Just past Shockoe Bottom, the beautiful scenery surrounding Stone Brewing provided a serene backdrop to an evening spent beer tasting and learning about beer basics from local “Beer Guy,” Lee Graves.
“Believe it or not, beer is the most complex beverage in the world,” explained Graves to the class, who has studied and written about beer for nearly 30 years.
A max-capacity class of students sat in an upstairs room of the brewery as they listened to the comprehensive introduction into the world of beer-making. Graves made the lecture interactive, bringing in samples of raw barley and hops so students could smell its bitter aroma.
He explained the difference between lagers and ales, how beer becomes an IPA, a pale ale or pilsner, and details about a continually lucrative craft beer industry that generates over $100 billion in revenue per year.
“There is a lovely quality to a well-poured beer,” Graves said to students as they began tasting different beer provided primarily by Stone, such as malt beer, pale ale, and a stout. Words like “grassy,” “fruity,” and “woody” were used by the students to describe the variety of flavors they were tasting.
Graves assured them there was no wrong answer.
“Everyone has a different palate, everyone ate something different before coming in tonight, and everyone has a different set of olfactory senses,” he said.
Students were then treated to a tour of Stone to see the brewing process in action.
“Just over the past few years I’ve taken a strong interest in craft beer, [the local breweries] are pretty much my go-to places around Richmond,” said recent Randolph-Macon graduate Forrest Spaits, 23. “I saw [VCU] was offering [the class], and I’m perhaps interested in a career after this.”
Other students weren’t as keen to make brewing their career, but wanted to expand their beer knowledge.
“I’m a home brewer and just wanted to learn more about craft brewery,” said Leonard Nunnally, who has been home-brewing for six years. “I just want to stay a home brewer and just have fun with it.”
Although most of the class was made up of men, a few women who are long-term members of the Richmond restaurant industry attended the class as well.
“I’m a certified beer server right now,” said Sarah Johnson, a bartender at Mellow Mushroom. “We specialize in craft beer, we’ve got 32 taps, so [I’m here] just to take that next step. I was already at J. Sarge for business and marketing, so when this popped up it was a way to use what I’ve been doing for the last ten years with what I’m going to school for.”
The class will complete its introduction next week on July 26 at Triple Crossing Brewery, but the program itself is projected to begin in the late fall.
Here are some pictures from the day:
*Photos by Madelyne Ashworth.