I've already waxed poetic in a previous post about the advantages of becoming members of the Brewers Association (or BA). Even before The Virginia Beer Company is up and pouring, we've learned a vast amount from our peers in the industry. I can say in earnest that our time as members of the BA up to this point hasn't been a boondoggle – the exposure to our future vendors and the networking opportunities have more than paid for the annual fee to be members.
One such networking opportunity came up in early May of this year. Chris and I have been lucky enough to get to know Michael Felberbaum over the past months. Michael is an Associated Press writer who covers tobacco, autos, technology, business, craft beer, and general Virginia news. He’s also an avid hockey player, a subject along with craft beer and the Commonwealth of Virginia that is close to VBC’s heart! Michael was kind enough to invite me and Chris up to Richmond for what turned out to be a chance to meet a contingent of the BA making their way through Virginia’s beer country. We were lucky enough to join the group for an afternoon during their stop in Richmond touring some of RVA’s best and boldest breweries along with some of the beer world’s engaging personalities.
The team from the BA included Julia Herz, Craft Beer Program Director for the BA and one of the prominent speakers at each year’s Craft Brewers Conference state of the industry address. In addition to Michael, there was also a contingent of local press and craft brewing enthusiasts. This group included Lee Graves – the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s own “Beer Guy” – and Annie Tobey, a freelance writer with a passion for travel and craft beer (again, we can relate). There were many more great folks in attendance that day, but to keep things succinct - overall it was a fun, intimate group in town that day to explore the growing craft beer scene in Richmond. And that group of visitors was ferried around RVA by Richmond Brewery Tours, a tour helmed on that particular day by none other than one of half of the Richmond Flying Squirrels broadcast team, Jay Burnham. Now if that’s not an eclectic mix I don’t know what is!
The tour began at one of Richmond’s best spots for great food and great beer, Mekong (twice named CraftBeer.com’s #1 "Great American Beer Bar"). From there the band visited Strangeways Brewing, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, and Isley Brewing Company. Chris and I will dedicate a future BKABC post to the great capital of Richmond, VA so we’ll be discussing the amazing things these breweries are doing soon enough. The key point here is that each brewery listed above was incredibly gracious with their time, space, and beer. At each stop, teams from the brewery opened their doors and their draft lines to their guests. We were treated with stories of each brewery's origin, tours of the facility, and a healthy dose of current beer offerings. It was an amazing afternoon getting to meet people in Virginia doing what Virginia Beer Co. plans to do soon, and being reminded about how enthusiastic people from all backgrounds and professions are about Virginia’s craft beer market. The tour ended back at Mekong where the group listened to owner An Bui’s plans for a future brewpub, The Answer; just another spot on the map to bump Richmond, the I-64 East corridor, and Virginia that much higher up the growing craft beer beanstalk.
The main focus of this post is not to name drop (though it was a pretty cool afternoon, I must admit) but rather to highlight again one of the best aspects of the craft beer industry: the camaraderie. The fact that we were invited to join this day of celebrating a piece of Virginia's craft beer scene, despite the fact that we're not yet open - incredible. The fact that these brewers opened their doors not only to the BA and to the press, but to each other and to us, bolsters my opinion that this is one of the best industries that a person could hope to work in. VBC still has work to do to be able to one day do the same for our peers, but it’s the positive enthusiasm from peers like Neil Burton of Strangeways and Eric McKay of Hardywood Park; the support of folks at the Brewers Association like Julie Herz; and the constant interaction with friends and enthusiasts like Michael Felberbaum that help to make the hard work now worth the effort. I don’t know of many industries that offer the kind of camaraderie and networking opportunities we experienced in early May in Richmond. So a big cheers to everyone we met and spent time with that day; we look forward to returning the favor in Williamsburg!