Craft beer scene hopping in RVA, but has area reached saturation point?

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The craft beer scene is hopping in RVA. Last month, “Men’s Health” magazine called Richmond a Micro Beer Mecca. But with Richmond overflowing with breweries, it begs the question, is the city at a saturation point?

“There are a lot of craft breweries opening up,” says Garden Grove Brewer Michael Brandt, “It’s surprising how fast it’s happening.”

You don’t have to go far to find a craft brewery in RVA. Suds are flowing like the James River. With 30 breweries and counting across the region, there’s something out there for just about everyone.

“Breweries keep on opening, it’s a great time to be a fan of and patron of craft breweries. Unlimited choices,” says Center of the Universe Brewing Company co-owner and former Major League Baseball pitcher Chris Ray.

Craft beer fans have made Hardywood, Center of the Universe and Legend into legendary local watering holes. But, in-house popularity hasn’t always helped local brands brew up success in the beer aisle.

“Richmond is a great brewery town, 22 breweries! But, it’s hyperlocal,” continues Ray. “Every town has started seeing that. Your relevance outside of your town is that much tougher.”

Ray and his brother started Center of the Universe Brewing Company in Ashland five years ago. They have tripled their brewing output over that time period.

They can, bottle and keg their own brews and you can find their beers as far east Virginia Beach and as far north as Northern Virginia. Center of the Universe has been very successful, but with all the local competition, distribution deals are getting harder to come by.

“Distributors are getting bogged down, their portfolios are getting huge. They’re realizing that adding another brewery to their portfolios doesn’t mean they’re going to sell more beer, it means they sell less of what they already have,” Ray said.

That’s why The big name domestic brands like Budweiser and Coors still dominate the beer aisle, Ray says the stout competition has forced them to run lean and mean with lots of new offerings.

“Shelf space doesn’t magically grow in grocery stores,” Ray said. “Tap handles don’t multiply. Get creative and stay on top of having something new.”

“We are not going for shock and awe,” says Garden Grove Brewer Michael Brandt. In Carytown, at Garden Grove Brewing, the owners have a different take on what it means to make it in the craft brew world.

“We have more of a Brewpub model,” says Brandt. “We are part of this community part of this neighborhood, we just want people to spend time with us.”

Brandt said he loves showing off what he does, but he has no interest in canning and little interest in kegging outside of Garden Grove’s taps.

“You make so little money when you give your beer to the distributor. They give the beer to the bar and make the money,” says Brandt. “Well, we’re the bar, we want that money.”

Brandt says Garden Grove isn’t trying to grow bigger but better. He doesn’t want to be judged by how many bottles he could produce, but by what’s in them.

“Diversity, Creativity. Not following the trends” are what Brandt says have been the secret to Garden Grove’s success.

The active craft brewery has led to lots of beer tourism for the area, and he says that’s helping all the breweries.

Nationally, craft beer makes up around 12 percent of the beer market.

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