920 Old Main St. and overlook the boat slip at Rocketts Landing. They were originally part of the James River Steam Brewery, built in 1868 by D.G. Yuengling Jr., son of the founder of D.G. Yuengling and Son -- a brewery still very much in business in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Richmond’s 19th-century brewery operated under steam power -- hence, its name.

The building was a towering 80 feet high and the caves constructed underneath were able to hold 6,000 barrels, according to Lee Graves in “Richmond Beer: a History of Brewing in the River City.” The tunnels were used for both fermentation and storage -- placement near the banks of the river was intentional to allow for easy transport to the railroad or water.

“Unfortunately, events did not favor long-term success,” Graves writes. Competition increased as refrigeration became more widespread. And the financial crisis of 1873 knocked the beer business back even more, leaving James River Steam Brewery as the only company producing beer in the area. Yuengling hung on until 1879 when he shut down.

“I went to Richmond, Virginia, and put $500,000 in a brewery, and came back without a dollar,” Graves quotes him as saying to a New York journalist.

Richmond Cedar Works took over the building and used the caves for storage. That structure succumbed to fire in 1891, but the sturdy stone cellars survived.

As the Richmond brewery scene heated up, there was talk of redeveloping the site as a new brewery, but nothing came of the deal.

The caves have become something of a tourist spot, although there hasn’t been much to see other than high walls and standing water. Just beyond the largest archway, about 10-15 feet of the roof near the entranceway has collapsed, stopping at a large, continuous root that connects four trees. The root appears to have insinuated itself within the structure and perhaps caused it to weaken.

On a sunny day, light streams through the cave in and you can get a sense of the how much the cellars once held. It’s still only a partial view -- three additional vaulted tunnels with storage bays branch deep into a hill.

The caves were placed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places in 2013. “As a property that has remained vacant since 1891, having only been used for storage after the brewery’s closing,” the application says, “the cellars remain largely untouched and stand as a unique remnant of mid-19th-century brewing methods near Richmond’s edge on the bank of the James River.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holiday Beer Recipe: Original Gravity Brewing's Sweet Potato Brown

Posted By on Wed, Dec 23, 2015 at 12:00 PM

Tony Ammendolia of Original Gravity & Final Gravity Brewing Co. began brewing at home in 1993. He opened Original Gravity, his home-brew supply store in 2011. It quickly outgrew the space and moved to 6118 Lakeside Ave. last fall.

Part of that expansion included room to commercially brew beer, and Ammendolia began serving Final Gravity beer at the end of the summer.

“In the future,” he says, “we look to offer kits of some of our beers so you can make them at home, as well as classes for those looking to get into brewing.”

Until then, Ammendolia graciously shares this recipe Growler’s for home-brewing readers.

Sweet Potato Brown
Yield: 5 gallons

Ingredients

3.5 pounds sweet potatoes (peeled and cubed)
5.5 pound Maris Otter malt
1 pound 6-row brewer’s malt
0.7 pound Crystal 40L malt
0.35 pound flaked barley
0.35 pound Crystal 120L malt
0.35 pound Victory malt
0.06 pound Carafa III malt
0.06 pound chocolate malt
0.5 pound lactose (add last 15 minutes of the boil)
1 ounce East Kent Goldings hops (60 minutes)
1 vanilla bean (5 minutes)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (5 minutes)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (5 minutes)
1 vial RVA101 Chico ale yeast
4-5 ounces priming sugar

Directions

Mash the grains and sweet potatoes together and cook at 153 degrees for 60 minutes. Follow the directions for each ingredient. Allow the wort to cool. Take a hydrometer reading — original gravity should be 1.056. Add the yeast, cover and ferment until two consecutive hydrometer readings are the same. Add the priming sugar and bottle. The beer will be ready to drink in about two weeks.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Richmond Designer Tom Brickman on the Craft of Making Ardent’s Tap Handles

Posted By on Fri, Dec 18, 2015 at 12:15 PM

It takes more than 85 different steps to make one Ardent Craft Ale beer tap handle.

“I made a bunch of different prototypes for them,” designer and fabricator Tom Brickman says. Once the decision-making process was over, the final design turned out to be extremely labor-intensive.

“They’re made of maple on the sides, bamboo in the middle, and they’re tapered on all four sides,” Brickman says. The Ardent rosette is inset and is silkscreened twice — and the Ardent brand is silkscreened twice on the sides well. Each handle also has a slot so that the names of the different varieties of beer can be inserted and switched.

In other words, there’s a lot of precision cutting, gluing, sanding and custom fitting going on.

“I was trying to keep the same feel as the interior of the pouring room of the brewery,” he says. “I wanted it to jibe with the space.”

He went into it with his eyes open — after all, he came up with the complicated design. To streamline the process, he arranged an assembly line and fabricated 200 handles at the same time.

“It’s pretty intense,” Brickman says, “but I wouldn’t want to leave any one of those steps out or it would just be a different thing.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Craft Beer Business May Be Booming in Richmond, But One Key Ingredient is Hard to Find

Posted By on Tue, Dec 15, 2015 at 11:50 AM

Hops are king. The fragrant, conelike plant is a vital ingredient for flavoring beer, especially the hop-heavy craft brews dominating Richmond’s bar taps. But the rapid boom of the craft beer industry has left the crucial flavoring agent in short supply.

Breweries must purchase hops on futures contracts — buyers and sellers agree on a price for the product and its delivery before the crop is planted.

If a particular variety of beer unexpectedly takes off, there won’t be enough hops to meet demand when the crop is ready for harvest. And that’s when it gets difficult to find more hops to make up for contracted hops. Either the hops are unavailable, or they cost considerably more.

“For new breweries, finding the hot hops is extremely difficult since contracts have not yet been established,” says Chris Ray, co-founder of Center of the Universe Brewing Co. “Another issue is that if the farms have a bad crop year on a specific hop variety, even though you have the hop contracted for X number of pounds, you could very well get shorted, leaving you stranded at the end of the year unable to brew the beer that uses that hop variety.”

Virginia is working to become a player in the hops industry, but forces driving the U.S. and international market are affected by factors unrelated to Virginia, such as drought in the Pacific Northwest, record heat in Europe and a rise in demand here and in Asia and South America now that they’ve moved toward producing American-style beers.

Virginia is still a relative newcomer to the growing industry, with only about 50 to 100 acres statewide devoted to hops, according to Jonathan Staples of Black Hops Farm. It’s a labor-intensive business. It takes several years to establish plants and get new fields producing, so it’ll be a long time before in-state growers will be able to satisfy even a fraction of the rapidly growing in-state demand.

“A good analogy is grapes,” Staples says. “Virginia is now a big part of the U.S. wine market — and we make great wines — but it took the first growers a long, long time to get there since the initial years were spent learning what grew in our climate and soil, what our yields would be relative to the West Coast and building the market.”

Conditions to grow the industry include vigorous state support of agriculture, abundance of water, a strong farming community and proximity to large markets.

As home to so many top-rated breweries and talented brewers, the vibrant beer community hopes that as Virginia farms grow more hops, knowledge will increase, and growers will begin to get economies of scale that will ensure more price competition.

Allen Young of BSG Craftbrewing, a company that supplies the industry with ingredients and small equipment, sees efforts in that direction already with new acreage around the state and Black Hops Farm’s plans for a huge state-of-the-art hops processing facility in Loudoun County. Black Hops is investing nearly $1 million in the project and the state has given the county a $40,000 grant to accomplish the task, according to a statement from the governor’s office. Tellingly, brewers also are adapting to available varieties when a specific variety of hops sells out.
Larger craft breweries purchase hops in quantities that dwarf those of smaller operations, so their leftovers can be significant to breweries such as Center of the Universe.

“Craft breweries generally are helpful to others in the industry,” Ray says. “The only way to increase craft beer sales is working together. Trades, excess purchasing and advice are common. Usually those types of transactions occur when there’s a prior relationship between the breweries. Just last year, Stone [Brewing Co.] helped us out with some hops.”

And every little bit helps. “New startup brewers have the hardest time,” Young says. “So they must rely on the kindness of others — like Blanche DuBois in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’”

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Other Brew: Root Beer Sheds Its Soda-Pop Image in Richmond

Posted By on Wed, Dec 9, 2015 at 12:30 PM

There was a brief rumble and then the family could hear a series of explosions coming from the hallway.

While each member rushed from the different parts of the house to the source of the sound, a brown liquid could be seen seeping out of the closet under the stairs. And when the parents opened the door, they saw sopping coats, scarves and hats.

The case of homemade root beer my friend secretly bottled and stashed in the back of the closet had exploded.

Root beer, the stuff of ice-cream floats and birthday parties, is a specifically American beverage. Although drinks made from roots and berries have been made since, well, the beginning of time, root beer is thought to be a colonial-era creation.

Ingredients to make regular beer weren’t always on hand, so canny settlers came up with their own versions using what they had — things such as ginger beer, birch beer, sarsaparilla and sassafras beer.

These were typically small beers — beer with a low-alcohol content that was often served, surprisingly, to children because the water at the time was unreliable. But low alcohol is a subjective term. Small beer ranged anywhere from 2 percent alcohol to as much as 9 or 10 percent.

Pharmacist Charles Hires invented — or perhaps marketed is the better term — the first commercially prepared root beer. It began as a tea, which evolved into a nonspecific, cure-all syrup.

“To drink Hires is to absorb Nature and reproduce it into glowing cheeks, clear lively eyes and lively step,” the original advertising materials claimed. Soon he added carbonation and the transformed product became Hires Root Beer. It debuted it at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial exhibition and was a hit.

Traditionally, root beer’s main flavoring agent was sassafras root, but in 1960, the Food and Drug Administration banned the root because studies showed that its oil caused cancer. Today, extract avoids that nasty little problem, although the main ingredient in most root beer is wintergreen, which is said to have a similar flavor profile.

You can make root beer at home, but to create a drink with more than a small amount of alcohol, you’ll risk the kind of explosion my friend had to explain to her family.

One successful version has made waves from Wauconda, Illinois. Small Town Brewery made Not Your Father’s Root Beer its first national roll out in the spring. It’s been a conversation piece around town, with the brewery citing recent measures that show it “becoming the No. 1 craft SKU in the United States.”

And now Richmond has its own version. After seven months of tinkering with its recipe, Isley Brewing Co. released Drunken Uncle Hard Root Beer on Friday, Nov. 28, with an alcohol content of 6 percent. It’s actually a sassafras-spiced porter with a hint of vanilla, general manager Patrick Bisha says.

“There are some other [hard root beers] out on the market, but those are distilled beverages,” he says. “Ours is truly brewed.”

And with seven barrels on hand, Drunken Uncle will be easy for root-beer lovers to find and try at the brewery and bars around town. Ice cream is optional.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Suds of the Season: 6 Richmond Beer Offerings to Keep You Warm This Winter

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2015 at 10:06 AM

While the temperatures drop and holiday insanity seeps into our shortened days, we’re all looking for something that soothes the soul, warms the belly and takes the edge off those obligatory family gatherings. Thanks to our local suds purveyors, you’re covered from black-as-night stout to tastes a little lighter.

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Black Dolphin by Triple Crossing Brewing Co.

10 percent alcohol
Russian imperial stout

For its first Russian imperial stout, Triple Crossing isn’t messing around. Roasty malt with a hint of coffee swirl in the opaqueness that’s topped with a caramel-colored head. Get thee to the tasting room for a chance to snag one of only 250 bottles. The robust libation will also be available on draft alongside several variants, including one made with Black Hand’s Dia De Los Muertos coffee and another with cocoa nibs. Bring a friend and have the Uber app open — this one is big and tasty.

ardent1.jpg

Dark Rye by Ardent Craft Ales

9.8 percent alcohol
American imperial stout

While the name is unfussy, this is a complex brew whose mysterious flavor comes from the rye. It’s uniquely spicy, pronounced and a perfect partner in crime with roasted malts. Swirl it around in your mouth and you might even detect a touch of bourbon as a slight sweetness emerges at the dry finish.

lhole.jpg

Citra Fresh by Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery

6 percent alcohol
Citra IPA

Ah, the freshness! Nearly a pound and a half of Citra hops were added at the end of the boil and dominate each barrel of Citra Fresh. By design, the malty backbone is soft and delicate. Meant to be consumed immediately, this IPA is a little taste of sunshine that breaks up the winter to take you back to the days of beach houses and flip-flops.

winterwhite.jpg

Winter White by Legend Brewing Co.

6 percent alcohol
Witbier

Take your average Belgian witbier and imagine it with an extra blast of spicy hops, coriander and orange peel. Hazy golden in appearance with a creamy mouth feel and crisp finish make this one a welcome reprieve for those of you who fear the darkness of seasonal stouts and porters.

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Den by the Answer

9.8 percent alcohol
American imperial stout

The Answer has been cranking out some hoptastic creations since its inception. Heck, brewer Brandon Tolbert took home the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup for best of show for his Larceny IPA earlier this year. Now he’s come to the dark side and that’s a good thing. Den is a rich elixir that finds sweet and smoky flavors balanced with a velvety mouth feel that’s guaranteed to ready you for a long winter’s nap at 9.8 percent. Variations so far have included Cafe Den with Trung Nguyen coffee and Tahitian vanilla beans, as well as Coconut Candy Den with roasted coconut.

isley89.jpg

Going Mintal by Isley Brewing Co.

8 percent alcohol
Mint-chocolate milk stout

In collaboration with local beer enthusiasts Ladies of Lager, Isley has pulled off a concoction that combines everything you love about an Andes mint. A silky mouth feel, a hint of menthol and chocolaty goodness combine for a truly delicious brew that tops out at 8 percent thanks to the addition of Dark Belgian Candi Sugar. Perfect for an after-dinner pint or two.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Smaller and Better

The Capital Ale House National Beer Expo returns with a more focused schedule.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 8, 2015 at 1:00 PM

They were a few rocky moments last year at the Capital Ale House National Beer Expo. Alex Papajohn, owner of Variant Events, says its inaugural schedule was too aggressive. So this year, he says, he’s pared things back to improve core events.

Papajohn also says that the experienced team at All About Beer Magazine has come on board as a national partner, joining the continued support of Capital Ale House as title sponsor.

All About Beer will take a lead role in recruiting presenters, beer and content for a series of Saturday morning seminars. Patrick Tiernan, chief operating officer of Stone Brewing Co., and Jason Armstrong, its director of national sales, are scheduled to present a seminar on the company’s philosophy and the plans they have for the Richmond location.

The expo runs Thursday, July 16, to Saturday, July 18, with most events taking place at the Richmond Convention Center.

The main event, the Walk-Around Grand Tasting, will be held Saturday from 2-6 p.m. at the convention center. The VIP session will be twice as long as last year, and attendees will have exclusive access to 18 rare and sought-after beers. All About Beer Magazine beer editor Ken Weaver is assisting with the selection of more than 160 beers for the walk around. Breweries will include Allagash Brewing Co., Devils Backbone, Harpoon and Wild Wolf Brewing, plus plenty of local breweries. Food, wine and cider also will be available.

The festivities kick off Thursday night with parties at Richmond-area breweries. Friday brings the Style Weekly-sponsored Taco Throwdown, where 16 chefs will show off their stuff wrapped in corn tortillas.

You can also hit the Flapjack Brunch at Julep’s New Southern Cuisine on Saturday at 10 a.m., attend a seminar or two about the future of beer or the rise of sours, and wrap things up Saturday night with Expo After Hours at Capital Ale House Downtown.

Details and ticket information can be found at nationalbeerexpo.com.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Beer 101: The Perfect Pour

Because beer tastes better when you get it into the glass the right way.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 1, 2015 at 1:07 PM

For amateur bartenders and Kegerator owners, a professional pour will make all the difference. As bartender Courtney McKenna ran back and forth behind the long bar at Legend Brewing Co. pulling two pints at once and stacking glasses under the taps to remember orders, she took a moment to pass on a little advice and demonstrate how to pour beer properly. Bottled beer can benefit, too — putting it in a glass releases the beer’s aromatics.

1. Start with a clean glass.

2. Open the tap for a moment and let the foam that’s leftover from the last beer drain away.

3. With the tap still running, place the glass under the stream at a 45-degree angle.

4. Make sure the glass doesn’t touch the tap. Bacteria can collect and multiply.

5. When the glass is nearly full, pull it down and let a little of the foam float to the top, creating a 1-inch head.*

*For bottled beer, pour the beer down the side of a glass tilted at a 45-degree angle and about halfway through, straighten the glass and start pouring in the middle to create a foamy head.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Chef Runneth Over

Home brewing doesn’t have to stay at home.

Posted By on Wed, Jun 24, 2015 at 1:50 PM

Give a man a beer and he wastes an hour. Teach a man to brew and he wastes a lifetime.

“I started because I didn’t think making great beer at home was possible, so I had to try it for myself,” says Jeremy Wirtes, brewer and co-owner of Triple Crossing Brewery. “I fell in love with the process and the endless possibilities of both ingredients and methods. I’ve been down the rabbit hole ever since.”

Hip as home brewing seems in 2015, Americans as far back as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson embraced it. What’s changed since colonial times is the culture around it, with swapping samples and competing with other brewers now a significant part of beer culture. Although you could drink your creation at home, the consensus is you’re missing out on a rewarding aspect of the beer community that way.

Got limited money and time? As with any hobby, you can spend as much as you want should brewing pique your interest, but a low initial investment makes it doable for almost anyone. Busy types take heart, too, because it can take as little as a few hours on two separate days to produce a batch of beer. And not just any beer, but beer your way.

“It’s creative expression. Think you’d like a mango beer? Try to make one,” says Anna Shore, president of James River Homebrewers. “We all want to know our food ingredients and processing, but what about our beverages? You can have control of this, too.”

Getting started requires tapping into someone else’s knowledge base. Shore suggests having a friend show you the process, but absent a savvy pal, check out a home-brewers’ club meeting or visit on a group brew day. The American Homebrewers Association sponsors two — Big Brew is the first weekend in May and Learn to Brew Day the first weekend in November — but Richmond clubs have events year-round.

Not that crafting your own beer requires justification, but keep in mind it’s educational, too. A recent Science on Tap event at the Science Museum of Virginia drew 1,200 hop heads to taste local beer, question brewing experts and learn the science behind beer.

“Huguenot Hops discussed alpha and beta levels and how essential oils impart different aromas in beers,” says Chrissy Caldwell, the museum’s manager of communications and curiosity. Repeat: It’s not just about drinking. It’s about learning.

First-timers can opt for the easiest method, a kit that includes directions, malt extract, hops and yeast. Besides ingredients, you’ll need a large metal pot measuring five or more gallons, a thermometer, a carboy or food-grade five-gallon bucket and an air lock, plus bottles, caps and a capper after fermentation. These basics are available at any of the suppliers in all-inclusive starter kits.

“Before buying any equipment, I always suggest borrowing as a great way to test the waters without the monetary investment,” Shore says. “For the first brew, start with a simple recipe and malt extract. In terms of style, I’d suggest the novice try a brown ale. It’s one of the most basic, least complicated.”

But be forewarned, home brewing isn’t all camaraderie and yeast. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of cleaning,” Shore says. “A brewer spends more time cleaning before and after brewing than the actual brewing.”

Where to Get Started

Artisans Wine and Homebrew
13829 Village Place Drive
379-1110
artisanswineandhomebrew.com

Original Gravity
6118 Lakeside Ave.
264-4808
oggravity.com

Weekend Brewer
4205 W. Hundred Road
796-9760
weekendbrewer.com

James River Homebrewers
Second Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m.
Mekong
6004 W. Broad St.
Search Facebook for James River Homebrewers 

Mentoring Advanced Standards of Homebrewing
Third Thursday of the month at 7 p.m.
Sergio’s
4824 Market Square Lane
Search Facebook for MASHRVA

The Chef Runneth Over

Home brewing doesn’t have to stay at home.

Posted By on Wed, Jun 24, 2015 at 1:50 PM

Give a man a beer and he wastes an hour. Teach a man to brew and he wastes a lifetime.

“I started because I didn’t think making great beer at home was possible, so I had to try it for myself,” says Jeremy Wirtes, brewer and co-owner of Triple Crossing Brewery. “I fell in love with the process and the endless possibilities of both ingredients and methods. I’ve been down the rabbit hole ever since.”

Hip as home brewing seems in 2015, Americans as far back as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson embraced it. What’s changed since colonial times is the culture around it, with swapping samples and competing with other brewers now a significant part of beer culture. Although you could drink your creation at home, the consensus is you’re missing out on a rewarding aspect of the beer community that way.

Got limited money and time? As with any hobby, you can spend as much as you want should brewing pique your interest, but a low initial investment makes it doable for almost anyone. Busy types take heart, too, because it can take as little as a few hours on two separate days to produce a batch of beer. And not just any beer, but beer your way.

“It’s creative expression. Think you’d like a mango beer? Try to make one,” says Anna Shore, president of James River Homebrewers. “We all want to know our food ingredients and processing, but what about our beverages? You can have control of this, too.”

Getting started requires tapping into someone else’s knowledge base. Shore suggests having a friend show you the process, but absent a savvy pal, check out a home-brewers’ club meeting or visit on a group brew day. The American Homebrewers Association sponsors two — Big Brew is the first weekend in May and Learn to Brew Day the first weekend in November — but Richmond clubs have events year-round.

Not that crafting your own beer requires justification, but keep in mind it’s educational, too. A recent Science on Tap event at the Science Museum of Virginia drew 1,200 hop heads to taste local beer, question brewing experts and learn the science behind beer.

“Huguenot Hops discussed alpha and beta levels and how essential oils impart different aromas in beers,” says Chrissy Caldwell, the museum’s manager of communications and curiosity. Repeat: It’s not just about drinking. It’s about learning.

First-timers can opt for the easiest method, a kit that includes directions, malt extract, hops and yeast. Besides ingredients, you’ll need a large metal pot measuring five or more gallons, a thermometer, a carboy or food-grade five-gallon bucket and an air lock, plus bottles, caps and a capper after fermentation. These basics are available at any of the suppliers in all-inclusive starter kits.

“Before buying any equipment, I always suggest borrowing as a great way to test the waters without the monetary investment,” Shore says. “For the first brew, start with a simple recipe and malt extract. In terms of style, I’d suggest the novice try a brown ale. It’s one of the most basic, least complicated.”

But be forewarned, home brewing isn’t all camaraderie and yeast. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of cleaning,” Shore says. “A brewer spends more time cleaning before and after brewing than the actual brewing.”

Where to Get Started

Artisans Wine and Homebrew
13829 Village Place Drive
379-1110
artisanswineandhomebrew.com

Original Gravity
6118 Lakeside Ave.
264-4808
oggravity.com

Weekend Brewer
4205 W. Hundred Road
796-9760
weekendbrewer.com

James River Homebrewers
Second Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m.
Mekong
6004 W. Broad St.
Search Facebook for James River Homebrewers 

Mentoring Advanced Standards of Homebrewing
Third Thursday of the month at 7 p.m.
Sergio’s
4824 Market Square Lane
Search Facebook for MASHRVA

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