By: Nolan Shigley
Usually, I pair my pints with peaks, but a journey to the mountains was not to happen as a thick blanket of snow covered the city and blockaded my vehicle. I suffered from cabin fever and thirst all the same. Trail shoes served as my only feasible means of transportation, but in my opinion, legs are the optional method of exploring Richmond and enjoying the local breweries accompanied by holiday lights.
Dressed in reflective layers, I left my neighborhood of Manchester at sundown trudging through deep snow and slipping on slick ice. My efforts were well rewarded as the view from the flood wall was more than just pleasant. The lights of the city mirrored upon the James were intensified by the recent Grand Illumination while the entire skyline opened along the trail. I rounded Hull Street onto the Mayo Bridge, crossed the colorful river, passed the ice skaters at the 17th Market, and made my first stop on this holiday lights and ale tour.
Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery has extended their reach by beautifully restoring a structure nestled in Shockoe Bottom. Beyond the ideal location of brick buildings and cobblestone streets and even past the impressive portfolio of craft beers, they have one more secret attraction. I regretfully tell you...they have the best happy hour in RVA. For several hours each night, each pint is a mere four dollars along with great food and incredible service. Big beers dominate and the Christmas selection, Twelfth Night, is certainly no different. A Belgian quad that packs as much complexity as alcohol. Gingerbread, sage, cinnamon, cloves, mulled wine, pinecones, and maybe Santa’s musky cologne all present. But alas, I stumbled back into the frigid evening and gingerly slogged across the city via Main Street.
The second stop on the night of lights and ales was Triple Crossing. I don’t have to tell you about their popular IPA selection, so allow me to describe the insanity of their Christmas barleywine of 12% appropriately called Winter Jetlag. Aged with bourbon soaked vanilla beans...goodnight. The flavors of Navidad continue with dark fruit, toffee, caramel, and sugar. The complexity necessitates slow sipping and deep analysis of each swish along the taste buds. Needless to say, I left with a desired warmth as I made my way in the direction of home.
If you have not crossed the Tyler Potterfield Memorial Walk Bridge at night, you are absolutely missing one of the greatest delights within our city. After making my way south past historic Tredegar Ironworks, crossing the canal, and standing in awe from Brown’s Island staring up at our sparkling city, I walked the snow-packed trail across the rushing river. Lights dotted the railing and shone upon the unshoveled path. As I made my way across, I turned and admired one of my favorite views of the city whether day or night.
The final pint and view of the evening were welcoming as I sat in my “home” brewery of Legend just blocks from my front door. I don’t have to describe the quintessential view all Richmonders have enjoyed from the deck, but I would love to mention the holiday ale that was pouring from the cask conditioned pump. A soft, pillowy texture with a blend of spices that perfectly conjured up memories of Christmas. Earthy flavors of pinecones and the Great Outdoors that captured hiking in the snow on a winter evening. A perfect finish to a strangely arduous city walk that balanced steps with holiday calories.