Editor’s note: BizSense Nation, raise a glass to The Brew, BizSense’s newest feature. Lee Graves, aka the Beer Guy, will serve up commentary, news and analysis of the Richmond area’s exploding beer scene on the second and fourth Fridays of each month. Feel free to send him tips and column ideas at [email protected].
I really didn’t know what I was getting into.
I mean, I’d drained pints in English pubs, quaffed wee heavies in Scotland, toasted strangers at the Hofbrauhaus in Munich and even ventured to a lofty German monastery to sample a divinely wicked black lager.
But did that qualify me to write a column about beer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1996? My editors thought so. Later, I was to learn that I was the only dude in the country writing about beer for a mainstream newspaper — every single week.
The Beer Guy was born.
I started home brewing (oh, the mistakes). I went to countless festivals, including the Great American Beer Festival (put it on your bucket list). I had the good fortune to have my column syndicated. I got to know some amazing people in a community distinctive for its spirit of friendship and sharing (and patience).
And now, 10 years later, I’m back.
I will be writing twice a month for Richmond BeerSense — oops, wrong again — Richmond BizSense. And the principles that guided me the first time around are still in play.
I want to have fun. I want other people to have fun reading about beer. I want to reflect the communal spirit of exploration, from newbies sipping their first IPAs to cicerones mastering the nuances of beer service. And most of all, I want to hear from you — about what you’re drinking, what tickles your taste buds, what piques your geek.
Since I began writing about beer, amazing things have happened. Back then, America was known internationally as a brewing backwater. Fizzy flavor-challenged lagers dominated the landscape. That has changed dramatically. Home brewers and beer aficionados have found common ground and commercial potential in their hometowns. Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, Anchor and others carried the banner to broader markets.
Locally, Legend, Richbrau, James River, Main Street and Mobjack Bay caught that wave. It would have been hard to predict that among those names, only Legend would be brewing beer in the city in 2010. (Extra Billy’s in Chesterfield County is another survivor, brewing for on-site consumption only.)
Now look around. Hardywood Park, Midnight and Center of the Universe are cranking out beers. Haxall, Ardent, Strangeways, Ajax Aleworks and Lickinghole Creek hope to join the ranks soon. Breweries are popping up from Toano to Abingdon. Devils Backbone near Wintergreen won the 2012 Small Brewpub and Brewmaster awards at the Great American Beer Festival, and Richmond’s Mekong Restaurant was voted Best Beer Bar in America in an online poll.
Sounds like another wave cresting, right? After all, the craft beer sector has had double-digit growth the past two years.
“There are a lot of people that think we’re in a bubble and it’s going to burst, but we’re not in a bubble,” says iconic beer dude Charlie Papazian. The University of Virginia graduate is president of the Brewers Association, founder of the American Homebrewers Association and author of multiple books on brewing.
In an October interview on CNBC, he said, “By 2017, [the Brewers Association] anticipates pretty confidently that we’ll have 10 percent of the volume, and at that point the momentum will take us past that.”
Locally, craft beers have about 6 percent of the market, says Jacob Brunow, head of the craft and import department of Brown Distributing-Virginia. Viewing the potential for eight breweries in and around Richmond, he wouldn’t be surprised to see that shoot to 15 percent. The emphasis on local foods, local produce, local everything also spurs growth.
“When you look at the entire market, we’re just beginning,” he says.
The earlier bubble popped because people jumped into the waters for short-term gain. “When you get into the beer business, it’s a long-term proposition,” Papazian says.
Virginia lawmakers have recognized that good beer is good business by allowing breweries to sell pints and growlers on premises. Hence the proliferation of tasting rooms offering samples of IPAs, Belgian Dubbels, German-style alts and kölsches, Irish reds, Irish stouts and more in places that I would scarcely have imagined 16 years ago.
There is more great beer being brewed in America than ever. That’s significant in itself, but it also adds to a tradition that connects us with the dawn of civilization.
So let’s exercise civilization’s greatest tradition — sharing. Keep me in the loop as we explore the ever-unfolding world of beer, and I’ll try to do the same.
Great to see you back as the Beer Guy Lee! These Micro Breweries are popping up all over, we need you to sort this all out.
Thanks, Phil. Great to hear from you. Let me know what you’re up to (and what you’re drinking). lg
Congrats Lee on another adventure. I look forward to your “Beersense” column!
With all the great breweries popping up… I hope to be able to provide tents and equipment for another get Richmond Beer Fest!
Congratulations Lee. Drinking beer and writing about beer might the best job on earth. Cheers to you. Congratulations Aaron. You just confirmed that you now run the best food blog in the city. Perhaps a name change to Richmond Restaurant Biz Sense would be appropriate. Your content over the last few years has turned from relevant local “business” news to more and more coverage on the restaurant scene and general gossip column stories. Funny thing is that Richmond.com and RVANews beats you to the restaurant stories every time. My tip would be to get back to what brought you readers,… Read more »
Looking forward to reading your column Lee. VA has become quite the beer Mecca and we’re loving every hoppy minute of it. Hardywood has changed the beer landscape in RVA with more good looking breweries to follow. In my opinion Mekong is still the best place to grab a couple DIPA’s or some strong dark Belgian ales.
Lee – glad to see The Beer Guy back !
BTW – Devils Backbone is run by another WTW grad, Steve Crandall
Glad to see The Beer Guy back
You may know that Devils Backbone is run by another WTW grad, Steve Crandall
I didn’t know that. We’ll have to get in touch. Devils Backbone is such a great part of Virginia’s brew scene.
Lee – I remember your debut column, and am delighted to see you writing on this topic again.
Welcome back, Lee! I look forward to reading your beer insight & wisdom!
Looking forward to reading this column regularly – and supporting our local brewers. A good companion article was recently run in Slate. http://www.slate.com/articles/business/drink/2012/12/nanobrewing_how_tiny_beer_making_operations_are_changing_the_industry.html
Isn’t Great we get paid for talking about beer all day. Oh wait, you get paid for drinking it too.
Who of thought we’d still be watching the industry grow the way it has since the 70’s.
And the Beers are better too.
Hi Lee! So glad to find you here!! I like to think I’m responsible for bringing Shiner to Virginia. Having grown up in Texas, it was all I drank but it wasn’t in Richmond when I moved here in 1990. I went to the wine & beer stores and had them order it for me by the case. Then I would share it and now it’s even in the grocery stores. What else do I drink? Those fabulous brews out of New Belgium Brewery in CO! Someday, Virginia, someday!