Brewing is for the Bees:  An Oral History of St. George’s Honey Meade Lager

By: Alex Hannagan


The St. George Brewing Company, nestled on a campus outside NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, has what William Spence, Jr., Director of Drinking Operations, would call “room to grow.” It wasn’t always that way. In the infancy of the craft beer movement, St. George began as a ‘brew on premises” operation. In 1998, it evolved into a brewery, just before the end of what they consider the first craft beer bubble. “Brewing is one of the best communities,” William pondered, referring to the outpouring of help that tided St. George over following a fire on Christmas Eve, 2000, that destroyed their facility in Virginia Beach. Batches of St. George mixed into other breweries’ own wares until they could get back on their feet at the current location. The other helpful graybeards included Clipper City (now Heavy Seas in Baltimore), Old Dominion (since relocated to Delaware) and Legend Brewing. “Now though, it’s really cutthroat,” he concluded. Still, according to William, “the best friendships begin or end over a beer.” One can say the same of Honey Meade Lager, one of St. George’s most popular beers. What follows is a lightly-edited dialog among friends who became business partners, all over a pint of beer one night in the taproom.

Checking on the bees is like exploratory surgery each time you go to the doctor.

Andy Westrich, Master Apiator:  “I was just a customer when William found out I was a beekeeper. One night he says, “Hey, let’s stick a hive back there!”

Andy Rathmann, Brewmaster:  “I like what other brewmasters are trying, but I can only drink half of a glass. It needs balance.”

William:  “We want our beers to live right in front of that beer-inspired ‘good idea’ line that gets people in trouble, too.” 

Bill Spence, Owner and Founder:  “We go for drinkability, not off-the-wall taste.  There are people who just throw in the kitchen sink.”

Westrich:  “So, I said I don’t care what we make as long as it ends in ‘Lager’. It’s more non-traditional and complex to do a honey lager.”

Rathmann:  “We make lagers because the brewmaster likes to drink them.”

William: “It ended up being Scott [Batten, the Assistant Brewer’s] recipe.”

Westrich:  “There hasn’t been any real experimentation, but we’ve done three batches.”

William:  “Water, yeast, grain are all the same –“

Westrich:  “It does change every year because of the honey. Of course with pollen, but also the color and any floral notes are all dependent on the weather.”

William:  “We need 275-300 pounds, just for a 25 BBL batch. What’s the math?”

Westrich:  “One bee can make a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey.”

William:  “So it takes 2.8 million bees to do that.”

Westrich:  “We’re going to install a hive monitoring system with its own dedicated server.  It’ll help monitor the bees’ activity, the hive’s temperature – the overall health of the colony.”

William:  “Checking on the bees is like exploratory surgery each time you go to the doctor.”

Westrich:  “Without that system, a visual inspection sets the colony back a full day, when they’re only producing honey about 75 days out of the year.”

William:  “That one day is like two years out of a bee’s life just to repair that damage.”

Westrich:  “The Eastern Agricultural Society, the largest group in the United States, met here and was jealous we could drink a beer and work!”

William:  “Part of being a community, it’s not just about the product. We’re also educating the community about protecting bees.”

Westrich:  “We have beekeeping classes that bring 20-30 people each month.”

William:  “We also transferred two hives last summer, and we’ve helped [Langley Air Force Base].”

Westrich: “That was me!”

William:  “Just Google ‘F-22’ bees.”


Bill:  “With this beer, it’s not like you’re sitting here sucking on a bottle of honey.”

William:  “You can take some home and do 10-12.”

Westrich:  “What?”

William:  “Over a weekend!”

Bill: “It doesn’t burn you out.”

William:  “We sell pitchers of this. Excellent drinkability.”

Rathmann: “A pitcher to share!”

Bill:  “And it satisfies more than one person.”

William:  “We’re not striving to turn over tables. Come for an evening and talk.”

Westrich:  “You can have 10-15 kids running around getting into the toys.”

William:  “Check out the label. That is actually a backlit picture of one of the hives.”

Westrich:  “You always know you’ve arrived when you get your signature on a beer label!”



Chivalry Is Not Dead at Castleburg Brewery and Taproom

By: Terri L. Jones


The name “Castleburg,” and its logo, call to mind knights and parapets, and all things medieval. However, after being served a “Flight of the Round Table” and hanging out at Castleburg Brewery and Taproom for a while, I think the medieval term that most aptly describes the atmosphere here is “chivalrous,” no, not the archaic connotation of male gallantry (although that may be true too), but rather the more timeless meaning of courtesy and generosity. In fact, Castleburg’s owner and head brewer, Karl Homburg, says he and his staff pride themselves on their friendliness and personal touch.

Rhonda Groves, taproom manager and Karl’s life partner, tells the story of a couple who recently stopped by the brewery on a slow Sunday, right at closing time. The couple was from Minnesota, and the man had run the Richmond Marathon the day before. They had Richmond Beer Trail cards, and Castleburg was their last stamp. Rhonda and Karl gladly unlocked the doors, stamped their cards, awarded them their Beer Trail hats, and poured beers for them – on the house, no less!


“I don’t know if that would’ve happened anywhere else,” says Rhonda, not boastfully, but from personal experience.

 Longtime customers of RVA craft breweries, Rhonda and Karl appreciate it when they’re made to feel at home at breweries they patronize. Remembering their names scores bonus points with them.

“That’s the reason we go back and become loyal customers,” she notes. “It goes a long way!”

 So, when they opened Castleburg Brewery and Taproom, right down the street from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s original location on Ownby Lane, in the summer of 2016, they made sure to give their own customers that same warm welcome and friendly service. If you’re a member of their Knights of Malta mug club, you may even find your mug waiting on the bar when you walk through the door.

Their beer tenders not only treat their regular customers like old friends, but they’re also eager to help new customers choose a beer they love. To point you in the right direction, “They’ll ask you questions about what you like and what you don’t like,” explains Karl. Then you’re welcome to sample a few brews to ensure you select the perfect one.

 Running the gauntlet

Finding a beer that you really love requires some experimentation, but not as much as brewing that beer. A good example is Castleburg’s Black Knight brew, a favorite of the owner and quite a few of his customers. This Black India Pale Ale actually took Karl two to three years of trial and error to perfect.

“It started as a kit and I took that kit and tweaked it a little bit, and from there, kept tweaking it until I got it to where I liked it,” Karl recalls. “It took seven or eight iterations to get it to that point.”

Rhonda likens the process to cooking: “A chef may have Grandma’s recipe that they’ve been making forever and decide that they can do it better. That’s what he (Karl) was doing – taking recipes and making them different.”


The result of all this experimentation is traditional-style beers. With a name like Karl Homburg, you might assume traditional German beers, but Karl says his heritage (his grandmother migrated from Germany) really hasn’t had an impact on his brewing style.

Castleburg’s beers are simply good, solid brews without many extra ingredients like fruits or flavorings. Even when Karl and his assistant brewer, Josh Starliper, add something like Vermont maple syrup or star anise, that additional flavor is understated and secondary to the foundational flavor of the beer itself.

“Castleburg’s beers are little more distinctive and not as focused on trends,” notes regular Ashley Scruggs, whose favorite is Black Knight, followed by the mOatmeal Stout.

 The joust of the brewmasters

While Castleburg is still young, the brewery has already established itself in the eyes of craft beer experts – and not just the ones enjoying a brew in the taproom! Karl won numerous homebrewing awards when he was still making beer on his stovetop, and since becoming a professional brewer, he’s continued to wow the judges at the Virginia Craft Beer Cup.

In the brewery’s first year in business, my personal favorite, Bishop’s Brown (Brown Ale) won a Silver medal. Then in 2017, Castleburg’s Cream Ale landed a Gold, and the Court Jester (Porter) a Bronze. Most recently, the Queen’s Garde (Bier de Garde) won a Bronze medal in 2018.

Being able to note these awards on the board over the bar gives Castleburg, which is also the smallest brewery in the city of Richmond, legitimacy with beer lovers and its brewmaster cred with his peers.

 Troubadours, jesters and sages

Since opening, Castleburg has expanded into the space next door and has grown from about 50 seats to 120, including a stage and a quality sound system. With this extra space, the brewery hosts bands two to three nights a week; Books & Brews, a monthly book club led by Mandy Huff; and weekly trivia competitions, led by Erin Barclay. In fact, Castleburg ranked second for trivia in Style Weekly’s 2018 “Best of Richmond” issue.

Once a month, Castleburg also holds an open mic comedy night called Game of Jokes. Hosted by Mike Engle, the show features 2 headliners and as many as 12 up-and-coming comedians, who compete for extra time on stage. Some of the comics are homegrown, but others come from as far away as D.C. and Virginia Beach. A popular event at the brewery, Game of Jokes, generally packs the house.


Customers have also chosen Castleburg as the setting for their business happy hours, birthday parties, reunions and many other gatherings. When you throw a party here, you have access to not only great beer but also whatever entertainment is scheduled – at no cost for the space. In addition, you’re welcome to bring in your own food or enjoy the six varieties of panini sandwiches served at the brewery. The only caveat is the space must remain open to the public.

 Knights of the square table

While there’s no shortage of medieval allusions at Castleburg – even their brewing tanks are named “Lancelot,” “Guinevere” and “Arthur” – you won’t find any damsels in distress or even round tables for that matter (except for the clever round trays used to serve flights of beer). You will, however, find a warm, congenial atmosphere in this castle to meet up with friends, talk about the dragons you’ve slain that day, and maybe even find your own holy grail of beer.











Baltic Porters: The Beer of Choice for Danny, Jesse and Joey

By: David Wren

David Headshot.jpg

Have you ever loved a TV show, not because you connected with one particular character, but because you just really liked how they balanced each other? There’s beauty, drama and excitement in the way seemingly conflicting characters can interact. Growing up, for me, that show was Full House. Most are probably familiar with the show about a father, who after his wife passes, has his stand-up comic friend and night-life-loving brother-in-law move in to help him raise his three daughters. It was a huge hit because of the rich relationships that formed from the seemingly opposing characters. It was a testament to the idea that something can be greater than the sum of its parts. 

For me, the same idea holds true for Baltic Porters. Baltic Porters are an interesting style because they blend the memorable characteristics of three other beer styles to create one superb beverage. If a Doppelbock, Barleywine and Stout had a baby, it would be a Baltic Porter. Thus, if you think along the lines of Full House, and mix the straightforward and strict roastiness of a stout (Danny Tanner) with the fun-loving sweetness of a Doppelbock (Uncle Joey) and the cool, dark, mysteriousness of a Barleywine (Uncle Jesse), you’d find that the flavor of a Baltic Porter was a nice mixture of the three. 

Baltic Porters are a remnant from 18th century Europe, when trade routes and colonies meant power and royalty enjoyed strong beers. During this era, England was renowned worldwide for their prowess in brewing stout and porter ale. In expanding their influence and trade routes, they began shipping stronger than- normal porters to the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia, among other northern ports. They brewed stronger porters to ship north just as they brewed stronger pale ales to ship to India (India Pale Ales). The stronger brew was meant to enable the beer to stay fresh during its long trip to its end destination. However, the stronger flavor became popular on its own and thus the Baltic Porter was born. 

Baltic Porters are dark in color, ranging from deep red to pitch black and exhibit moderate to high sweetness. Flavors can vary dramatically from one to the next, but can include notes of coffee, toffee, chocolate, raisin, rum or port wine and dark fruits. They are typically higher in alcohol as well, clocking in between 5.5-9.5% ABV.  


Beer and Food Pairing

Baltic Porters are uniquely perfect companions to food because while they bring diverse flavor points, they don’t overpower food flavors like doppelbocks and stouts have a penchant for doing. They can be enjoyed with any big flavored foods, but find a home with smoked meats, venison and aged cheeses. Save some for dessert, as well! They pair well with chocolate or pecan pie and cheesecake. 


Beers to Try


Parkway Brewing Raven’s Roost


Pours dark black like the raven it is named for. If Edgar Allan Poe had this beer in his hand, his poetry might not have been so morose. 


Devil’s Backbone Danzig


Named for the Polish city on the Baltic Coast, this powerful brew deservedly took home the bronze medal at the World Beer Cup in 2018. 


Port City Baltic Porter


Available only on draft at Port City, this beer is worth the trip. Notes of chocolate, toffee and even port wine make this one not to miss.

Buying From the Heart


By: Steve Cook

Finding a great beer in Richmond is an easy thing to do. There are plenty of grocery stores, neighborhood markets and other places that cater to Richmonders’ love for craft beers. Despite the abundance of retailers, there is something unique about Bottleworks, a family-run bottle shop, located in the Stony Point Shopping Center at Huguenot and Stony Point Roads in Richmond’s Bon Air neighborhood.

First, the selection alone puts Bottleworks heads and shoulders above the pack. You will discover more than 700 beers, along with about 350 wines and an ample selection of ciders. It’s not the amazing selection that makes Bottleworks truly unique. It’s the passion demonstrated by the store’s owners, Geoff Hunt and Barbara White. The two share a passion for good craft beers. “I think our passion is the basis for [opening] the store,” Barbara says.

Geoff agrees, adding that their love for craft beers influences the selection of beers offered. “We do a lot of buying from the heart,” he says. Their mutual love for IPAs shows. While you are going to find plenty of IPAs, do not get the impression that that is all you will find. The store is brimming with a wide variety of local and Virginia beers, plus craft beers from across the nation, as well as a wide selection of beers from around the world.

“Geoff and I have similar tastes,” Barbara says. “We stock beer that we like, but we also try to appeal to the whole customer base.” Responding to customers’ tastes involves understanding ongoing changes in tastes. As we approach autumn, you will find plenty of seasonal favorites, including an excellent selection of good local and German Oktoberfest beers. The passion that Geoff and Barbara share for craft beers is particularly strong when it comes to local beers and those who create them. When asked how Richmond (and Virginia) brewers stack up in comparison with other brewers, Barbara unhesitatingly replies, “I think better than most places in the country.” Geoff agrees. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. They are tops.” Both have similar opinions as to why local beer makers are “tops.” Geoff explains, “They are good, creative brewers.” Barbara elaborates, “Richmond brewers are not afraid to try new things. They listen to people and they are willing to go outside the box, more so than the big, big breweries. The brewers around Virginia are always looking to step up their game.”

Geoff and Barbara do not just buy from the heart. They sell from the heart, too. Their customers are very important to them. “Most of our customers know what they want when they come in,” Geoff says, “but they are willing to try something new.” For the occasional customer who doesn’t know what he or she likes, Geoff and Barbara, perhaps drawing from their previous careers in education, try to discern the individual’s tastes and make recommendations to match those tastes. Speaking of the folks from throughout Central Virginia who shop there regularly, Barbara says, “We have great customers. They are so supportive. A lot of them have become friends rather than customers. It’s such a great group to work with.”


So, what makes Bottleworks so special? Indeed, the selection of beers (and wines) offered is vast. In addition, there are sixteen constantly rotating growler lines. Their weekly beer and wine tastings (Fridays from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.) is fun. It is not primarily about the product. It is the people and their passion. “If you don’t enjoy what you do, you’re not going to do it well,” Barbara says. Conversely, Geoff and Barbara are doing lots of things really well. She sums it up: “It’s a dream job.”

Hop on Cville! Offering a Unique Experience to the Charlottesville Area

By: Huey Maidup

Writer, Drinker, Explorer


Despite the unrest among Americans during the current political environment and the feverish rants on social media, one thing is certain. We all like to drink. Once considered an oasis of culture and community, the small town of Charlottesville, Virginia, has seen unprecedented growth in Agro-beverage Tourism. The Monticello Wine Trail paved the way for history buffs to start mixing up their typical educational experiences at the homes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. The new explosion of tourism has been cultivated around the growing University of Virginia Grounds expansion and continued Alumni relations. Charlottesville’s promoter, Coran Capshaw, has backed the local music scene with star packed lineups at the Jefferson Theatre, Charlottesville Pavilion, The Southern Café, and, of course, local festivals. This trifecta was the petri dish that spawned a small local start up by the name of Cville Hop On Tours, or better known now as Hop On Cville.

Hop On Cville offers a unique experience to the Charlottesville area and is expanding at an extraordinary rate. In 2016, neither of the co-founders, Jon Craig nor Andre Xavier, could have anticipated how quickly their one bus and good idea would become a fleet of 14. With their sights set on Staunton, Waynesboro, Lynchburg and Richmond next, you are sure to see a Hop On bus pass by soon. “We’d love to connect as many nearby towns/cities to our beloved Crozet/Afton/Route 151 area,” proposed Jon when discussing where they wanted to be in the next 3 years. “We’re in a unique position to have so many breweries right next to these award-winning wineries. I think we focus on what we have here and dream about partnering with someone that wants to recreate what we did here.”

“We will definitely focus our attention on retaining our five-star reputation in Cville, but I’m ready to take on the rest of Virginia,” piped in Andre, who operates three other successful Charlottesville based tourism businesses, including Cville Tours, which initially brought the partners together.

Over 50 riders hopped on board the Saturday I observed. The logistics and coordination left me speechless as the swarm of participants were simultaneously loaded on their assigned bus and dispatched without issue. “Each of our drivers spends plenty of time observing before we ask them to participate in the operations,” explained Jon as the buses pulled away. “Right now we have folks interested in driving for us, riding the bus to see exactly how the operations work. We don’t have to explain half as much if they just see it. This also helps weed out those that may not have the patience to handle herding cats all day.” This process, he admits, is one that he picked up from years in the food and beverage industry. “When looking for someone in the kitchen that would hold a good amount of responsibility, we would often ask them to come and stage,” he explained.  “The person would be vetted by their resume, but their operational actions would be watched for a night on the line to see if they could hang. Because we’re a unique concept, we thought we’d use something similar to make sure we hired only the best.” Local teachers, graphic designers, musicians, directors, sales representatives, accountants and retirees make up the part- time driver list. “We care most about driving capabilities and personalities,” described Jon. “I want drivers to have their own voice and unique traits to add to the experience of our participants. Some use alter egos to get into the roll, and others are just crazy enough to be that much fun on their own.”


Regardless of how they do it, watching the synchronizing movements of the buses as they departed proved one thing; these people are serious and they are not leaving anything to chance. “We always have a backup bus and driver.” illuminated Andre. “When we first started, just a flat tire could mean a ruined day for all of our guests. Now we eat the cost to make sure we always have a Plan B and if it’s a crazy day, Plan C and D.” 

Even the buses used to transport passengers safely to and from area destinations are proof that Charlottesville is unique. Competing industry brands artfully decorate the exterior of each bus. Mammoths like Devils Backbone sit showcased next to local restaurants Kardinal Beer Hall and Beer Run. The other side displays Keswick Vineyards, Virginia Distillery Company, The Graduate Hotel, Snowing In Space Coffee and Bold Rock Hard Cider. The buses’ interiors depict more breweries and Charlottesville based destinations than I could count. “Our destinations are the lifeblood of what we do,” stated Jon, when asked about the relationship with the advertisers. “We don’t ask for kickbacks from any of our destinations and we always try to accommodate their operations. When they advertise on the side of the bus, it ends up being about 50 bucks a month and provides great visibility in the specific market they are trying to reach or target.  I think it’s a win-win.”  


It’s that intangible asset that Charlottesville has, and so many other cities and towns strive for - a supportive community. Dave Warwick from Three Notch’d Brewing has been known to end his tours with words we should all live by, “Rising tides float all ships,” and “It’s a co-opetition not a competition.”  With that spirit, I invite you to check out everything Charlottesville has to offer by Hopping On with Hop On Cville.


Photos provided by Cville Hop on Tours





Amber Ox Public House: Creative draughts and Southern-inspired eats in Williamsburg

Corey Miller Photography

Corey Miller Photography


Tiffany Coe

What happens when two old friends join forces and leverage their restaurant-industry experience to launch a brewpub in America’s Colonial Capital? In the case of Chris Cook an Andrew Voss, owners of the recently opened Amber Ox, it’s a beautiful thing.

Chris and Andrew first met more than a decade ago in Michigan, where they worked together as General Manager and Head Chef, respectively, for a restaurant in Grand Rapids. Each went on to pursue careers that involved several moves around the country, working with a variety of food service and hospitality brands, but they always stayed in touch and harbored the idea of partnering on a new concept.

Amber Ox is that labor-of-love partnership that came into focus a few years back when Chris was operating several quick-serve restaurants in Hampton Roads. Both he and Andrew had taken up home brewing as a hobby and loved the vibe of the industry. They also loved the atmosphere of Williamsburg, but felt there was a need for fresh, new, eating-and-drinking establishments that were creative and approachable, so the idea for Amber Ox was born: a brewpub celebrating regional craft beer and Southern eats with a progressive twist. 

Chris and Andrew note that, “It’s through food and drink that we connect to our roots — and then to each other.” They have found the perfect spot on which to put down Amber Ox’s roots. The 180-seat dining room, bar and patio is situated at the edge of Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area, and is also adjacent to the campus of The College of William & Mary.

The name “Amber Ox” is in homage to the history of the area, with oxen having played a huge role in local agriculture in the 1600s (one can still see modern descendants of these beasts of burden in Colonial Williamsburg). It is also a nod to the brewpub’s dedication to supporting local famers in both its brewing and kitchen endeavors.


Amber Ox calls the in-house brewing operation the “Precarious Beer Project (P.B.P.),” run by Head Brewer Greg Fleehart, who previously worked at several of Seattle’s top breweries, as well as Commonwealth Brewing Company in Virginia Beach. The name is meant to connote momentum and movement—two things the brewery has enjoyed from day one. Greg describes, “Precarious is about creating an incredible beer experience that's fueled by following inspiration, passion and curiosity. We don't pursue beers for the sake of being weird, but we are looking to create a unique experience through flavor, aroma, texture, sensation and appearance.”

In its first six months of operation, P.B.P has already brewed more than 50 different beers (and only made one twice!) By design, there is always something new on Amber Ox’s 18 tap handles—and regular customers look forward to the weekly releases.  Regulars also enjoy the Draught Animals Club, which for an annual fee of $50, gives members $1 off pints and $2 off growlers, as well as an Amber Ox glass and tee shirt. As noted by Andrew, it takes only 18 pints “to make your money back!”

Even though the brews are always changing, there is reliability to the styles on tap, which tend to include: New England IPAs, double IPAs, pilsners, lagers, stouts (infused by elements of Southern cuisine), Belgian saisons and goses. A recent gose featured Virginia kumquats, and a stout, made in collaboration with Richmond’s Answer Brewpub, featured locally made hickory syrup.

With names like “Cheapbeer,” “Math is Hard,” “No Tag Backs,” “Kung Fu Theory” and “Cyborg Assassin Kittens,” there is no shortage of wit and creativity on the draft list. Virginia wines, along with signature cocktails like “The Virginia Workhorse” and “The Water of Leif,” round out the beverage menu. As Greg says, “You'll always have many choices at Precarious, and many new choices every time you come.”


The creative juices flow just as freely in the Amber Ox kitchen, helmed by Troy Buckley, formerly of the renowned Café Provencal at the Williamsburg Winery. By design, they make everything in-house—from biscuits and brioche to pickles to pudding. Popular dishes include the shrimp & grits, featuring North Carolina shrimp, Tasso ham and beer vinegar; chicken & buttermilk-sage waffles with confit garlic butter; and the “AO” burger featuring pimiento cheese, caramelized onion jam and fried-egg aioli. To finish off the meal, sweet-treat options range from sweet bacon caramel corn to Meyer-lemon bars.

It all sounds good, right? Customers think so too, with Amber Ox already earning Yelp’s 10th-highest rating within a 75-mile radius. Chris and Andrew attribute the endeavor’s success to the quality and “badass” nature of its team—from leadership to hourly staff and everyone in between.


As for what’s next, well…they’re just getting started. A new beer dinner series started in June and will continue through the autumn. Quarterly street festivals are also in the works, and distribution of P.B.P. drafts, hopefully, will expand beyond their current footprint that includes Richmond, Norfolk, Virginia Beach and D.C. As Andrew says, “Keep an eye on us, we have big plans.”







There’s a Bit of Chaos in Them Thar Mountains


By: Steve Cook

It has been nearly five years now since New York transplants, Joe Hallock and his wife Wendy, began brewing a variety of flavorful craft beers in the mountains of Franklin County in southwestern Virginia. Time was, when you heard anyone speak of Franklin County, you would likely think of moonshine whiskey. They still make plenty of that in the county, some of it legally. Thanks to the success of the Hallocks, nowadays, when you hear someone mention Franklin County, you just might think craft beer and Chaos Mountain Brewing. They chose the name Chaos Mountain as a tongue-in-cheek nod to Cahas Mountain, where the brewery is located.

I caught up with Joe Hallock recently. That is not an easy thing to do. He stays on the go, traveling around the state acquainting retailers, restaurants and others with his beers and taking part in various craft beer events. Although Hallock’s lifestyle may not be exactly chaotic, it is certainly not humdrum either. There always seems to be a flurry of activity at the brewery. On the Friday morning that we spoke, he tells me, “This is the first weekend that I don’t have anything going on and no beer festival to travel to.”


Nothing going on, except for the fact that every weekend at Chaos Mountain, throngs of happy beer drinkers and their families gather to enjoy the beers, the food trucks and the live entertainment. Last fall Chaos hired Alex Harless as their new tasting room manager and he has renovated the tasting room, adding some comfy sofas, as well as a couple of pool tables. Now, every Wednesday night, there is a pool tournament going on. Thursday night is Trivia Night, and based on my observations on a recent Thursday evening, this is no mild-mannered, sedate Jeopardy-like contest. The competition is fierce. There is live music virtually every Friday and Saturday nights. That is not exactly what I would call nothing going on.

Joe and Wendy have just ordered two new 60-barrel fermentation tanks, which will allow him to do double batches on some of his beers, including the brewery’s number one selling beer, “Squatch,” a Scotch ale, which he describes as, “a perfect food beer. It’s malty, with a little sweetness up front and finishes dry.” It’s a beer,” he adds, “that pairs well with roasted, grilled, smoked and even spicy foods.” The two new tanks, which should be operational by November, will free up some of his 30-barrel tanks for the production of other beers. The brewery also utilizes a 7-barrel pilot system, which is useful in experimenting with new brews.

Joe says that Chaos Mountain uses different malts in all of their beers and propagate their own yeasts, which he says facilitates their being able to use specific yeasts to try new tastes. “When we propagate a yeast, we don’t brew a base beer and dump the beer, we also brew something new and unique of the same style of beer the yeast is for. This gives us a constant supply of new releases in our tasting room,” he says. One such unique new brew is a delicious Mexican amber lager.

As for his personal tastes in beer, Hallock admits that he is not a big fan of IPAs. “Everyone has different tastes, I like beers that are more malty and flavorful,” he says, “such as a good brown or amber ale. I love the depth of Belgian ales.” However, as far as his philosophy regarding what he offers his guests and his customer base, he acknowledges, “You can’t have a polka dot shirt store just because you like polka dot shirts. Well, you can but it probably won’t last.” With that in mind, he offers 16 beers on tap and plans to increase the number of taps to 18-20, including at least four or more IPAs.


The range of beers in Chaos Mountain’s portfolio is vast. From “Marg ‘n Rita’s Lime Tequila Gose,” at 4.3 %, and  “Shine Runner Pils,” at 4.7%, which Hallock describes as a great transitional beer to the other end of the spectrum with “Theory of Chaos,” an intense dark Belgian, which is being brewed now for release at the end of this year. “It will probably come in at 18.5% ABV this year,” he says. With such a range, Hallock says, “If out of 16 different beers you can’t find one you like, you probably don’t like beer.”

With so much going on, how do the Hallocks keep the chaos out of Chaos Mountain?  Much of the success is due to their readiness to empower their staff. Of his head brewer, Thom Bradley and the two assistant brewers, both of whom have just completed or are in the process of completing their certification with the American Brewers Guild, Hallock says, “We give them a lot of leeway. Thom is very good at training and that allows them to take as much responsibility as possible. We give our assistant brewers, Logan Fewster and Nik Krause, the opportunity to experiment and brew on their own.”

Besides buying new equipment, brewing a wide variety of beers, planning weekly events and selling their wares across the state, both Joe and Wendy Hallock are involved in giving back to the community. For the past 10 years, they have actively sponsored fund raising efforts to support Healing Strides of Virginia, a horse riding school in Boones Mill (just down the road apiece from the brewery) that specializes in therapeutic riding and hippotherapy programs for persons (from toddlers to seniors) with a wide range of mental, emotional and physical disabilities.


Hallock says that in addition to raising money for the school, his wife Wendy volunteers much of her time working with the youngsters. “It’s great to see the kids come in. At first, it can be scary for them, but over time you get to see them develop abilities and skills they never had before. It really does change their lives and it is great to be able to give back to the community that has given so much to us.”

Perhaps there is a bit of chaos on Chaos Mountain, but it appears to be controlled chaos, and regardless of how hectic his lifestyle may be, Joe Hallock keeps on smiling. “There are very few things that we take seriously, and our beer is one of them. It really is all about having fun,” he says.

Photos courtesy of Chaos Mountain

Oozlefinch is Brewing Something Funky on Fort Monroe

By: Alex Hannagan - VA Brew Review

A conversation with Founder Russel Tinsley and Brewmaster Mike Donovan


After Oozlefinch opened in September 2016, founder Russ Tinsley was quickly forced to make a change. It wasn’t the clever name, with its origins surrounding the mythical bird sighted by a lubricated officer on Fort Monroe a century ago. Instead, what should have been a shining moment as their Lady in White Hefeweizen picked up a Silver Medal at the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup in May 2017 –  just 8 months after the brewery opened – came right after Oozlefinch’s original head brewer handed in a 30-day resignation notice. The brewery needed a different kind of momentum. “In 2016 my focus was just getting the doors open…the vision was just to get beers to market,” he remarked. Lady in White won the big award, and others such as their Ox Cart Imperial Porter and Creekside Lager gained notoriety at local competitions. Russ cast a wide net when searching for his new brewer.


Mike Donovan was nearing the end of his time at 3 Stars Brewing Company in Washington, DC, when he saw the announcement for a new head brewer at Oozlefinch. Life in Tidewater wasn’t on his radar, though, as other parts of the country called out to his wife and him. “Mike was looking to go out to the Pacific Northwest, but just for [poops] and giggles, he threw his résumé over to me. I immediately knew this was the guy,” Russ said. It would not prove easy to lure the West bound brewer to Fort Monroe, though.

Just as Russ was looking to reinvent his brand behind the success of Lady in White, Mike was ready to apply the knowledge he had gained at 3 Stars as a recipe developer and their sour program steward. “It was really about getting to build a sour program from scratch,” he recalled, and that happened to be the beer style which had recently captivated Russ. Eventually, when Mike stood firm on his desire to migrate to the other coast, Russ offered him a one-year contract.  That would allow them both to achieve their goals, and give Mike enough time to establish a process and train his eventual replacement. Thirteen months later, Mike is now in his second one-year contract. While it took a year to stand up the program, according to Mike’s original plan, they both agreed they needed one more year to transition and train up the staff.


In addition to the challenges of building out the space, acquiring the inventory, installing meticulous sanitation, and handling controls into every facet of Oozlefinch’s operations, Mike took the train to work. As in, the Amtrak from Washington, DC, down to Newport News on Mondays, and then back up home on Thursdays. Since that didn’t afford him time at the brewery on the weekends, he now has a home nearby. He swears this second year will be it, even as his wife will be joining him soon down in Hampton Roads. “We’re just starting to see the benefits,” Mike reasoned. “The barrel room wasn’t ready for four and a half months. If the first week we’d brewed the beer I wanted, then maybe I would have been comfortable leaving after the first year.”

Delays or not, something appears to be working as the very first sour beer Mike brewed for Russ, Dr. Rendezvous, just won a Gold Medal at the 2018 version of the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup. Mike sees more success on the horizon, and that success was part of both his entrance and his exit strategies.

“Dr. Rendezvous was my first chance to get fresh barrels,” he noted with a bit of a smile, “and the recipe was all mine. It’s reassuring to know the way we’ve set up the program is successful.”  Apart from some favorite wine barre, Mike seems especially to enjoy Chardonnay from Central Virginia. He also wants to play with ingredients and acidity in unconventional ways. “All of our beers are not 3.6 pH,”  he said, “where we’re just trying to suggest some sourness. The sour program is varied, and we also have several beers in the low 3’s that will pucker you up.” He also recently added pulverized cacao nibs to a new recipe for a Strawberry Chocolate Gose (?!) and mused over a few sips, “We like that play of ‘here’s something you’ve never really had before.’  That’s definitely the fun of blending for me.” That same blending, by the way, is the reason he can’t leave just yet.


“I feel a responsibility to see it through,” Mike repeats often if you talk to him long enough.  Medals, accolades and pride don’t define success for him, because success is ensuring that Russ and Oozlefinch can survive – and thrive – without him. That includes a good blending stock, successful barrels that impart desired qualities, an educated staff that can easily identify appropriate and creative blends and house yeast and bacteria cultures that are both established and “banked” with the various boutique labs throughout Virginia. So far, Mike has helped Oozlefinch release more than 80 beers – nearly two per week since arriving. As the program matures, Mike will eventually turn things over to Rachel Edwards, his current Assistant Brewer and Quality Assurance Analyst. 



In the meantime, Russ reports that thanks to Mike’s efforts, Oozlefinch’s month-over-month sales are up 30% from this time last year. Additionally, they’ve locked down several distributors, including one that is statewide, a remarkable feat that most of Virginia’s more than 200 breweries have yet to accomplish. Perhaps not coincidentally, Dr. Rendezvous was their first beer to get into the Richmond and Northern Virginia markets, and Mike and Russ both agreed they wouldn’t have had it any other way. Russ recently was in Northern Virginia, where their Sour Kolsch collaboration with Old Ox Brewery is starting to make the rounds. Even if sour beers aren’t your thing, but especially if they really aren’t your thing, the subtlety and innovation that Oozlefinch brings to the table could very well cause you to say, “well, maybe just one more sip…”  Nothing would make Mike or Russ happier.



Visit for more on Oozlefinch’s and Old Ox’s New@Life special release!

Intermission Beer Company Gets Rave Reviews on Richmond’s Northside


By: Terri L. Jones

Justin and Courtney White have always had great admiration and respect for the RVA brewery community. When the couple opened their new brewery in the fall of 2017, they “weren’t necessarily looking to create anything outrageously different.” The couple was just trying to fill what they saw as a hole in the craft brewery market in Richmond’s Northside. Simply by expressing themselves, the Whites have managed to create something really out-of-the-box on the RVA brewery landscape: Intermission Beer Company.

Center stage

Intermission’s most obvious differentiator is its entertainment theme. Justin and Courtney both are local theater veterans, meeting at TheatreVCU, and then working for a while in professional theater. That passion takes center stage at Intermission—from the theater memorabilia-topped tables (everything from old playbills to patent drawings for theater seats,) to the movie and TV inspired artwork on the walls to the marquee menu board. The place feels more like a cozy, kitschy coffee shop than a brewery.

The entertainment theme also shows up in many of the brewery’s events, including movie nights and TV show trivia events. “I am an admitted theater, movie and TV junkie,” says frequent patron Renee Lamoureux, “and it [Intermission] feels like home.”


The brewery’s location also sets it apart from the typical Richmond brewery. Instead of being in an industrial area close to other breweries, Intermission, which is conveniently situated in Virginia Center Commons, is the only brewery in the immediate vicinity (closest ones are in Lakeside and Ashland). That means that not only is it a destination brew spot for those living on the Northside and in Hanover, but it also benefits from mall traffic, including people having their car serviced at neighboring Goodyear, or parents taking their kids to nearby Jumpology (and taking turns having a brew while the other parent watches the kids).



The Main Attraction

While Intermission’s ambiance and location definitely set it apart, the real showstopper is the beer. (As well it should be.) On the regular menu, there is everything from a pale ale to a milk stout, augmented by limited release beers like Juicy IPA with mango and passionfruit, and a black IPA, which was a special request from an Intermission regular.



“I want to make sure that there’s at least something that everyone is going to enjoy,” says Justin White, Intermission’s brew master. if you find a favorite and want to take it home, Intermission will fill your growler or even a single can or two.



Justin and Courtney even get to know their regular customers’ tastes. Admits Lamoureux, “A lot of times I will go in and tell Justin or Courtney what kind of day I have had or what food I brought with me (Intermission only serves snack food but allows you to bring in your own food) and tell them to choose for me, they never go wrong.” Lamoureux says that she used to favor Intermission’s Milk Stout until they released their Abbey Ale, which she has found pairs well with all kinds of food.

The Whites have discovered that their customers’ tastes run the gamut. “The first question we get asked is either: ‘What do you have that’s close to Budweiser, Miller Lite or Coors?’ or ‘How many IPAs do you have?’ But there’s a lot of stuff in between,” explains Justin.

That in-between space is where Justin likes to spend most of his time, and he has been happy to find that the brewery’s customer base supports his curiosity and eagerness to experiment with many different styles of beer.



The Back Story
Justin’s curiosity about beer started when he was in college and home brewing with roommates. Buying a house with wife, Courtney, in 2007, and finally having space for his home brewing supplies, reignited that spark.

By that point, the couple had gotten out of theater and both worked in IT to pay the bills. “When I went to college, I wanted to do something where I wasn’t stuck behind a desk, and I ended up stuck behind a desk,” recalls Justin.

So, shortly after Virginia Senate Bill 604 was passed in 2012, Justin and Courtney started tossing around the idea of cutting loose from their desk jobs and opening a brewery. When asked about the process that followed, they both simply say “long!” However, after about four years of hard work, their dream came to fruition in 2017.

Cast of characters

Justin and Courtney agree that one of their favorite aspects of owning a brewery are the folks who walk through the door. “We have met some incredible people we would’ve never met before,” says business manager, Courtney White, who also (wo)mans the bar. (They both wear a lot of hats … all the hats, in fact.)

It seems the feeling is mutual. Reports regular Brian Pikral, “Justin and Courtney go out of their way to be approachable, whether explaining about the beers on tap or just hanging out in general.” Pikral’s most frequent pick is Intermission’s Milk Stout, which he describes as “not overpowering, boozy or adjunct-filled.”


But it’s not just the customers the Whites enjoy getting to know. It’s also the staff of other local breweries. “With beer, there’s a camaraderie,” Courtney explains. “You don’t really get that with other industries.”

When they were first opening the brewery, Justin purposely didn’t ask advice from other brewers because he didn’t want to be “that guy.” But much to his and Courtney’s surprise, many of his fellow brewers stopped by on opening weekend to show their support. The Whites were also invited to join the Richmond Brewers United, which is a partnership between Richmond Regional Tourism, breweries and beer writers to share experiences and grow beer tourism in RVA.

Playing a supporting role

Because Courtney and Justin have found this support to be so important in their first year, they try to pay it forward by lending a hand to other local businesses, particularly those owned by women. This past summer, they hosted an outdoor event where female artisans of handmade goods could sell their creations. Plus, they’ve used their outdoor space, a large, grassy field behind the brewery, for a fitness boot camp, and they sell Lush cupcakes at special events (both businesses are women-owned).

Matt & Glenn had so much fun hanging out with Courtney!

Matt & Glenn had so much fun hanging out with Courtney!

Currently, Justin is also taking the bold step to begin sourcing all of the brewery’s malt in Virginia: “We’re making a small sacrifice on our bottom dollar to support a local business, and I think that’s worth more than the few cents per pound [we could’ve saved].”In launching their new business, the Whites have always stayed true to who they are and what they believe in. “It’s personal for us,” says Courtney. In so doing, Justin and Courtney have created something that not only breaks the RVA brewery mold but also is drawing an enthusiastic (and thirsty) audience.

James River Brewery: A Simple Strategy for Success

By: Terri L. Jones
A priest, a woman knitting a scarf and 170 regulars walk into a craft brewery. No, this is not the first line of a joke. It is exactly what you will find at Scottsville’s only craft brewery. Since it changed ownership in 2015 (for the second time in about three years), the new-and-improved James River Brewery has succeeded in creating an award-winning and palate-pleasing lineup of beers … and attracted a real cross-section of fans in the process.

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Not only does the brewery’s diversity of clientele include priests who take kegs of beer back to their monastery down the road, ladies who drink while they knit (and call themselves the “Drunken Knitwits”) and 170 Mug Club members, which, by the way, is about 30 percent of the population of this sleepy little town on the James River. You will also find a Methodist minister and his congregants enjoying “Hops and Hymns” one Sunday evening a month, the mayor, town council members, people with their dogs and kids and scores of other folks who simply like great craft beer.
Three years and counting.
In 2014, James River Brewing Company was in trouble. Shannon Brown, in partnership with investors Ron and Tim Byers and Scott Minor, who had been an investor since day one, swooped in the following year to save the failing brewery, which had been unsuccessful in gaining any traction under two different ownerships.  
After Brown and his partners purchased the brewery, he recognized right away that the building needed some work before it could reopen. Brown brought on his longtime friend and fellow carpenter, Blake Sherman, to do the remodeling.


When the renovation was completed, the new James River Brewery (JRB) still needed a brewer. “Blake had always been very good at learning new things,” explains Brown. In addition, his friend had played around a bit with home brews, so Brown asked him if he might want to learn to brew on a much larger scale. Sherman immediately said, “Yes.” 
“We were fortunate enough to have two of the best Master Brewers around train him and continue to help us out with any questions that we might have,” says Brown.
The most valuable lesson JRB learned from one of these consultants, John Bryce, was to “just keep it simple.” Bryce, who trained Sherman, was himself trained in Germany following Reinheitsgebot, which dates back to 1516, but which many German brewers still follow. Also known as the German beer purity law, these regulations dictate that beer should contain only malted grains, water, yeast and hops. 
“When you get a bunch of different grains in there, it’s too much,” explains Sherman. “No one grain comes through. You get a muddled taste.”Because of this good advice, JRB’s beers remain impressively simple in a landscape of more complex (some could say distracting) flavor profiles. Even JRB’s cans are cleanly designed and monochromatic.

“We do play a little bit,” says Sherman, naming honey, habanero and mango as a few of the flavors they have tried in their small batches. However, these enhanced flavors are definitely the exception rather than the rule at JRB.
Lest you think this conformity results in beers that all taste the same, think again. According to Sherman, “You can change it up so much with just a little more hops or a different fermenting temperature.” 
The brewery offers a wide selection of beer choices, from pale ales to IPAs to stouts, which rotate with the season. Sherman says their most popular are two of JRB’s core beers: Fluvanna Fluss, a traditional, unfiltered Bavarian-style hefeweizen and Tuber, a refreshing, dry-hopped IPA.

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Happy beer drinkers beat awards.

Tasty beer is not the only reason customers pack the old brick tobacco warehouse most afternoons and evenings of the week. It is also because of the warm, welcoming atmosphere. Both Sherman and Brown agree that spending time with customers and seeing their reactions to JRB’s beers is predominantly why they do what they do.

“Sometimes I come into the tasting room when there’s somebody who hasn’t been here before and I peek to see their reaction to the first beer that they try,” says Sherman. “I love seeing people enjoy something that I make.”

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While JRB has taken home several impressive honors, with Best in Show at the 2016 Virginia Craft Brewers Cup Awards, and a Gold and a Bronze at the 2015 Virginia Beer Cup among them, you can tell that Brown is sincere when he says, “If we see a smiling face on a customer, that’s our medal!”
In addition to the 170 Mug Club members and other locals who love the place, JRB attracts outof-towners who have tried one of their beers at a festival or purchased it at a local store (the brewery distributes from NOVA to Roanoke, Scottsville to Tidewater) and who want to try more. Sometimes folks are on their way to other craft breweries or wineries and the charm of Scottsville, with its beautiful architecture and peaceful, Mayberry vibe (no stoplights!), draws them in.
“JRB is a fantastic place to socialize with community folks and visitors from far and wide,” says veteran Mug Club member and town mayor, Nancy Gill. “[But] the best JRB experience is greeting visitors to town.”
When she says, “far and wide,” it is no exaggeration! While at JRB, Gill has met both a young man from Ireland—on his way from Boston to Miami—and a young lady visiting a friend in Charlottesville from Japan.
Sidebar:  Namesake of the James. At the intersection of Albemarle, Fluvanna and Buckingham Counties, Scottsville is nestled in a horseshoe bend of the James River. “Scottsville and its history are intertwined with the James,” reads the brewery’s website. 

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In fact, every summer, replicas of late 18th- and early 19th-century batteaux, once used to ferry tobacco, grain and other goods down the James River, make an eight-day trip from Maidens Landing to Lynchburg as a part of the James River Batteau Festival. Scottsville is the halfway point on the 120-mile trip. When the batteaux dock in town, there are a variety of activities, from artisans and music to historic re-enactments for passengers of the boats and townspeople alike to enjoy.
These long, flat-bottomed, poled riverboats figure prominently in JRB’s logo. Even the décor of the brewery itself features an old rudder and architectural drawing of a batteau on a beam in the tasting room and half of a weathered hull on the stage in the beer garden out back.
The significance of the James is also apparent in the brewery’s name, which has remained constant over the three iterations of the brewery. The names of its beers, including River Runner, Tuber, James Blonde 007, Wet-n-Wild and Fluss, which is the German word for “river,” are also a nod to Virginia’s largest river.

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More than beer. Instead of inviting food trucks to pull up outside, like many other craft breweries, JRB has partnered with nearby restaurants, including Tavern on the James, Amici’s and Barefoot Country Store, to deliver their delicious fare to customers who come to the brewery both hungry and thirsty. 
You will also find music at JRB on weekends—played in the beer garden out back in nice weather and in the tasting room during colder months. In addition, the brewery hosts open mic, karaoke and trivia nights, as well as bingo, arts and crafts and other fun activities to draw people in and keep them coming back. Mug Club members enjoy discounts on beer and retail every day of the year. 

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It is also important for JRB to give back to the Scottsville community, which has played such an integral role in their relaunch of the brewery. Not only does the brewery donate to the Scottsville fire department, rescue squad, soccer and baseball teams, but they also give 20 percent of their sales to a different local charity every Wednesday night. 
What is next for JRB?

In the not-so-distant future, JRB will be opening a second, much larger location in an old laundromat in Farmville. “Because it’s a college town, with Hampden Sydney and Longwood, it should do well,” predicts Brown.
Right now, JRB is just waiting for renovations to be complete to start brewing their delicious beer there. Nevertheless, once they do, you can expect the same fun, welcoming atmosphere inside their tasting room, and of course, the same refreshing simplicity in their beer.





Hefeweizens: Don’t Call It a Comeback, I’ve Been Here For Years

By: David Wren

David Wren is a Certified Cicerone (R) in Richmond, VA, who has a serious passion for great beer. When he is not drinking beer, he is working as a Human Resources and Operations Consultant with a local firm. He can be reached at

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For those seeking a tropical respite from the cold winter months, Germany is not likely at the top of your list…or even on your list at all. I have personally made the mistake of taking a springtime trip to Munich and deciding I didn’t need a winter coat because I was heading to “Southern Germany” where it would be “warmer.” Fortunately, for me, there was a welcoming beer hall on nearly every corner, so my time in the elements was mercifully short. However, in those many hours spent pounding the long oaken tables with the locals, I came to appreciate the artistry inherent in one of Germany’s most popular beer styles: the Hefeweizen. The Germans perfected this unique beer over the last few centuries to embody all the fruitiness and fizziness one craves in a warm weather beer but also the sturdiness one needs when the weather says, “Not so fast, I still have more snow to pile on you.”
Long ago in 16th century Germany, the king passed a law called the Reheinsgebot, or Bavarian Beer Purity Law. This effectively ceased the production of any beer whose ingredients were anything other than barley, hops and water (yeast was added to this law later once scientists discovered what it was and how necessary it is for beer production.) The only exception to this law was for Bavarian royalty, who had grown fond of weizen, or wheat based, beers. Centuries passed and after the invention of the pilsner style beer in the mid-19th century, weizen beers fell out of fashion. So much so that the Bavarian royalty happily sold the rights to brew weizen to a man named George Schneider I, whose brewery over the next century re-popularized the style under the moniker Schneider Weisse. Fast forward another few decades, and the hefeweizen style is alive and well worldwide, especially in the United States. 
Hefeweizens are typically light to medium bodied, with flavors like banana, clove and fresh bread. They are very refreshing and crisp on the finish. Virginia is home to many great hefeweizens, so try any of these!
Beers to Try
The Love by Starr Hill Brewery
One of my favorite tastes of college from the University of Virginia. Starr Hill’s The Love is a classic hefeweizen that is always good.
Zephyrweisse by O’Connor Brewing Company
Norfolk’s O’Connor Brewing Company boasts a summery hefeweizen that drinks as smooth as the beach winds, for which it is named.
Rockfish Wheat by Blue Mountain Brewing Company

Blue Mountain’s spring and summer seasonal hefeweizen brings the party with banana, clove and yeast flavors bouncing out of the glass. 
Watermelon Wheat by Adventure Brewing Company
A different play on the classic German hefeweizen, with watermelon puree added. The result;  The perfect beer for a hot spring or summer day.
Fluvanna Fluss by James River Brewery
This unfiltered hefeweizen is as cloudy as the James River is murky, just the way the Germans envisioned it! The Fluvanna Fluss brings a bright spot from hop usage to balance out a great hefeweizen.

Enjoying a  Fluvanna Fluss at the brewery in Scottsville, VA

Enjoying a Fluvanna Fluss at the brewery in Scottsville, VA

Beer and Food Pairing
Hefeweizens are medium in body so they can pair well with a broad range of food without the risk of overpowering the food’s flavor. Some of my favorite pairings are with Mexican food. The biscuity malt character complements spicy chicken and black beans and the high carbonation levels cut straight through melted cheese, sour cream and guacamole. In addition, you can seldom go wrong drinking any country’s beer with that country’s cuisine. German pretzels, sausages and mustard go well with a tall hefeweizen. Finally, hefeweizens are light enough to drink by the session, so next time you are at the brewery or bar, order a hefeweizen and enjoy!

Consistency is Key: COTU’s Recipe for Success

By: George DeGarde


Given the massive growth of the Virginia craft beer scene, breweries have been popping up nonstop. At the time of this writing, there are 32 breweries in Richmond and the surrounding area with more breweries slated to open. Each brewery does its own thing. There are no copycat breweries, and largely, all of the breweries are good at what they do! In a market like this one, you have to do something to stand out and to stick around. Your name has to mean something, and for Center of the Universe (COTU) that something is consistency. They want you to know that their beer will always taste the same, whether it is the beer from the brewery, or if you’re enjoying one at the Diamond, Mellow Mushroom, King’s Dominion, Busch Gardens, Lewis Ginter, Great Wolf Lodge or your friend’s backyard. Center of the Universe was one of the first few breweries to open before Virginia’s big brewery boom about 5 five years ago. During this time, they have been perfecting their brews, growing their distribution network and building connections in the community. After a large expansion last year, COTU has also been using their rotary canning line to make more shelf-stable beer so their fans can enjoy their core beers year round. This includes a new addition to their core line-up of beers, Chameleon IPA, which best described, is a “nimble IPA”.  The flavor profiles featured in the beer can easily be transformed along with the color of the chameleon on the can, hence the name. The can art is eye-catching, impressive and versatile. The thought of seeing a multitude of colors representing new seasonal flavors is an exciting prospect, especially considering the increasing popularity of IPA beers around the country. Not only has COTU been adding to their list of beers, now totaling around 50, they have also recently expanded and upgraded their space. They recently just finished a complete overhaul of their private event space and tasting room. Instead of the old empty warehouse, office spaces and drop ceiling, visitors to COTU will now find a new “50’s atomic age diner” inspired space! They’ve designed a tasting room adorned with images of the galaxy, big red booths and a copper topped bar, in an effort to stand out amongst distressed wood and metal motifs seen in so many other breweries. They have also improved upon their processes as a way to improve consistency with new a new packaging hall, canning line and a soon-to-be installed grain silo. 


In the last year, over 4,000 barrels of beer have come out of the brewery and were distributed around Richmond and  to Virginia Beach, as well as out to Roanoke and the border of Washington D.C. There are also plans in the works to break into the Washington D.C. area for distribution within the next year or so, which can only mean great things for COTU. They are growing their brewing program as well with the addition of their sister brewery, Origin Beer Lab, which is only about five miles from COTU. Origin Beer Lab has a 3-barrel brewing system where they are able to test out ideas for the main brewery, as well as brew experimental beers for different accounts they work with. If they find something that works well, they are able to scale it up for the main brewery, including four different iterations of their upcoming Chameleon IPA.  At the time of writing, Origin Beer Lab boasted a Melon Lager, a kettle soured Belgian Dark Strong Ale, a Simcoe Mosaic IPA, an American Stout, and a Coffee Brown Ale. Not only does this represent a desire to expand and experiment, but it also signifies COTU’s dedication to excellence in their brews. Instead of brewing a huge batch of a beer in hopes that their customers will like it, they can make small batches, ensure it will be a good choice, and then successfully scale it up for mass production. 


During my visit, I was lucky enough to witness the bottling of a fan-favorite, El Duderino, a White Russian milk stout. This seasonal delicacy is one of the beers that help people remember Center of the Universe amongst its many competitors. However, with all of the competition for people’s attention, COTU focuses on consistency in their core of beers. “How does a brewery in Hanover stay relevant in Richmond?” asks co-founder Chris Ray. “It’s because we’re the beer people can rely on if they’re going to go visit friends or family or go to a party. They can go pick up a six pack and know it’s going to be good.” This ideal is the focal point for everything that COTU does; they want their beer to taste great in all places! 


COTU gives its fans the opportunity to join their Satellite Program, in which they can build up points for being consistent and faithful customers. Using those points, Satellite members get upgraded glasses, merchandise and eventually a chance to collaborate on a beer in the Origin Beer Lab, or bring back a small batch of a missed favorite. A great chance for you to join the Satellite Program, check out the upgrades or enjoy some of COTU’s consistently great beer is at their fifth anniversary celebration on November, the seventeenth.  It will be an event that you don’t want to miss. Expect to find favorite seasonals from every year they have been open, including Oaky Pokey, an Oak barrel aged version of Pocahoptas, The Richard, Black Dawn and an Orange Blossom Honey Ale, created in the Origin Beer Lab, just to name a few. Celebrating five years in any business is a feat to be recognized, even more so when you have 31 other competitors. As Chris Ray said, “Consistency is Key!” Whether you make your way out to Center of the Universe to see the new tasting room, or visit Origin Beer Lab to try something a little different, you can rest assured that whatever you drink will be out of this world!


Spencer Devon - The Brew, The Proud

                 By: John Biscoe

Spencer Devon Brewing is not a normal local brewery and restaurant, nor is Shawn Phillips a normal brewery owner (if such a creature exists). The facility nestles among the historic features of Olde Towne Fredericksburg, VA, dubbed “America’s Most Historic City”, due to a rich tapestry of events and people in both Colonial times and the Civil War. George Washington’s sister, Betty, lived a few scant blocks from the doors of Spencer Devon, and as a boy, Washington himself dwelled just across the Rappahannock. Some of the fiercest fighting of the War Between the States also occurred in Fredericksburg. Today, Olde Towne Fredericksburg is a thriving mix of small business and history-based tourism. Eschewing the more industrial settings on the outskirts of the city, as favored by most of the local brewing community, Phillips opted to open Spencer Devon Brewing in prime downtown space. On April 1, 2015, Spencer Devon served their first guests.


Shawn Phillips spent virtually all of his adult life (24 years) in the United States Marine Corps. Upon leaving, the obvious career change was to grow hair and a beard and open a brewery and restaurant. When Phillips was a child in North Carolina, his mother took him to their local farm markets. During his Marine Corps service, he continued the habit, seeking out markets where he was stationed, and seeking to “Immerse yourself in the community and make the community richer for your presence.” Spencer Devon follows the same model.  The brewery bears the name Phillips intended for a son he never had (he has daughters) and he talks about it with the pride of a father for his child.


One of the Marines’ well-known slogans is “The Few, The Proud,” and pride is a constant theme at Spencer Devon as well, not in an overweening sense, but rather the pride of a commitment to a particular set of goals and bringing those goals to fruition. Shawn takes justifiable pride in the fact that his establishment makes award-winning beer. Spencer Devon’s Royston Rye IPA was recently chosen Grand Champion in the Strong Ale Category at the Winter United States Beer Tasting Championship. He takes justifiable pride in serving great food that is sensibly grown. When asked what means most to him about Spencer Devon, his responses involve the jobs that he is able to provide his employees, the relationships he has established with small local farms and the ability to contribute to the betterment of his community. He is proud of helping pork purveyor Schlund Family Farm get off the ground (Spencer Devon accounts for over half of their pork sales).  He is proud that his beef comes from Monrovia Farm, a Virginia Centennial Farm in Orange County.

Phillips is committed to “buying into the farmer’s dream” and to helping make that dream a reality. Spent grain from Spencer Devon’s brews feeds the hogs at Schlund Family Farm. Both the food and beer menus in the restaurant feature continuous nods to local sourcing, names and stories that are steeped in local history. Among the brews on the chalkboard outside the restaurant on the day of this interview is Cornatopia Cream Ale and Snead’s Squash Harvest Ale. Local farmer Emmett Snead provided the sweet corn to brew the Cornatopia with, and Virginia malt barley came from Tony Kvasnicka’s Longleaf Farm near Petersburg. The Squash Harvest Ale draws sweetness from Snead’s Georgia Candy Roaster heirloom squash. Ellerslie Farm in nearby King George County provides the hops for several of the beers.


When referring to the inputs of his business, Phillips uses the term “cognitively raised” and avoids typical catchphrases such as “free range,” “organic” or “sustainable” as feel-good terms for an ill-informed population. The idea that people adopt these terms without truly understanding their meanings doesn’t work for him. His take on it all is much more experiential, referencing the first hand moments he has spent at the various farms and the relationships built with the farmers. He says, “Rationally, I should buy cheaper product but I’ll close the place down before I abandon my belief structure,” followed shortly by, “I am not in this to be a millionaire.” Shawn’s belief is simply that such food is “what I would prefer to eat, so I serve that to my guests.” In the course of our conversation, Phillips repeatedly refers to his clientele as his “guests.”  Not once did I hear the word “customer.” 

“Immersing yourself in the community” manifests itself in many ways. In July, Spencer Devon partnered with the Spotsy Disc Golf Club and 7 other local breweries for the inaugural FXBG Brewery Putt Through - a sort of pub crawl with Frisbees. Two local home-brewing clubs were involved in the creation of Spencer Devon’s Soleil Levant Witbeir. For Small Business Saturday following Thanksgiving, Spencer Devon offered discounted beer for guests bringing in a receipt from other local small shops. Phillips is genuinely committed to leaving Fredericksburg better than he found it.

Spencer Devon’s plans for 2018 include a New Year’s Eve Block Party and 8 separate festivals, including a St Patrick’s Day celebration,  a local Fall Hop Harvest Festival and what is now their annual “Beards and Brews” festival in November. Phillips also has plans for a combined Art Show and Beer Fest with local artists pairing with local breweries. Among upcoming beer offerings are a return of their award-winning Rocko’s Milk Stout (named for a departed dog) and the new Snowbird Wheat Wine featuring local ginger from Snowbird Farms. Also new on the agenda is a relationship with The Underground Kitchen from Richmond. They held their first “gastropub takeover” in November, with quarterly events, as well as an Underground Kitchen brew to come.

Head Brewer Jeff Hyatt and Executive Chef Brandon Bundy complete the Spencer Devon brain trust. They share Phillips’s commitment to bringing his vision to life on a day-to-day basis in Fredericksburg. In his words, “In starting Spencer Devon I wanted something I could be proud of, and the community can be proud of as well.” They are well on their way.  



Visit to keep up with events and offerings. Visit Spencer Devon at 106 George St., Fredericksburg, VA.


Brew Coup! A collaboration brew event with area businesses and musicians.

By: Henry Jennings
The weather and beer were cool, but the music and food were hot, as Three Notch’d Brewery Collab House in Scott’s Addition  hosted a collaboration brew event with area businesses and musicians. They drew hundreds of supporters to benefit two local non-profits, Richmond Justice Initiative and Disability Law Center of Virginia. At Virginia Craft Brews, these are the community events that make our hearts full! We also love the chance to sample a new, small batch brew! 

Brickwall Jackson

Brickwall Jackson

dLCV Executive Director, Colleen Miller, said, “We are so grateful to community partners like Three Notch’d Brewery for helping us to protect the rights of people with disabilities throughout the state.  The need is so great, and we simply could not do this without good friends like this.
Synpase member Joel and Brickwall Jackson lead John

Synpase member Joel and Brickwall Jackson lead John

Steve Peterson & Associates, a Richmond based social media management and marketing firm, hatched the idea for Brew Coup!. The event was held on October 20, and was further supported by local businesses Synapse, Continental Divide, Three Notch’d Brewery and Richmond Americana rock band Brickwall Jackson.
We caught up with event organizer and promoter, Steve Peterson, during the event. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the turnout,” Peterson said as he looked out over the audience. “Our firm supports both RJI and dLCV’s missions. Being able to support them through a Synapse and Three Notch’d inspired “Hub Hopper” collaboration brew, while providing great music and food helps to fulfill our mission of giving back, while hosting a top-notch collaborative event. A $10 donation was suggested for attendees, plus a percentage of the proceeds from the beer and food sales went directly to both non-profits.


The Disability Law Center of Virginia (dLCV), who helps clients with disability-related problems like abuse, neglect and discrimination, is the designated Protection and Advocacy organization of Virginia. Richmond Justice Initiative educates, equips and mobilizes communities with the tools needed to be a force in the global movement to end human trafficking.
Under the careful eye of Three Notch’d Brewery’s Brew Master Stefan McFayden, Synapse, RJI and dLCV participated in brewing the special “Hub Hopper” IPA. Hub Hopper does have a special meaning. In the world of Synapse, hubs are the non-profit centers where they hold networking meetings and hoppers are those Synapse business members who hop from hub to hub in order to network and help fulfill the mission of the non-profits.

 RJI Executive Director, Jessica Willis, said, “Richmond Justice Initiative is so thankful for Steve Peterson & Associates for conceiving and producing an event with community organizations such as Synapse, Three Notch’d Brewery, and other local groups to raise awareness and make a difference for non-profit organizations. We at RJI know that it takes all of us coming together to accomplish the mission of preventing and ultimately ending human trafficking. Only when we link arms together to make a lasting difference, can the world change for the better - one person at a time.” dLCV Executive Director, Colleen Miller, said, “We are so grateful to community partners like Three Notch’d Brewery for helping us to protect the rights of people with disabilities throughout the state.  The need is so great, and we simply could not do this without good friends like this.”

At the center of what makes events like this possible is Synapse, a galvanizing force in both the Richmond non-profit and business communities. The Synapse mission is to help businesses and non-profits in communities across the U.S. connect with one another to foster greater economic and community development. Their approach is to get the right people in the room to nurture more mutually beneficial business and non-profit relationships. Synapse co-founder, Keith Reynolds, said, “Synapse was created to encourage and inspire collaboration in our communities, so we were thrilled to partner with Steve Peterson and the Three Notch’d RVA Collab House to brew the Hub Hopper in support of two of our nonprofit partners. We love creating what we consider “win, win, win” scenarios, so we greatly appreciate local businesses that share a similar passion. Drink beer, support local businesses and raise funds and awareness for nonprofits. Connect, Collaborate and Contribute!

Synapse members - Chris,Jimmy,Lisa, & Matt

Synapse members - Chris,Jimmy,Lisa, & Matt

Because the Richmond non-profit community knows that a rising tide floats all boats, representatives from UNOS, Connor’s Heroes, Art 180 and Optimum Ed provided further support. The evening was truly a Brew Coup, a testament to the power of  businesses who care as much about giving back and positively impacting deserving non-profits as they do about expanding their businesses and turning a profit.

The Synpase brew was juicy!

The Synpase brew was juicy!

Learn more about the non-profits and sponsors of the event:
Steve Peterson & Associates:
Three Notch’d Brewery Collab House:
Continental Divide:
Disability Law Center of Virginia:
Richmond Justice Initiative:
Brickwall Jackson:

The Belgian Behemoth:  Quadrupels

By: David Wren

David Headshot.jpg

Have you ever had a juicy venison steak with a typical lager and thought to yourself, “There has to be a better beer to go with this”? What about a dessert of super-rich chocolate cake and wanted a beer to wash it down with rather than wine or liquor? Are you the type of person who walks into a room and immediately sizes up every guy there to find the biggest, baddest one to pick a fight with?
If any of these questions resonated with you, then look no further than the Belgian Strong Dark Ale (Quadrupel or Quad) style as your target tipple. The strongest of the Belgian ales and on the same level of vigor as the American Barleywine and Russian Imperial Stout, the Quad is a formidable opponent, indeed. Ranging between 8.0-11.0% ABV, the Quad packs the kind of body that would have the Commodores singing “Brick House.”  Similar to the other Belgian numeric styles (Singel, Dubbel, and Tripel), the Quad was brewed by and relied upon by Trappist monks for sustenance during periods of fasting. They packed enough grain and goodness into these beers that they could sustain themselves for long periods by solely drinking Quads. For the rest of us, the Belgian Quad serves as one of the unique beasts in the beer world. They range from dark brown to black, with a beautiful tan head in color, and from dry to sweet in finish. They tend to drop a malt-bomb on the unsuspecting first-timer, but soon after reveal a complexity in flavor impossible to accomplish in most other styles. Flavors of caramel, toast and brea,d mixed with dark fruits like raisins, plums, black cherries, figs or prunes abound. Layered on top of the malty and fruity base can be peppery or spicy phenols (yeast by-products), as well as whatever adjunct flavors the brewer experiments with. Hops are very subdued, so drinkers who don’t prefer excessive bitterness can easily enjoy this style. If you are looking for a unique experience in beer drinking, try one of the following Quads brewed right here in Virginia.
Quads to Try:
Lickinghole Creek’s Bachelor’s Delight
As formidable as the pirate ship for which it is named. Take a swig and you won’t care why the rum is all gone…
Garden Grove’s Death
A beer so monstrous you might wonder how they managed to keep it locked up in red wine barrels to age – a great companion to rich desserts.
Hardywood Park’s Bourbon Barrel Cru
Bourbon to beer is like bacon to food – it just makes everything better. It’s the perfect beer for a cold night and a bonfire.
 Legend’s Quad
An easy sipper that packs a punch - It is tough to beat a classic!
Beer and Food Pairing
One of the major considerations to take when pairing beer and food is the relative intensities of beers and foods. If serving a light vinaigrette salad, a ferociously intense Belgian Quad is a poor choice – the beer will drown the flavors of the salad completely. Beer “intensity” is a product of its roastiness, body, bitterness, strength, or other factors affecting flavor and weight –- trust your taste buds! Quads pair well with strongly flavored or gamey meat, like venison, wild boar, pheasant, or duck. They also pair well with rich and decadent desserts like chocolate truffles or cheesecake.