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Beer Travels: Strangeways Brewing // Mekong // The Answer

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Welcome to Part One of our Richmond Beercation! Just let that word sink in a little. Beercation.  I’ll get back to it in a bit.

Our trip to Richmond last weekend was full of many firsts for us. It wasn’t our first visit in the River City as we’d spent a weekend in town a few years ago for the Virginia Wine Expo. But it was a first in a lot of ways, some known going in and others completely unexpected. It was our first time using AirBnB, which was such a wonderful experience. I wanted to “live like the locals” on this trip, and the spot we stayed at, a “Gem in the Heart of the Fan”, gave us that experience. I love to explore cities by just walking around and taking everything in, and Jill’s place allowed us to do just that despite the chilly April temps! I mean, who else can say they’ve stayed in a super chic and stylish apartment that was once an old Cadillac dealership or walked along in the Monument 10K on your way to drink beer at 10AM?!

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I also had a chance to finally meet someone I consider my beer writing mentor. Yep, there’s a little bit of hero worship going on there. You all know him as the RVA Beer Guy, Mr. Lee Graves. He reached out with an email some many months ago, an email that came at the most opportune time as I was ready to hang this beer writing thing up. Someone who is really, really good at this thought I might be good at it too? Really? So I stuck it through. His book, Richmond Beer, A History of Brewing in the River City, is the perfect starting point for learning more about Richmond’s deep and rich beer history, and we used it as our “Beer Bible” for planning our trip. Did you know in 2010 there was only one brewery in Richmond? One! Legend Brewing! (They celebrate their 22nd Anniversary this weekend, btw!) That’s only six years ago!

We also visited some breweries we’d never been to, had some fantastic beers we’d only dreamed about trying and met some wonderful people. So. Many. Firsts. But the biggest first for me? On this trip, visiting these breweries and talking with these incredibly talented and smart beer people is really the first time I’ve actually felt part of this craft beer drinking, loving, worshiping community. I write a lil’ ol’ blog about beer. I’ve never brewed it. I didn’t grow up around it. What does this chick know? You might think this too. Well the folks in Richmond, they only saw Jenn the beer writer. Not Jenn the blogger or Jenn the blonde. But the beer writer. And that, that right there makes all the difference.

Strangeways Brewing 

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It wasn’t our first visit to Strangeways Brewing nor our first time having their multitude of beers at our fingertips. But it was definitely our best! We hadn’t planned to roll into town and begin drinking immediately but well, when the beer calls, you answer! We started the afternoon off with a few tasters of their Lücky Charms Überlin Berliner Weisse, Havoc Gold IPA, Sugar Shack Samoa Porter, Wampus Cat Triple IPA, a version of their Soledad, a Wild Soledad Barrel Aged Tripel with Brett and Martian Spring Bière De Mars.

The Martian Spring was my favorite, with its blend of Columbus, Simcoe, Citra, Galena and Centennial hops. It blended beautifully with the light, fruity esters of a Bière de Garde yeast. The Lücky Charms Überlin Berliner Weisse, part of their Curiosities series, was unlike anything I’ve ever tried as the Berliner Weisse is injected so to speak with a traditional German Woodruff syrup. This gave the beer flavors of peach, berry, tropical fruit notes and….marshmallow! Gimmicky? Eh, maybe. But it’s also really magically fucking delicious!

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We were thrilled to see that Lars was in the tasting room that afternoon, and before we knew it, another round of tasters was on its way to us. If I thought the first round of beers was good, the next round was even better. We tried three variations of the Ape Armageddon Imperial Stout – a Caribbean Rum Barrel Aged version, a Kentucky Rye Whiskey Barrel Aged version and a Kentucky Bourbon Barred Aged version. There’s also a fourth version aged in Tequila barrels as well. We also tasted their Freeze Ray Eisbock, Beyond the Ouija Tripel Oak Brett and their Rot in Hell Pumpkin Sour.

I had tasted the Rot in Hell Pumpkin Sour during their tap takeover at Adroit Theory last summer and vowed it was now the only pumpkin beer I would ever drink again. After tasting it last week, I’m confident in that previous statement. It’s got to be one of the best beers I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. The Beyond the Ouija Tripel Oak Brett sent Cody’s palate into a tailspin as it reminded him of sticking his head into a humidor with its smoky cigar like quality from being aged one entire year in wild oak barrels. It also had a slight fruity component to it due to the special yeast used and ended with an interesting, funky finish. Our favorite of the Stouts was the Caribbean Rum Barrel Aged version. A little coconut flavor mixed with some sweetness from the rum and not overly boozy at all, I easily could have had a full pour of this.

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Now we’re entering the portion of the program where I wish we would have taken better notes. I had instructed Cody prior to leaving that this was to be a fun trip! Maybe some Instagramming but there would really be no blogging. HA! What a silly thing for someone like me to say. Husbands don’t typically listen to their wives, right? Well this time, he did.

After finishing our second round of beers, Lars graciously offered to take us behind the scenes. These giant barrel looking things you’re seeing, these are called Foeders (pronounced FOOD-er). Mainly used by wineries, they are given up when all the character and flavor from the wood has been extracted. And they’re in hot demand. Breweries use them for brewing sours and other wild beers. The oak barrel provides a great environment for both wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria. As they mention on Wooden Robot Brewery’s site, “the pores of the wood create little nooks for the creatures to live and also slowly let in small amounts of oxygen that helps the brettanomyces create their signature funky and fruity flavors.” That’s kinda cute! With Strangeways already having a killer sour and wild ale program, I mean, can you even imagine? If this interests you in anyway (as it does me), Lauren Salazar, head of New Belgium’s sour program, is an authority on this technique, and there’s tons out there to read about.

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A huge thank you to Lars and Strangeways for the brews and the behind the scenes tour! It was totally unexpected and much appreciated! Anytime we get to spend with Lars and the guys out at Strangeways, well, we consider that pretty damn special.

This weekend at Strangeways is going to be kickass, with their release of O.T.I.S., their cucumber melon sour on Saturday, the 16th. There’s also beer yoga, our favorite way to exercise, on Saturday as well. AND the event I’m so super sad to be missing, the Bark and Beer Fest on Sunday, the 17th. Dogs, music and beer. I mean, that’s my lifeblood right there. Why don’t we live in Richmond again?

Mekong

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We found out at Strangeways Lars was celebrating his birthday in the same spot we were heading to for dinner – Mekong. I wish I could tell you more about the food at Mekong. I know it’s really delicious. The one spring roll and crepe I ate was very good. I know Cody had an amazing meal as did everyone at the table. But I, I sorta forgot to eat because I was so enamored with the beer list and getting to know everyone who was there. Big mistake. Eat at Mekong. Eat lots at Mekong. Promise me. The first beer I tried was their own (the Answer Brewpub’s) with lovely sweet and spicy notes from Habanero peppers. I then moved onto Flanders Red Ales and Brown Ales that I had never tried before but fell in love with.

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The Answer Brewpub

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The Answer Brewpub was our final stop and one of the places we were looking forward to visiting most in Richmond. As you can see when the “Founder and Chief Beer Officer” An Bui found out we were in town to celebrate Cody’s birthday as well, Cody was gifted with not one but two giant vessels of The Answer’s Mouth Hug, a juicy, fruity DIPA full of Citra hops. This beer was delicious, and helping Cody plow through two of them was my eventual downfall. The next day, well, it pretty much hurt like a mother. #weak, #loser #outofshape. We definitely need another trip back to Richmond and The Answer in order to try more of their amazing beers.

So yeah, these Beercations. I guess it’s what we do now, base where we visit 100% on the beer drinking culture and scene. I mean, I can’t really think of a better way to plan a vacation, can you? I hope to get Part Two done later this evening. I want you to see how beautiful The Veil Brewing Co. is before tomorrow’s grand opening…which we won’t be at…which sucks. Again, why don’t we live in Richmond?!

Happy Friday and Happy Weekend!

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