National Beer Expo
Brew writer Lee Graves writes about this celebration of the craft-beer scene in RVA
Five years ago, the average Joe would have scoffed at the idea of Richmond being a major destination for craft beer lovers.
Scoff no more.
With more than a dozen local breweries, a vibrant home-brewing culture, an enthusiastic community of beer aficionados and plans to locate a Top 10 craft brewery facility here, RVA is on the map.
“Something very special is going on in Richmond,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association in Colorado. “The area is rich in both historic and modern brewing history, and when you visit you can feel the pride behind the advanced beer culture.”
That energy is fueling the Capital Ale House National Beer Expo, which will be held July 16-18.
A VERY VIRGINIA EXPO
Last year’s debut drew nearly 2,500 people to a bevy of events. This year, the schedule will be pared down slightly to focus on the main attractions — a Friday night Taco Throwdown featuring 16 restaurants, and a Saturday Walk-Around Grand Tasting offering roughly 155 beers, many from the 100-plus breweries in Virginia.
“The Virginia component is going to be very, very significant this year,” says Alex Papajohn. He heads Variant Events, which also stages the Virginia Wine Expo. Just as the craft beer industry has learned from the state’s success with wine, Papajohn’s experience with the Wine Expo provides lessons for the beer fest.
“Our game plan is to layer in several additional events over the years,” Papajohn says. “But this is a very young event, and we want to focus on growing and nurturing our main events.”
THREE DAYS OF FESTIVITIES
The expo kicks off Thursday with RVA Brewery Parties, which are held at the discretion of the local breweries. The weekend also includes a culinary walking tour of Church Hill and a craft beer brunch. The spotlight shines on Friday night’s Taco Throwdown, which drew 400 people to the Greater Richmond Convention Center last year; Papajohn hopes to double attendance this year. Like the wine event’s Burger Blast, it highlights the creativity of Richmond’s chefs by offering handcrafted tacos using artisanal ingredients.
“Food is crucial to us. That’s one thing that sets us apart from other craft beer events,” Papajohn says.
He is working to strike a partnership with All About Beer magazine, a major publication in the beer industry, to coordinate the schedule of seminars on Saturday at the convention center.
Another bonus is the extension of Saturday’s VIP Early Admission portion of the Walk-Around Grand Tasting. Starting at noon, VIP attendees will have two hours to sample the general offerings plus at least 15 rare, vintage and limited-release beers. General admission begins at 2 p.m., and there will still be plenty of beers from around the state and the U.S. for aficionados to try.
Papajohn also hopes to involve Stone Brewing Co. in some fashion. The nation’s ninth-largest craft brewery, based in Escondido, Calif., has begun work on a major East Coast facility in Richmond.
“Having Stone in Richmond is going to enhance Richmond’s reputation as a great craft beer town,” Papajohn says. “We’re going to become a destination craft beer city.”
That means more quaffing instead of scoffing.
NATIONAL BEER EXPO
Main events of the Capital Ale House National Beer Expo (full schedule and tickets are available at nationalbeerexpo.com).
• Thursday, July 16: RVA Brewery Parties, at various breweries. 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
• Friday, July 17: Taco Throwdown presented by Style Weekly. Greater Richmond Convention Center. 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sixteen restaurants, 35-plus beers. $48 (available as a combo ticket).
• Saturday, July 18: Walk-Around Grand Tasting, Greater Richmond Convention Center, featuring about 155 craft beers. Main event is noon to 6 p.m.; seminars begin at 10 a.m. and continue to 2 p.m. ($15-$16). VIP Early Admission ticket-holders only, noon to 2 p.m. ($54). General admission, 2 to 6 p.m. ($42). Combo tickets available. An Expo After-Hours event with live music will be held at Capital Ale House Downtown, 6 to 9:30 p.m. ($25).
Lee Graves is a freelance writer and author of Richmond Beer: A History of Brewing in the River City. Graves, who writes periodically for BOOMER, is a former writer and editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.