Roll Out The Red Carpet For Top Virginia Beers

by | Jun 21, 2019 | EAT DRINK

Old-timers in the Virginia beer community can remember pitching tents in the woods and meadows of Nelson County as part of the annual ritual to taste and toast the best of craft beers in the Old Dominion.

The 2019 Virginia Craft Beer Cup Gala on Monday, June 17, was a bit different. Yes, we were under a tent, but the setting was decidedly more elegant, among the venerable stone buildings of the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond.

And yes, it was billed as a gala. “When they originally mentioned it was going to be a ‘gala’ event,” said a friend of mine, “I was thinking red carpet, round tables and creative gala attire. But everyone came as they were.” Yes, you have to love a gala where a guy wearing a T-shirt, cutoffs, and sandals takes the stage amid hoots and hollers to accept a medal for a well-made beer.

Virginia’s contest, sponsored by the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild, is the largest among state competitions in the country. This year, there were 342 entries in 35 categories. Judges — 39 in all, led by former James River Homebrewers president Anna Shore — followed the guidelines of the Beer Judge Certification Program.

“We have purposefully focused on the quality of our judging,” said Brett Vassey, president and CEO of the Virginia Manufacturers Association, which is the umbrella organization for the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild. Beers were judged in the categories they entered, a stricter standard than in past years. “That’s a big deal,” Vassey said.

More focused judging and a record number of entries made it a big deal to receive a medal, and you could tell from the energy crackling from the 300 or so brewers, brewery owners, and beer lovers under the tent that having your name called was special.
Bob Powers (left) and Bill Wild of New Realm Brewing (Virginia Beach, Atlanta) hoist the Best in Show trophy for Euphonia Pilsner at the 2019 Virginia Craft Beer Cup Gala. Photo by Lee Graves

“We’re totally blown away,” said Bob Powers after New Realm Brewing Company won the first-place Best in Show for Euphonia Pilsner. Powers is director of sales and marketing for the brewery, which he cofounded with Mitch Steele (former head brewer at Stone Brewing Co.) and Carey Falconer. Based in Atlanta, New Realm moved into the Virginia Beach facility vacated by Green Flash in 2018.

Steele is known as a master of IPAs (he wrote a book on the style’s history and evolution), so taking Best in Show for a German-style pilsner is an eye-opener. “It’s really the beer he’s most proud of, and he’s won a few other awards since we’ve had it out,” Powers said.

Last year’s best in show winner also was a lager, the Lil’ Hellion Helles by Brothers Craft Brewing in Harrisonburg (a silver medal winner this year). Though IPAs dominate the marketplace, it’s the nuanced, delicate balance in lagers — pilsners in particular — that reflects the height of brewing arts and gets high scores from judges.

Just as the stylistic pendulum has swung, the spotlight also has broadened as the state’s brewing scene has matured. Gone are the days when Devil’s Backbone dominated contests.

“The [medal] distribution is amazingly statewide,” Vassey said. “The distribution among startups, new breweries and senior breweries — those that have been around a while — is amazingly distributed.”

Numbers bear him out. Breweries in the Tidewater area took home 21 medals, if you count New Realm winning two for Euphonia Pilsner (one for winning its category, one for Best in Show). In the Richmond area, the count is 14 medals; in Central Virginia (Charlottesville and beyond), 13 medals; in the Roanoke area and Southside, nine; in the Shenandoah Valley, 10; in Loudoun County, eight; in outer Northern Virginia (including Fredericksburg), 10; in inner Northern Virginia (Alexandria, Arlington, etc.), also 10.

That last group includes the Great American Restaurants group’s Sweetwater Taverns, which has multiple locations in Northern Virginia and Loudoun County. Sweetwater was one of an elite bunch that carried home three medals — firsts for Rusty Roadrunner Lager and Yippee Ei-O Springbock and second for its pale ale. Three other breweries — Center of the Universe in Ashland, 2 Witches Winery & Brewing Company in Danville, and Blue Mountain Barrelhouse in Nelson County — won three medals as well.
Some 300 brewers, brewery owners and beer lovers celebrated the best in Virginia brewing at the 2019 Virginia Craft Beer Cup Gala on June 17 at Tredegar Iron Works. Photo by Lee Graves

Winning one medal is a stamp of excellence for one beer. Winning multiple awards is a stamp of excellence in brewing, and 14 Virginia breweries had their name called twice: Seven Arrows in Waynesboro; Lake Anne Brew House in Reston; The Board Room in Arlington; Adventure in Fredericksburg; Old Bust Head in Vint Hill; Old Ox, Beltway and TrAle in Loudoun County; Fine Creek in Powhatan (including second place Best in Show), Three Notch’d, Starr Hill and Bald Top in Central Virginia; and New Realm and Big Ugly in Tidewater.

Given the record number of entries and the continued growth among Virginia’s craft breweries and brewpubs — more than 280 at last count — it won’t be long before future galas will need a bigger tent.

Here’s the full list of winners:

First Place: New Realm Brewing, Euphonia Pilsner
Second Place: Fine Creek Brewing Company, Dry Hopped Brett Saison

First Place: St. George Brewing Company, Honey Meade Lager
Second Place: Gloucester Brewing Company, DeadRYEz
Third Place: Chaos Mountain Brewing, Glutenless Maximus – Pale Ale

First Place: Parkway Brewing Company, Triple “A” American Amber Ale
Second Place: Spencer Devon Brewing, Pulchritudinous Brown
Third Place: That Damn Mary Brewing Company, Easy Money

First Place: MoMac Brewing Company, Pata De Palo
Second Place: Mustang Sally Brewing Company, Article One Amber Lager
Third Place: Front Royal Brewing Company, Linden Lager

First Place: Makers Craft Brewery, Rauche

First Place: Stone Brewing, Stone Espresso Totalitarian Imperial Russian Stout
Second Place: Old Ox Brewery, Black Ox
Third Place: Adventure Brewing Company, Wicked Nymph Imperial Stout

First Place: Fine Creek Brewing Company, Dry Hopped Brett Saison
Second Place: Coelacanth Brewing, The Captain
Third Place: Center of the Universe, Red Ale

First Place: Port City Brewing Company, Optimal Wit
Second Place: Garden Grove Brewing & Urban Winery, Belgian Wit

First Place: Old Bust Head Brewing Company, Bust Head English Pale Ale
Second Place: Great American Restaurants—Sweetwater Taverns, Pale Ale
Third Place: Lake Anne Brew House, Lord Fairfax

First Place: Three Notch’d Brewing Company, No Veto Brown
Second Place: The Board Room VA, Bishop Brown
Third Place: Ballad Brewing, Fast Mail

First Place: Pro Re Nata Brewing Company, Nature Boy Pilsner
Second Place: Seven Arrows Brewing Company, Aurora Pils

First Place: Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery, One Lion
Second Place: Backroom Brewery, Oatmeal Stout
Third Place: The Virginia Beer Company, Elbow Patches Oatmeal Stout

First Place: Great American Restaurants—Sweetwater Tavern, Rusty Roadrunner Lager
Second Place: Bingo Beer, Black Lager
Third Place: Center of the Universe Origin, Dark Side

First Place: Strangeways Brewing, Uberlin
Second Place: Precarious Beer Project, Everywhere You Look There’s Something

First Place: Great Valley Farm Brewery, Peach Farmhouse Ale
Second Place: Seven Arrows Brewing Company, Sour Grapes
Third Place: The Farm Brewery at Broad Run, Dewitt’s Wit

First Place: Starr Hill Brewery, The Love
Second Place: 2 Witches Winery & Brewing Company, Witch Haze Ale
Third Place: Bike TrAle Brewing Company, Tailwind

First Place: Blue Mountain Barrel House, Classic Lager
Second Place: Castleburg Brewery and Taproom, Castillian’s Champagne Grodziskie
Third Place: Beale’s Beer, Gratzer

First Place: The Bold Mariner Brewing Company, Frogman Lager
Second Place: Beltway Brewing Company, Batting 1000
Third Place: The Board Room VA, No Limit Lager

First Place: Barrel Oak Farm Taphouse, BOFT IPA
Second Place: 2 Witches Winery & Brewing Company, Mosey Along the Dan
Third Place: Big Ugly Brewing Company, Rockers

First Place: Final Gravity Brewing Company, Morning Glory
Second Place: Vӓsen Brewing Company, Cashmere Secrets
Third Place: Twin Creeks Brewing Company, Red Leaf IPA

First Place: Pleasure House Brewing, O’Brien Clan Irish Red
Second Place: Old Bust Head Brewing Company, Vixen Irish Style Red Ale
Third Place: Tradition Brewing Company, Red Willie Irish Red

First Place: Random Row Brewing Company, Mosaic Pale Ale
Second Place: Broken Window Brewing Company, Lucky 13
Third Place: Three Notch’d Brewing Company, Ghost of the 43rd

First Place: New Realm Brewing, Euphonia Pilsner
Second Place: Bald Top Brewing Company, Liberty Light Lager
Third Place: Fair Winds Brewing Company, Quayside Kolsch

First Place: Great American Restaurants—Sweetwater Tavern, Yippee Ei-O Springbock
Second Place: Brother’s Craft Brewing, Lil’ Hellion
Third Place: Black Hoof Brewing, Reh of Sunshine Helles

First Place: 7 Dogs Brewpub, 80 Shilling Scottish Ale

First Place: Bald Top Brewing, Secretly Smoked Lager
Second Place: Alewerks Brewing Company, Pancake House Stout
Third Place: House 6 Brewing, Smoke Eater

First Place: South Street, Soft-Serv Ice Cream Porter
Second Place: Smartmouth Brewing Company, Mount Up
Third Place: Blue Mountain Barrel House, Raspberries on Acid

First Place: Starr Hill Brewery, Little Red Rooster Coffee Cream Stout
Second Place: 2 Witches Winery & Brewing Company, “Just-In” Time for Breakfast
Third Place: Caiseal Beer & Spirits Company (The Vanguard Brewpub), Coffee Blonde Ale

First Place: Reaver Beach Brewing Company, House Lager
Second Place: New Realm Brewing, United Craft Lager
Third Place: Trapezium Brewing Company, Mexican Lager

First Place: Beltway Brewing Company, Changing Lanes
Second Place: Alesatian Brewing Company, Hopsneeze Gen2 IPA
Third Place: Rip Rap Brewing, Wind’s Eye

First Place: Maltese Brewing Company, Barnfire Saison
Second Place: Bike TrAle Brewing Company, Strongman
Third Place: Lake Anne Brew House, New Year’s Ale

First Place: Adventure Brewing Company, Black Sail Scotch Ale

First Place: Restless Moons Brewing, Inked
Second Place: Big Ugly Brewing, Accelerator
Third Place: 1781 Brewing Company, Kӧnig Fruhling

First Place: Center of the Universe, Monkeys Uncle
Second Place: Apocalypse Ale Works, Brohead Fred
Third Place: Skipping Rock Beer Company, Belgian Dubbel

First Place: 2 Silos Brewing, Old Dominion Barrel Reserve Series
Second Place: Blue Mountain Barrel House, Chocolate and Coffee Dark Hollow
Third Place: Old Ox Brewery, Cooper’s Cloak Bourbon Barrel-Aged Quadrupel

This article originally appeared at, reprinted by permission. Top Photo by Lee Graves. For more information from Lee on the local beer world, check out his book, “Virginia Beer: A Guide from Colonial Days to Craft’s Golden Age.” Published by the University of Virginia Press.

RVA Staff

RVA Staff

Since 2005, the dedicated team at RVA Magazine, known as RVA Staff, has been delivering the cultural news that matters in Richmond, VA. This talented group of professionals is committed to keeping you informed about the events and happenings in the city.

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