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.
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).
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.