By: Steve Cook
When Neil Burton opened his brewery nearly four years ago, he did so with just two beers. However, it was not so very long before things began to get weird. Isn’t that what you might expect from a brewery with the name Strangeways?
Perhaps “weird” is not the right word. “We like to use the word ‘peculiar,’” says Erin Brunner, the hospitality and events manager for Richmond-based Strangeways Brewing. “We offer an eclectic collection that expands across the brand from the beer, the ingredients, the way we do things…the styles we’re willing to take chances on.” Brunner says that even their events and their tasting room are somewhat a departure from what many may expect of a brewery. “We are a melting pot of different kinds of peculiar things,” she adds.
As a fan of Strangeways, I had always assumed that Burton had chosen the name because he intended to be a little strange. However, according to Brunner, that was not the case. “Neil is a fan of (the English rock band) the Smiths,” she tells me. “One of their albums was entitled ‘Strangeways, Here We Come.’ That was the inspiration for our name.”
The name fits. Virtually everything they do at Strangeways is a little different. “We have such a unique brand that we haven’t pigeon-holed ourselves,” Brunner says. “We’ve left the door wide open to try new things.”
Yes, there generally is something a little different going on. Brunner says that that’s what makes her job so great. “We’ve done everything from ‘Brews and Burlesque,’ to adult coloring nights. We do a lotof fundraisers.”
That reputation for being unpredictable is working. As the brewery nears its fourth anniversary, it is about to open a second facility just outside of Old Town in Fredericksburg. Why Fredericksburg? “Neil is from there,” Brunner says. “His family ran a retail business there for decades. The new brewery will occupy space in a warehouse that the family owns. For the time being, Strangeways will continue to brew their flagship beers in Richmond. The Fredericksburg brewery, which is slated to open in June, will be concentrating on smaller one-off brews.
One beer, that may have been intended a one-off, proved so popular that Strangeways will be re-releasing it the end of March. The beer is a collaborative effort with Sugar Shack Donuts, which has been named one of the nation’s top donut makers. The Sugar Shack Samoa Porter was so popular when it was first released last year that it’s coming back. Brunner calls the porter a “slam dunk beer.” This year, it might be even better. “We’re looking to make some of the flavors more forward, especially the coconut flavor. It’s so, so, good.”
In addition to being available on draft, Strangeways will be offering a very limited number of bottles. She says that given its popularity last year, this strange brew will not be around for long.
However, you can be sure that regardless of its availability, you’ll find something that will satisfy your taste buds. Brunner says that there’ll always be about three dozen different beers on hand. In addition to the two original beers, the brewery now has six flagships, including a new IPA, the Hop Howler, which has quickly become a crowd favorite. Burton, in collaboration with Richmond illustrator James “Barf” Callahan, has created a comic strip look for the six-pack carrier. The Hop Howler, says Brunner, is a super hero, replete with a back-story, which Brunner shares. The story is weird. Perhaps if you stop in, Brunner will share it with you.
Many of the beers offered at the brewery are flavored with syrups, which, says Brunner, some purists consider a sacrilege. However, she tells me, when tourists from Germany try the Überlin Berliner Weisse (another flagship beer), they are amazed by the traditional blending of the beer with flavorings, such as Himbeersirup (Raspberry) or Waldmeistersirup (Sweet Woodruff made from wild baby’s breath).
Brunner says that there’s virtually something for every taste. “If you bring 100 of your friends in for a private function, there’ll be something to please 99 of them. All we ask is that you spend about five minutes with one of our bartenders and we’ll find something you’ll enjoy.”
Whether you’re a purist, a true craft beer enthusiast, or a newcomer to the industry, the bottom line, as Erin Brunner sums it up, is this: “We still want to make great beers. We’re here to make beer that doesn’t have to fit into a box. It most likely will not fit into a box. There’s a lot of going rogue. That’s what makes us different and peculiar. When it comes down to it, we’re going to make good beer.”
2277A Dabney Rd,
Richmond, Va 23230
About a mile west of Scott’s Addition