Thursday, February 16, 2017

On the Trail of Beers and Burial Grounds

With excellent weather predicted for the whole weekend, Richard, Jason, Emily, Margie, Steve and I set forth to embark on The Richmond Beer Trail. We were all excited to be quaffing so many excellent, (hopefully), beers and especially to be visiting a fine selection of breweries. Richmond has a huge choice and has set up a site for intrepid beer enthusiasts. We all printed off the map and details, determined to earn the free t-shirt, given after 5 brewery stamps on our cards.
We started off at Kindred Spirit, getting there shortly after it opened, but after tasting flights that incorporated most of their beers, we didn't stay for full pours, eager to move on and upwards, not wanting to fall downwards just yet.
Even though we weren't duly impressed with the brews at Kindred, the book selection made us laugh and the mens' rest room was a huge conversation piece. Very clever!
I'm posting this because it's me looking angry. Not sure why Richard requested this pose but he got it and took the photo. Needless to say, on our current adventure there was no reason at all to be angry, so I had a hard time pulling this face!
I'm not going to describe all the breweries we visited but this one was my favorite, Steam Bell Beer Works. Although set in an industrial park, the ambience was warm and welcoming as we entered, and didn't have the usual rowdy and echoing voices that usually accompanies these places. There was plenty of wooden tables, wooden planked walls, all from palettes, and small white lights were strung throughout. The place was busy too, a great sign.
We ordered a flight of all their beers and sat down to taste. I was extremely impressed with the Berkeley Hundred, a scotch ale infused with the crisp flavor of cranberries, no overload of sugar here, and a little tart. Perfect. This turned out to be my number one beer of the whole weekend, and definitely the most original. The only ones I wasn't keen on were the Tiramasu Stouts, I'm not a huge dark beer fan, but the others thought it was wonderful. We didn't meet the owner but we did meet his parents who also help with operations, enjoyed an informative chat with them and left, promising to return in the future.
And so the day passed, with us moving from one brewery to another, but none leaving a lasting impression with me. Not in order, as I've lost my map, but we visited Ardent Craft Ales, Stone Brewing, who had very large bottles of Bastard Ale padlocked in the fridge, Extra Billy's Smokehouse, where we fueled up with fodder at dinnertime,  The Veil, which was the worst place ever, with obnoxiously loud rap music, heavy sugary beers, but a firm favorite with Emily, who by now was a little squiffy but firmly stamped her feet and announced that we would visit another two breweries before the night was done. We were pretty wiped out but gallantly plodded onwards, stopping at Strangeways, an odd place with very queer 'artwork' yet no notable beers, then we finally collapsed at The Answer, where we refueled with snacks and where I finally found another beer that I really enjoyed, Sunny D, a sour gose with oranges and peaches. I think I've maybe left off one brewery, but they evidently didn't make an impact, either with atmosphere or ales, so no matter.
We were ready to call it a day and it was nearly 1:00am when we collapsed into bed at the hotel.
The next morning I bounced out of bed, ready to get going. Emily and Margie were lacking in energy and enthusiasm at this hour so I met with the boys where we went to an excellent diner, Eat 33, for breakfast. The food and service was outstanding and for the first time ever I ordered sausage gravy with a breakfast bowl, which was heartily and hastily consumed.
Shortly afterwards, while sitting in the car, feeling stuffed and contented, I pointed out a Krispy Kreme on the side of the road, and before I could say,donut', we were parked up and walking inside. I've never been in one of these places, not being a huge fan of these sugary cakes, but I knew it was a big deal to eat hot donuts that had just been cooked. We all ordered two, such gluttons, and then sat down to bite into the soft fluffy dough as little wisps of steam drifted up in front of us. They were as soft as cotton candy and I did enjoy the experience, but it won't be one that I'll rush to partake in again. Clutching our coffees and overstuffed bellies we climbed back into the car, where I silently prayed the suspension wouldn't creak too loudly.
Around the corner was a building that I'd been anxious to see, the Markel Building. This huge monstrosity is on the list of The World's Ten Ugliest Buildings and its design was actually inspired by a baked potato wrapped in foil by a guy who must have been tripping or had indulged in way too many beers or been on an intense sugar high. His name is Haigh Jamgochian and he really has an odd sense of design.
But it was satisfyingly gross and compelled me to get close and touch its ugly cold and well patched walls. We also laughed when we spotted a matching silver car parked underneath, one front door as crumpled as the building above it.
Our next stop while we waited for noon when the breweries would open, was Hollywood Cemetery. This opened in 1849, sprawls over a hillside of 135 acres overlooking the James River, and is filled with beautiful and unusual grave markers. Margie and Emily had caught us up by now and we slowly sauntered about. The others were content to just wander close to the car but I wanted to explore as much as possible, and knowing that we wouldn't have much time here, I set off briskly, continuously looking about for photo worthy headstones or statues.
It was overwhelming gorgeous. This place is beautiful, with so many pathways, patterned Victorian wrought iron railings, unusual and eye catching memorials, that it was impossible to take it all in. I snapped photos without taking much notice of whose graves I was admiring, wanting to see as much as I could, but when I got a text saying it was time to head back to the car I had to give up. And I hadn't covered even half of it. I was amazed at how far I had walked and tried to make it back as quickly as possible to the others, vowing to return and resume my exploring at a later date.Especially after reading this article which I found later.
We continued with our trail of breweries, including Legend, Hardywood Park,  and finally Final Gravity, where we also grabbed lunch ordered from their collection of local menus.
Steve and I had had enough by now and decided to leave the others and head homewards, but the crew decided to pursue a final flight of beers at The Center of the Universe, a fine name for a brewery but apparently it didn't have a huge impact on my buddies. Poor Jason was lagging big time and was ready to head home too, almost dropping off to sleep at Legend, with still two more breweries to visit. But we'd had a most excellent weekend, with no hangovers suffered and no sickness. Some left with bottles of beer to take home and we all obtained our t-shirt from the Richmond Trail, our prize for participation. And to top it off the weather had been incredible for winter, we'd enjoyed 81 degrees in Richmond, with Marshall only two hours away shivering at 47. But I was glad to get home and rest with the cats. I may not have a beer for a while...

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