If there’s one thing Republicans, Democrats, and independents can agree upon this contentious election season, it’s that we could all use a beer.
Potential vice president Tim Kaine probably knows this better than most. As a Virginia senator and Richmond native, the Democrat has been party to the state capital’s steady ascent in the Southern brewing scene. From the hazy, juicy IPAs of The Veil, Triple Crossing, and The Answer to Hardywood’s luscious milk stouts and Strangeways’ delectable oddities (piña colada radler, ghost pepper–infused gose), Richmond — also home to Stone’s East Coast outpost — is awash in intriguing beer. But for Kaine, one brewery stands apart in a pack as crowded as the Republican primaries.
“We go to Ardent Brewery in Richmond for family celebrations (graduations, send-offs to college or military deployment, birthdays),” Kaine writes via email. “Great beer and a wonderful outdoor patio to gather and toast whoever is the center of attention.”
Small wonder that Ardent received his (almost) vice presidential stamp of approval. Since opening in 2014, in the industrial Scott’s Addition neighborhood, an historic district now sizzling with apartments, restaurants, breweries, cideries, and a distillery, Ardent has served as a vital local anchor. Founders Tom Sullivan, Kevin O’Leary (formerly of Cambridge Brewing Company), and Paul Karns turned a 1940s warehouse into a sleek, concrete-and–cinder block taproom and beer garden that’s a welcome gathering space for IPA acolytes and craft neophytes, kids, and canines alike.
“Ardent was one of the first places to bring a hip vibe and good brews to the now red-hot Scott’s Addition neighborhood,” says local beer writer and photographer Charles D. Cook. “Ardent always has an interesting variety of beers on tap, including numerous IPAs, saisons, and barrel-aged brews.”
The variety stems from the brewery’s roots in a garage-based homebrewing coop. Sunday brewing sessions led to a business plan. “Each of us had our own ideas of going pro, and we found we had a lot of ideas in common,” Sullivan says, later adding, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
The wide-ranging brewing approach digs deep into historical styles, including pleasantly spicy saisons, roasty porters, and Virginia Common, a take on the ale-lager hybrid popularized by Anchor Steam. They’re joined by convention-flouting, flavor-seeking beers such as a farmhouse ale seasoned with sage and sweet potatoes, a honey-ginger ale, and a rye-crammed kölsch, delicately peppery and wholly refreshing. “Ardent should be about experimentation,” Sullivan says.
While Ardent’s beer is draw enough, recent Saturdays have drawn huge crowds for the ZZQ Texas Craft Barbecue residency. (It ends the Saturday before Thanksgiving.) Chris Fultz and Alex Graf slow-smoke Richmond’s best brisket, the sort of fatty, fall-apart beef for which you’ll gladly sacrifice an artery. The queue for ’cue starts before Ardent opens at noon, and demand is high, weather be damned. During the recent hurricane, the line stretched for two and a half hours. “People were there in their raincoats and like, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to have some BBQ,’ ” Sullivan says, laughing.
Kaine likes to come to Ardent as an everyday escape. “When he was Senator Kaine, his wife, Anne, would call and say, ‘Hey, we’d love to come by,’ ” Sullivan recalls. “They love to order out and spend a quiet afternoon at the brewery. They’re always super-nice and friendly with the staff and take pictures, then go off and enjoy their beer in peace and quiet.”
Following the vice presidential nod, Kaine had his pick of the Richmond litter to celebrate, or perhaps reflect. “After he was chosen for vice president, he came here,” Sullivan says. “Of all the things he could do, he chose to spend his quiet, personal time chilling out having a beer. It spoke well to the place that we’ve created.”