When An Bui opened his Vietnamese restaurant Mekong in a Richmond strip mall in 1995, he served only wine and no beer. “There was no beer scene,” Bui says, noting that the city had a brewpub, Legend Brewing, but that was basically it.
Two years later, Mekong dumped the wine and started focusing on beer. “It was just a gut feel,” Bui says. “We started getting the Belgian stuff in, started giving free tastings to people, built it one person at a time. Eventually, we had a small beer community of supporters.”
He hosted homebrewing meetings at Mekong to get people into brewing. “If other cities can do this, why can’t Richmond have a beer scene?” Bui recalls thinking.
Today, Richmond has more than 20 breweries — including California craft behemoth Stone Brewing’s new East Coast facility and Bui’s own The Answer Brewpub — and the number keeps growing, thanks in part to a 2012 Virginia Senate bill that allows breweries to sell their beers for on-site consumption.
“There’s been an explosion of craft brewing in Richmond,” says Greg Engert, beer director for Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which owns D.C.’s ChurchKey. “The three brewers from Richmond that I think are unbelievable and really just extraordinarily exceptional [are] The Veil, The Answer and Triple Crossing.”
If you’re a craft beer fan in D.C., you’ve had the opportunity to try all three — Engert often pours their brews from his taps — but since beer tastes better from the source, here’s a guide to three of Richmond’s best breweries.
Triple Crossing Brewing
113 S. Foushee St. & 5203 Hatcher St., Richmond; Mon.-Thu., 4-10 p.m., Fri. & Sat., noon-10 p.m., Sun., noon-8 p.m.
Triple Crossing was born as many breweries are: Friends Adam Worcester and Jeremy Wirtes were homebrewing when they had an idea. “You have a couple of drinks one night and say, ‘We should totally open up our own brewery,’ ” Worcester says.
Shortly after, Scott Jones, who grew up in Richmond with Worcester, called to tell him about his new kegerator. Jones had dreamed of opening a bar, so Worcester invited Jones to get drinks with him and Wirtes. All three were into the Northeast style of super-hoppy, juicy, hazy beers. “At the time, that scene wasn’t here in Richmond so we felt we’d be doing something new,” Worcester says.
In April 2014, the trio opened Triple Crossing Brewing in a small space in downtown Richmond. Last December, Triple Crossing expanded to add a much larger brewhouse in the city’s Fulton neighborhood, about a mile from Stone Brewing’s new space. (The two breweries recently teamed up on a double IPA called Fulton Rising — a nod to the developing area they share.)
“[The downtown location] allowed us to start off real small, test out these recipes, see how we felt they did and how people responded to them,” Worcester says.
Triple Crossing began canning beers using a mobile canner last fall, starting with flagship IPA Falcon Smash (the name is a “Super Smash Bros.” reference, and the label notes that the beer pairs well with Nintendo 64) and the Radiohead-inspired pale ale Paranoid Aledroid. (A rotating roster of cans is available in Fulton every other Friday.)
Though Wirtes brews a variety of styles, hoppy beers — especially low-alcohol session ales — remain Triple Crossing’s specialty.
“We like to do the beers people want to sit down and drink more than one of,” Worcester says, citing their hoppy golden ale, pilsner and English bitter. “We do have the hop bombs — those are our favorites — but we also want to have stuff for people who are not into that style.”
The next frontier for Triple Crossing is sours, like Waxing Poetic, a tart and fruity Berliner weisse.
“It’s a passion project for us,” Jones says. “There’s so many ways it can go.”
The Veil Brewing Co.
1301 Roseneath Road, Richmond; Tue.-Thu., 4-9 p.m., Fri., 4-11 p.m., Sat., noon-11 p.m., Sun., noon-8 p.m.
The Veil Brewing Co. has three owners, but everything — the beers, the cartoon can labels, the sophisticated taproom, even their social media presence — is head brewer and co-owner Matt Tarpey’s vision.
“I make the beers that I prefer to drink,” he says, “and I cross my fingers that everybody else likes them too.”
When The Veil first opened its doors last April, customers were already waiting in line to buy cans. These days, there’s still a line that stretches dozens (and dozens) of people deep for every Tuesday can release.
“It’s fun, it’s bewildering, it’s humbling,” says co-owner Dave Michelow, who handles the business side with co-owner Dustin Durrance. Michelow credits the hype behind Tarpey’s beer — most often soft, juicy and hazy IPAs and double IPAs like Master Shredder and Crucial Taunt — for the constant lines. Fans trade Veil beers across the country, and ratebeer.com recently ranked it the No. 3 new brewery in the world.
Though Tarpey previously worked at acclaimed Vermont breweries Hill Farmstead and The Alchemist (and interned at Belgium’s iconic Cantillon), this is his first head brewing job. Tarpey used to sing in metal bands and only got into brewing on a lark when he started volunteering at O’Connor Brewing in Norfolk, Va.
Tarpey recalls his thought process at the time: “I like beer, I don’t know much about brewing, it seems like it would be cool if I volunteered — maybe I’ll get some free beer out of it. Once I was there, I fell in love.”
Walk into The Veil on a random day and there’s a chance you may see only IPAs (though of the 120 or so beers The Veil has brewed in its first year, there have been plenty of sours and stouts — including one, Hornswoggler, that they sometimes brew with Oreo-style cookies).
“For us, it’s important to create a beer that is flavorful, aromatic, complex, has tons of hop character but is also approachable,” Tarpey says. “We try to cut back on the bitterness as much as possible because there’s a lot of people when they think hoppy beer or IPA, they think bitter. They don’t think this beer is going to taste like a blend of orange juice and grapefruit juice.”
The Answer Brewpub
6008 W. Broad St., Richmond; Mon.-Wed., 4 p.m.-midnight, Thu.-Sat., noon-midnight, Sun., noon-10 p.m.
If Richmond craft beer has a forefather, it’s An Bui. By the time he opened The Answer in 2014, his restaurant Mekong was already known as Richmond’s best craft beer bar.
Opening a brewery “was never my thinking,” Bui says, but a space opened up a few doors down from Mekong and he thought, “maybe it’s the time.”
He was driven by the prospect of drinking fresh hoppy beers. “When beer is delivered, it’s 2 to 3 weeks old by the time it gets to us,” Bui says. “How great would it be to taste fresh beer off the tank?”
So he founded The Answer, a small, bare-bones brewpub with 50-plus taps, a rotating series of beers from head brewer Brandon Tolbert, a stage for live music and a small menu of Vietnamese food.
“We make a lot of IPA,” where freshness is paramount, Bui says. “Then we have some fruity [sour] beer [and] we have some stout where we play with adjuncts.”
The Answer developed a process called The Andall, similar to Dogfish Head’s Randall, that involves infusing beers with ingredients like coffee, peanut butter cups, chilies and fruit, resulting in big, bold flavors.
Beers are available to-go in growlers or crowlers (32-ounce cans of fresh draft beer); Bui doesn’t anticipate producing enough beer to start canning or bottling anytime soon.
“I’m just trying to enjoy the moment that we have here,” Bui says. “So many breweries, so many awesome beers. The beer crowds in town are more educated and have more options to pick. It’s incredible.”
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