Richmond's beer history is rich, flavored by centuries of war, hardship and entrepreneurial innovation. Tonight, lucky ticket-holders can taste a 300-year-old recipe and learn a bit more about RVA's imbibing past at a sold-out Ardent event, where the brewery and the Virginia Historical Society are sampling a test batch of "Jane's Percimon Beer" with instruction from an 18th-century cookbook.
If you didn't snag a ticket in time, or you're simply thirsty for more knowledge, here are 10 facts about Richmond's beer history with the aid of Mike Gorman, Richmond historian and Beeristoric tour guide and co-founder, as well as Lee Graves, author of Richmond Beer: A History of Brewing in the River City, who will be speaking at tonight's event.
Photo by Stephanie Breijo
-The first ever U.S. governmental prohibition occurred in Richmond, when the Confederate government instituted martial law during the Civil War, shutting down alcohol production. Thirsty Richmonders could only legally purchase beer at The Spotswood Hotel, though this didn't stop bootlegging. Whiskey was available, too, but only with prescription; with the influx of soldiers, distributors began selling medicinal whiskey to hospitals.
-During the Civil War, Richmond's streets ran with beer and liquor for the second time (the first occurred during the Revolutionary War), as the city burned. As the Richmond city council preemptively destroyed liquor, people were literally scooping beer and whiskey out of the curbs.
-States Rights' Brewery, a pre-Civil War beer staple in RVA, went belly-up during the war. It was located in Rocketts Landing, roughly the same neighborhood where Stone Brewing is looking to open its East Coast facility here in Richmond.
-As Richmond land prices were inexpensive post-war, David Yuengling Jr. moved to Richmond from Pottsville, PA, to open the James River Steam Brewery, with vaults capable of holding 6,000 barrels and a production line that created 400 barrels per day.
-The nationwide 1873 Panic essentially destroyed the Richmond brewing scene, closing four out of the five Richmond breweries; by 1879, the last remaining brewery was shuttered. "Money dried up," says Graves. "It was like the recession of 2008, etc. The financing that girded the businesses just didn't exist any more, and the people lost jobs."
-Railroad expansion tripled in the late 19th century, and many national breweries, like Anheuser-Busch, began opening for distribution, but not necessarily production, in Richmond in the 1880s and 1890s. Beer output increased tenfold annually during this time.
-Canned beer was marketed here in Richmond for the first time in the world when Kruger Company began marketing its cream ale in January 1935. Within a year, nearly every major brewing company was canning beer. Today, Hardywood's cream ale mimics Kruger's in tribute.
-In 1901, the Virginia Anti-Saloon League — a chapter of one of the largest, most effective national pre-Prohibition groups — first organized in the basement of Richmond's Second Baptist Church.
-Two years before national Prohibition began, Richmond voted wet but was outvoted by the majority of the state. At midnight on Oct. 31, 1916, all of Virginia went dry.
-During Virginia's Prohibition, breweries could continue to sell product out of state, prompting Richmond's Anheuser-Busch and Pabst to ship until the rest of the country went dry two years later. Because Richmond's home brews, namely Home Brewing Company and Roseneck Brewing Co., didn't have that type of distribution, they went into making soda or selling water. Roseneck eventually shuttered during Prohibition, though Home Brewing Company immediately began producing beer again once the ban was lifted; it remained the premier Richmond brewery until it closed in 1969.
Richmond Beeristoric is an annual beer history tour and the last event during Richmond Beer Week. For more information, visit the Beeristoric Facebook page. For information on purchasing, or attending signings and events for Lee Graves' Richmond Beer: A History of Brewing in the River City, visit the book's official Facebook page.