Revolutionary War battleground, Confederate capital, crime hub and misfit haven. Call it what you want, but Richmond, Virginia has a long, complicated history of being a lot of things to a lot of people. Now, the city is settling into its role as a beer destination. Flash back to 1935, when Richmond became the first city to sell beer in cans. In the more recent past, 2016 to be exact, Stone Brewing opened its sprawling East Coast production center and tasting room in the city’s East End, with the promise of opening a Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens to match its Escondido outpost in 2018. Last year, Triple Crossing Brewing opened a larger second location and, this year, veteran brewery Hardywood Craft Park Brewery debuted its sprawling, $28 million expansion in nearby Goochland.
While you could, and should, spend a few days exploring the history, nature and food that Richmond has to offer, you can knock out a decent portion of Richmond’s beer just by walking around Scott’s Addition. Once a booming industrial area, the neighborhood is now teeming with breweries, restaurants and condos in the former warehouses. The 152-acre span of land is now home to five breweries—including the most recent, Väsen Brewing—two cideries, a meadery and a distillery. Drinking your way through this hooch-dense neighborhood is daunting for even the most seasoned imbiber.
To get the most out of your beer voyage, you need a plan. That’s where I come in, your tour guide, leading the way through an efficiently inebriated schlep around the booziest neighborhood in Richmond.
The Veil Brewing Co.
The Veil is one of the buzziest breweries on the East Coast. Yet, with almost two years of operation under its belt, The Veil is still a newbie on the Richmond scene. Its crew has accomplished a lot in that time: They’ve caused a stir by hosting sold out festivals, having hours-long can release lines on Tuesdays and collaborating with the likes of Omnipollo, Monkish and Evil Twin. The taproom is a glam-goth beer lovers’ paradise, with dark walls, minimalist decor and taxidermied goats watching you sip your hazy IPAs. Their tap list is constantly rotating, but make sure to get something sour—such as the Never Gonnagetit, a neon plum-colored mixed berry gose—and something hoppy—Sam From Other Half is a dry-hopped Imperial IPA that pays homage to one of the Brooklyn brewery’s founders. Take note that there are no flight options and no growler pours here. Also, cans are hard to come by and usually sell out quickly. You can’t always have it all, but what you will get is some of the best beer in the country.
Ardent Craft Ales
A five-minute walk will bring you to Ardent Craft Ales. Ardent not only boasts a wide range of sessionable brews—try the Tart Berliner Weisse, Session Saison, or the popular Rye Kolsch—but its taproom is also one of the most welcoming spots in the city. Step inside what is basically your high school friend’s garage, with concrete block walls and exposed beam ceilings. The taproom itself is plenty inviting, with a friendly and knowledgeable staff, floral accents on the tables and coral barstools that make the space pop. Ardent’s outdoor beer garden is the true star here, where families and bro-groups alike can feel comfortable mingling on the spacious deck, always accented by a food truck. Come on a Saturday to grab a heaping helping of Texas-style BBQ from ZZQ, a company that will open its own storefront next door in the coming days. And don’t fret if you don’t have the time or liver function to try every beer that piques your interest. Ardent has plenty of to-go beer options.
Do you live in any major U.S. city? Then you know that arcade bars, or “barcades” are having a moment. As fun as drinking beer is on its own, drinking beer while racking up the high score on a 20-year-old “Scared Stiff” Elvira pinball machine is better. The Circuit features 44 self-service taps, featuring both craft and non-craft beer, as well as cider and wine. You’re charged by the ounce, so you’re free to pour yourself a flight, or go the traditional pint route. Whether you’re shooting arcade basketball with an Oxbow Space Cowboy Bière de Garde or playing Guitar Hero with a Victory Kirsch Gose—both tested and approved pairings—the Circuit has your nostalgic drinking needs covered.
You could probably subsist on a strict food truck diet all day—and that’s not a bad option—but why not try out one of Richmond’s best new restaurants while you’re in the neighborhood? Brenner Pass—brought to us by James Beard semifinalist chef Brittanny Anderson, along with her Metzger Bar and Butchery co-owners and some other notable Richmond restaurant folks—is a sprawling, Alpine-influenced restaurant at the top of Scott’s Addition. While you could do ahead and spend a small fortune here, that’s not what this particular tour is all about. Instead, sit at the bar, take in the Euro-vibes and soak up some of those aforementioned beers with Brenner’s silly-good Fondue Frites, fancy cheese fries with speck and cocktail onions, and Strozzapretti. spinach dumplings. Don’t forget the epic, ground-brisket and short-rib Fondue Burger. But if you insist that this is a “beer tour,” try the House Beer, a farmhouse ale made exclusively for the restaurant by its nearby Veil Brewing neighbors.
Isley Brewing Company
On the two-minute walk from Brenner Pass to Isley Brewing, you’ll run into Reservoir Distillery. If you’re up for it, and if they’re open, pop in for a whiskey tasting. If you’re on a beer-focused mission, keep walking. While it’s only been open since 2013, Isley Brewing was one of the first breweries to plant roots in the neighborhood. The tasting room has a television-set-coffee-shop-vibe in the best way possible. It’s comfortable and welcoming, complete with live music and an impressive collection of board games. After you’ve played a few rounds of Jenga inside, head out to the back patio to play Cornhole while drinking the Ruby Red Slippers, a grapefruit pale ale with just enough pucker and just enough hop, or the Fastidious Father, a banana version of their local favorite Choosy Mother peanut butter porter. Before you leave the block, stop next door at Lamplighter Coffee Roasters for a caffeine fix. You’ll need it. I should note here—and any of the “beer tour” purists can skip this aside—that this would be a good point on the trail to branch off and visit one of Scott’s Addition’s two cideries, Blue Bee and Buskey, or, for the Vikings among us, the impressive Black Heath Meadery.
Three Notch’d Brewing Company
Three Notch’d might just be the most “Virginian” of all the breweries you’ll visit today. With origins in nearby Charlottesville and an outpost in Harrisonburg, Three Notch’d opened its RVA Collab House and tasting room in the summer of 2016. The 3.5 barrel system focuses on collaborations with local nonprofits, musicians and businesses. It’s a welcome concept for a local-leaning city like Richmond. Three Notch’d also gives nods to Virginia’s rich history with flagships like No Veto English Brown Ale, but don’t sleep on their more experimental in-house beers, like the Sticker Slap NEIPA, Chrome Dome cherry lime radler, and, if it’s available, the wildly popular winter seasonal Biggie S’mores, a chocolate and graham cracker imperial stout.
Congratulations! You came, you drank, you conquered Scott’s Addition. Head up to the HofGarden, a rooftop biergarten and taproom, on top of the historic Hofheimer Building on bustling Broad Street, for your victory lap. The HofGarden serves up all the sausages, pretzels and potato salad you’d expect from a German-style biergarten, and this fare is exactly what you’ll need at the end of your journey. Pair your knackwurst with a Hofbrau Lager or a Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, play some games, and enjoy sunset views of the River City.