I have to give credit where credit is due, and it’s thanks to my longtime bestie Liz that I ended up at Ardent Craft Ales in Richmond recently. Liz has her ear to the ground on a heckuva lot of things in general, but as a lifelong Richmonder, she really knows this town, especially things that others might not hunt down. So, thanks Liz!
If you’re a brew hopper like me and my hubby, looking for breweries almost before looking even for lodging, you’ll want to hit Ardent when you go to the state capital. Sure Hardywood and Mekong are more famous (and I totally want to hit them soon, too), but Ardent is kind of the perfect storm of the Richmond scene — old timey warehouse location in Scott’s Addition, sparse but tightly designed digs, solid graphics, and a straight up great set of beers.
We cruised through Ardent just as it opened on a Thursday evening, at 4pm. Since we had to be back in Staunton for a birthday party for a friend at George Bower’s Grocery, our plan was to try a flight (with snacks we had just grabbed at Union Hill Market) and then split. I wish we could have stayed to try the food truck, but alas our burger was waiting at home. Next time!
Because I have a certain set of beer revulsions (I HATE the smokiness in Devil’s Backbone’s famous Vienna Lager, for example, and any thing so hop-heady that it tastes like turpentine), I still need to ask my hubby which beer he thinks I’ll like. At Ardent, he recommended the India Pale Lager which would give me the hoppiness I do like, but the ease and drinkability of a lager. And he was right — crisp on the intake, bright all around, but mellow enough to rest easy.
He, however, went for the flight (you could pick four of the five available that day) and I tasted each of those as well. He didn’t go for the Simcoe IPA (which now that I think about it was cray cray because we already had my IPL), but got the same IPL that I had, the Honey Ginger Ale, a Citra IPA, and the Farmhouse Ale Saison.
The reasonably priced $10 flight came in a clever flight carrier that dropped the beers down as you carried it to the table and then popped ’em back up once placed on a table. The super friendly barkeep marked up a guide with grease pencil showing us which beer was which as we tasted — always a handy thing.
I was surprised to learn that I liked the Honey Ginger since I’m not big on the whole flavored beer thing — you know, pumpkin ales and Yuletide clove and whatnot — eech! But this was light and refreshing and to be honest, kind of read like a slightly more intense kombucha.
As for the rest, these were standard enough beers but each was just really bright, understated, delivering subtle flavor and clarity without any ostentatious notes.
I would have really dug a growler fill of the IPL but since hubby is a home brewer, and nearly my entire first floor is devoted to his kegerator, conical fermenter, funnels, grinders, cooling spiral, growlers, and carboys, we don’t exactly bring home other folks’ beer anymore, it’s just an on-site experience.
But you should — man that IPL was good!
We did make an exception for their Black Paper Series special beers, taking the Honey Ginger as a gift that night for our birthday friend Sophie. And hubby couldn’t resist the sound of Szechuan Peppercorn Saison so we sprung for that too. I also got a pint glass for our largely expanding Virginia brewery glasses collection — perfect when we host our own tasting parties for hubby’s beer.
Ardent is not currently offering brewery tours but you can see fairly well into the brewing facility and through the garage windows where kegs were either in storage or being used to ferment. Also in that garage were traditional wooden casks for Belgian style Saison so Ardent deserves props for an authentic approach — slow beer, all woody!
I thought the place looked totally cool, just my kind of industrial brew space that’s got enough personality to assert itself without so much that you feel overwhelmed by their posters or branding bombast.
We sat inside, after being very hot from trekking around that afternoon, but the beer garden has tons of extra seating and can accommodate well-behaved dogs — woof! Oh and PS, flowers on the tables? Lovely touch for a garden-happy chick like me.
Alright, that’s the basic deal of my experience. I dug it, and really no persnickety complaints!
Feel free to share your take in the comments…and bottoms up!
—Lindsay Curren, Girl Goes Virginia
Ardent Craft Ales
3200 W. Leigh Street
Richmond, VA 23230
M-Th 4-9, Fri. 4-10
Sat. Noon-10, Sun. 1-8