Ever been to a winery with your friends, returned home with a case of what you deemed to be the best wine ever, only to uncork a bottle later and discover that it’s not all that? Indeed, food and beverage shine greater with a complementary atmosphere.
Three breweries, a cidery and two wineries west of the city possess an element of place that enhances the enjoyment of the drink, and to capitalize on their advantages, they’ve partnered to form the Richmond West Craft Alcohol Trail.
“The Richmond trail is urban, so this creates a more bucolic trail with more scenery,” says Hannah Slagle, creative director of To the Fourth marketing firm that produced the trail’s branding materials. “It’s more relaxing to be outside.” Slagle is also the wife of Gabe Slagle, brewer at Fine Creek Brewing.
“You get that country feel without having to drive way out in the country,” adds Sue Anne Klinefelter of Elk Island Winery. “You’re really close to Short Pump, but once you’re out here, you’re very much in the country.”
Courthouse Creek Cider co-owner Eric Cioffi notes that the trail allows folks to get out of the city without committing to an overnight trip or a hefty drive. Even Elk Island Winery, the farthest west in the group, is only an hour-long drive from the East End.
“The center will always be Richmond and that’s awesome and it should be. It’s an amazing, aggressive, constantly changing little city,” Cioffi says. “But I think that hub has naturally pushed out. Get in your car and spend some time out west.”
Here’s a rundown of current trail members and what to expect:
Hardywood West Creek
Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery opened their third location this year in a bucolic setting overlooking Tuckahoe Creek.
The towering wood-siding building fits well with the natural surroundings. Huge windows and outdoor seating, with an outdoor amphitheater to come, provide ample opportunities to enjoy the natural beauty.
With more than 20 beers on tap and multiple bars on-site, Hardywood’s newest location has a diverse lineup: year-rounds like Singel, Pils, VIPA and Richmond Lager as well as the brewery’s many special releases.
Courthouse Creek Cider
Eric and Liza Cioffi subscribe to low-impact techniques and materials and emphasize heirloom cider apples.
“Our cider-making philosophy is simple: do our best to let the fruit speak for itself, and add a loving twist here and there,” SAYS WHO? Loving twists like ginger and raspberries; fermentation in neutral wine barrels plus secondary fermentation with Viognier grape skins; bourbon barrel-aging plus blackberries and lavender; and hops.
Fine Creek Brewing
Mark and Lisa Benusa, son and mother, opened the brewery as an extension of the Mill at Fine Creek, a historic property operating as a wedding venue.
Beers includes approachable styles to appeal to a wide audience in addition to rustic styles: farmhouse ales, sours and barrel-aged beers. Recent examples include Sweet Potato Old Ale, a breakfast stout with Blanchard’s coffee, Cascadian Boheme Pilsner, Imperial Thai Tea Milk Stout, and Farmers Only Date Syrup Dark Farmhouse Ale.
The brewery also offers house-made small plates from fresh, local seasonal ingredients.
Elk Island Winery
“We’re very passionate about the Virginia wine industry, and we’re passionate about rural life, so we farm as well,” says Sue Anne Klinefelter, who co-owns the winery with her husband, Paul. Even the cozy tasting room presents a homey, country feel.
The Elk Island vineyard is planted in Norton, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and small plantings of other varietals. The winery offers a range of wines to suit a variety of tastes at affordable prices. “Our motto at our winery is we want people to drink Virginia wine, and we want to be your everyday glass of wine, your house wine,” says Klinefelter.
Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery
Located in Goochland, this farm brewery regularly hosts breathtaking sunsets and fields of crops, including hops, barley, pumpkins and sunflowers.
Also Lickinghole Creek hosts live music and family festivities such as Easter egg hunts and pumpkin picking, plus a rotating selection of food trucks and special releases throughout the year.
Though low-ABV beers pop up on the Lickinghole line-up, the brewery is known primarily for its high-alcohol beers, including Nuclear Nugget double IPA, Enlightened Despot and Coconut Quad.
Grayhaven is one of the oldest independent commercial vineyards in Virginia. Founded in 1978 by Lyn and Chuck Peple, it remains family-owned and operated.
The winery was launched in 1994, producing handcrafted, Old World-style wines from vinifera and French hybrid grapes. Estate-grown wines include Pinotage, Sauvignon Blanc, Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc and Traminette.
Grayhaven also is known for creative events, including the annual South African Food and Wine Festival in the fall.
Kindred Spirit Brewing
The location for this brewery isn’t in a bucolic countryside but rather a quiet industrial park that backs up to woods.
Along with head brewer Lee Lonnes, co-owners and brothers Jason and Joe Trottier have emphasized hops from the beginning.
“We want to be known as an IPA destination,” Lonnes says. “But we also want to have [those beers] that everyone else drinks.”
Hopheads drink up the lupulin in a variety of IPAs and DIPAs, but the lineup is balanced with a variety of beers including stouts, Belgian-style strong ales, brown ales and lagers.
Prior to opening, owner Trae Cairns burned the midnight oil as a homebrewer after working his day job, inspiring the brewery’s name.
Midnight combines proximity to Short Pump with a quiet setting toward the back of an industrial park in a comfortable tasting room. Beers focus on easy-to-enjoy, malt-forward beers that remain loyal to style.
Guests can count on enjoying beers like the New Beginning Kölsch, Rockville Red Irish red ale, Not My Job Southern English brown ale, Midnight Granite oatmeal stout and Purdy Mechanic IPA.
For more info, visit richmondwesttrail.com