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!