Henrico County has gotten strange...but we aren’t hearing any complaints!
On May 29th, Strangeways Brewing officially opened its doors to the public. It’s a quirky addition to the industrial park on Dabney Road, and it makes us wonder: Will the burgeoning craft beer business in the greater Richmond region ever be the same? The brewery was developed to "create exquisitely peculiar concoctions to satisfy the most curious of cravings." That sounds like a tall order, but, luckily, Strangeways Brewing Founder Neil Burton had a few local beer legends willing to assist.
"Our beer recipes were all formulated by our head brewer, Mike Hiller,” Burton recently told Grid Magazine. "I asked Mike to write complete recipes for 10 different beer styles that could be contenders for our flagship beer spots. Then we took our ideas to local beer legends An Bui of Mekong and Chris Holder of Capital Alehouse for tweaks, and narrowed our flagships down to four flavors. We believe this collaborative effort is important in trying to bring to market beers specifically for Richmond with a slightly strange twist or that are currently not represented stylistically by a local brewery."
The Strangeways Story Burton became passionate about beer after traveling abroad in the 1990s, to countries where he experienced, in his words, "what good beer tastes like." He began to seriously consider ways to enter into Virginia’s craft beer marketplace in 2009. After exploring his options with other startups and brew projects, he directed his efforts toward opening his own brewing company.
But it wasn’t until he met longtime brewer Mike Hiller at a bill signing ceremony that Strangeways became a self-proclaimed "a two-headed beast." (House Bill 359, passed with support of brewers like Burton and distributors, ultimately allows Virginia’s breweries to engage in alternating proprietorship, paving the way for future brewery projects to enter the craft beer market.)
Burton is quick to point out it was the help he got along the way that brought his dream to fruition. "It’s important to know how helpful many of the Virginia breweries have been," he said. "Everyone we have asked has been so gracious and forthcoming with information to help us over this four-year process of getting Strangeways Brewing up and running." He continued, "We especially want to tip our hats to the local Richmond breweries for their past and continued support and their knowledge that we will all work together to produce and promote local craft beer in any way possible.
Without the help of Legend, Hardywood, Midnight, COTU, Extra Billy's, Lickinghole Creek, Ardent and Isley, this process would have been much more difficult—and not nearly as much fun!"
"Think Strange, Drink Strange"
In May, Strangeways released its first brews: Albino Monkey Belgian White Ale and Woodbooger Belgian Brown Ale. Need we say more? Strangeways recipes are delightfully strange, and so is the decor of the brewery. Walk through its unassuming "storefront" and you’re immediately aware that this is no ordinary establishment.
Artwork composed of random metal and toys and an illustration of an inquisitive and somewhat devious looking monkey adorn the walls. (The monkey, named AFM, profoundly captures the essence of the brewery and is featured on its label.) The curious art, brightly covered walls and frothy libations served up front are enchanting, but the real show is toward the back of the 8,400-square-foot space.
There, you’ll find more taps, t-shirts for sale and some really BIG beer barrels. For now, the Strangeways brewing area is outfitted with a 20-barrel brewery package from Premier Stainless Systems. Reading the equipment list, one can’t help but chuckle as one tank is designated as "... exclusively for 'wild' beers." But then again, it’s perhaps not so unexpected from a company whose mantra is "Think Strange. Drink Strange."
Strange Product Release Model?
Burton truly appreciates the local retail scene, and when it comes to rolling out product, they have first dibs. He explained, "We feel getting our beer to other local purveyors first is positive for their business, by attracting their customers to come into their establishment and grab a beer as well as a bite to eat. There is nothing better than to have your beer paired with local cuisine. It truly makes both more enjoyable, and we feel it’s a win-win for everyone." Burton continued, "We also have put our money where our mouth is here. We could have opened our tasting room a couple of weeks before we actually did.
Instead, we had retailers get together at our brewery to get a sense of who we are and what we are about by showing them the facility. Then we had a rollout of our product around town at local bars and restaurants Memorial Day weekend. Not until after we have released each of our four flagship beers in this manner will we place them on draft at our tasting room. This obviously will cost us lost revenue due to waiting weeks to open our doors, but we truly feel it is best for business overall to roll out in this manner."
To date, over 20 local establishments serve Strangeways, including Henrico favorite and Craftbeer.com’s #1 Craft Beer Bar in America, MeKong Restaurant. (Get the entire list here.)
What’s Next for Strangeways?
Strangeways Brewing has created four flagship beers that will be offered year-round. Burton reports that a seasonal beer will also be released in mid to late July.
Visit Strangeways Brewing online for more information about the brewery. Or better yet, stop by its tasting room today!
Tasting Room Hours: Wednesday - Friday, 4-9 pm
Saturday 2-9 pm Sunday 12-5 pm
Location: 2277A Dabney Road Henrico, VA