Cheers, Virginia! (August Is Virginia Craft Beer Month)
Mention some of Virginia’s most popular tourist destinations and instantly, visions of particular attractions start coming to mind. Merely locating places such as Williamsburg, Richmond, Charlottesville, and Virginia Beach on a map can easily bring to mind particular points of interest and reasons to hit the road. Road trips, long weekends and itineraries are built around them. Like minded friends speak of them with a mix of curiosity and enthusiasm. Those who have visited before wonder what’s new, and those who have not, ask the former what to expect. For example, of those cities listed above, a knowledgeable traveler would likely be able to rattle off a few don’t miss items immediately: a coffee infused stout, a Belgian style ale, an Oktoberfest style lager, and a hopped up IPA. (And you expected a list of museums and theme parks, didn’t you.) Well then, welcome to craft beer loving Virginia.
It’s a designation that has recently become official, should you have any doubts. The Virginia Craft Brewers Guild, along with the Virginia Tourism Corporation, the Virginia Manufacturers Association, and the Governor’s Office, recently dedicated August as Virginia Craft Beer Month. Events marking the occasion will be occurring all month at craft breweries and other locations throughout the state, culminating with the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest on the 25th. With already about forty craft breweries in operation, Virginia is hardly a newcomer to the growing national craft beer scene. But in the last few years, award winning breweries such as Devils Backbone (Roseland/Lexington) and Hardywood Park (Richmond) have joined more veteran operations such as St. George (Hampton), Starr Hill (Crozet), and Legend (Richmond). Dozens more are in various planning stages throughout the Commonwealth, and the VMA recently estimated on their website that at current growth, nearly a hundred may be in operation within the next decade. However, it was two recent pieces of state legislation – SB604 and HB359 – that perhaps more immediately marked the growing interest around craft beer in Virginia, and will likely go down as rather significant points along such a timeline. SB604 allows for breweries to legally sell beer on premises, in tasting rooms for example, without the need for a full service restaurant. Where the passing of that legislation into law seemed to get the larger amount of press between the two bills, HB359 hardly takes a back seat in importance. It allows for currently operating breweries to lease their equipment to start up breweries that perhaps don’t have the immediate capital to buy their own right away. Both are seen as vital to the growth of craft beer in the state, continued success for existing breweries, and quite possible job creators.
But even as the legislation made headlines, Virginia’s craft breweries kept making great beer. In May, recognition came in the form of prestigious World Beer Cup medals. Two came from the growing collection of breweries and around Charlottesville known as the “Brew Ridge Trail”, as Devils Backbone won Gold for their Vienna Lager, Blue Mountain a bronze for their Blue Reserve. A third, Hardywood Park in Richmond, also won bronze for their Gingerbread Stout. But while prizes bring interest and help build curiosity, the performances are what steal the show and wow the crowd. In other words, it’s all in the good beer that is flowing from the state – my state – of Virginia. During this official month of craft beer, make sure to seek out and enjoy some of the many well made brews being produced by Virginia craft brewers, and bring a friend along for the ride that might not yet be familiar with just how delicious they are. Many events are being held throughout the state, and many restaurants proudly showcase Virginia beer. And in case you feel like hitting the road for a couple days, go ahead and pull out that state map. Plan a weekend visiting one of Virginia’s many destination spots, and go for the beer. Because as the city and town names bring to mind images of rich historical importance, remember, Virginia’s craft brewers are busy making delicious, well crafted beer – and along with it, brand new history.