In the nineties, Richmond beer geeks could count the number of breweries in town on one hand. Today, it’s one of the country’s hottest beer destinations. “We have thirty-plus breweries, and most of them are brewing world-class beer,” says An Bui. It’s a bold statement, but Bui, a James Beard Award semi-finalist who serves as “Chief Beer Officer” at his family’s restaurant, Mekong, and founded nearby brewpub the Answer, hasn’t just witnessed craft beer’s explosion in Richmond—he helped galvanize it.
“When we decided to open our restaurant, for the first two years it was just Vietnamese cuisine and wine,” says Bui, whose family emigrated from Vietnam in 1986 and opened Mekong in 1995. The popular wines at that time were heavier—merlots, cabernets, and Chardonnays—but Mekong offered sweeter fare, like riesling, that paired best with the menu. “No one in town was drinking those wines,” Bui explains, and business suffered for it. Around that same time, a friend who was into craft beer had a party where he shared bottles from around the world—including a German doppelbock that changed everything. “My jaw hit the floor,” he says. “I was like, wow, I didn’t know beer tasted like this.” He approached his family about replacing their wine list with adventurous brews, a gamble that paid off as Mekong’s draft list grew and the bar became a mainstay for Richmond’s burgeoning craft beer community. Since 2012, Mekong has won Best Beer Bar in America from CraftBeer.com three times, and Bui entered the brewing scene himself in 2014 with the Answer, which quickly won local and national acclaim.
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As Mekong’s status has flourished in the beer world, so has Richmond’s. In 2014, West Coast juggernaut Stone Brewing announced it had chosen the city for its East Coast operations, opening a huge brewery and taproom on the banks of the James River, and smaller local beer makers have popped up in clusters around the city, too. “The best part is the proximity of all the breweries—you can walk to a dozen places and try beers,” Bui says, citing Scott’s Addition, a fast-growing neighborhood in a former industrial district, as a major hub. But the community’s closeness goes deeper than its zip code. “The community here, all the breweries in town, feel like family,” says Bui. “And so do the beer drinkers.” Here, Bui lets G&G in on the family secret: which breweries—aside from his own—should get visitors started on a sudsy tour of the city.
The Veil Brewing
1301 Roseneath Road
“You have to visit the Veil,” says Bui. “They make a great stout, a great IPA, a great sour.” A Scott’s Addition staple since it opened in 2016, the Veil’s extensive draft list—more than a dozen on tap at any given time—is a testament to the versatility of head brewer Matt Tarpey, whose resume boasts stints at Cantillon in Belgium and at Hill Farmstead Brewery in Vermont.
Bui’s Pick: “They make a really good fruit sour,” Bui says. The brewery’s Tastee series, which mixes seasonal fruit puree into a 5.5 percent sour ale with oats and milk sugar, keeps him coming back—specifically, the Blackout Tastee, with blackberry and black currants. “There’s lots of heavy fruit,” he says. “It tastes like a smoothie.”
Bingo Beer Co.
2900 W. Broad Street
“You can pretty much take your kids to any brewery in town and feel at home,” says Bui, but vintage arcade games and a formidable food menu make Bingo a particularly worthy destination for beer geeks with family in tow. Bingo’s location—steps away from the Veil and many other beer joints in Scott’s Addition—puts it within stumbling distance from restaurants and several cideries, perfect for the gluten- or hop-averse. Visitors aren’t likely to leave, though, once they scan the brewery’s draft list. “They specialize all kinds of lager.”
Bui’s Pick: Bingo Pivo, a Czech-style pilsner with barley and Saaz hops. “It’s kind of a hoppy lager that they do. It’s really, really good.”
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Triple Crossing Beer
113 S. Foushee Street | 5203 Hatcher Street
“Triple Crossing makes nice light beer—lagers and pilsners—but they make world-class IPA,” Bui says. And the hops aren’t the only reason to visit the seven-barrel brewery, which has locations downtown and in the Fulton neighborhood. “Triple Crossing is one of the only breweries in town that has a brick oven inside. They make their own pizza.”
Bui’s Pick: “Their IPAs compare to world-class beers from Treehouse and Trillium, that kind of level,” says Bui. Falcon Smash, Triple Crossing’s flagship IPA, is always a safe bet. “You can find it at the brewery and on tap around town.”
Ardent Craft Ales
3200 W. Leigh Street
What started as a co-op in a local garage has grown into one of Richmond’s top destinations for a cold beer on a sunny day. “When they built it, they built a big patio in the back under this big oak tree,” Bui says. “You can sit there and drink beer and smell the smoke from the barbecue place next door.” The smells come courtesy of ZZQ, a Texas-style joint with lines out the door—which he recommends as a post-brew pit stop. “If you come in town, and you like barbecue, it’s a must-visit place.” (We whole-heartedly agree.)
Bui’s Pick: “Ardent makes really nice light beers,” Bui says. “The one that I really like there is Honey Ginger. It’s really a style of its own.” The seasonal golden-colored ale is occasionally available in a barrel-aged variety, too, with notes of bourbon and vanilla.
321 W. 7th Street
“Legend is the oldest brewery in town,” says Bui. In its twenty-five years of operation, the small tasting room serving up house-made beers has grown to a full-sized restaurant, complete with plenty of outdoor seating and top-notch views—making it a great stop for curious out-of-towners. “They have an incredible patio that overlooks the city.”
Bui’s Pick: “Their famous beer is the Legend Brown,” says Bui, noting that the full-bodied American brown ale is a longstanding Virginia classic. “That’s the beer that put them on the map.”
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2408-2410 Ownby Lane
It’s no surprise that Hardywood, the winner of G&G’s craft beer bracket in 2018, is a local favorite—it beat out thirty-one other breweries in a contest with hundreds of thousands of votes cast. And Bui agrees that it’s worth the hype. “It’s just another brewery not to miss on a tour of Richmond,” he says. Last year, Hardywood opened a massive production facility in West Creek (820 Sanctuary Trail Drive), twenty minutes from downtown, complete with a taproom, private event space, and food truck plaza, but their warehouse and taproom on Ownby Lane still serves as the brewery’s headquarters.
Bui’s Pick: The Gingerbread Stout, a seasonal imperial milk stout with ginger and honey. “It’s one of those beers that you do not want to miss.”