by Annie Tobey
Size matters for Richmond. More accurately, size, national press, and neighborhood generally garner the most attention. However, one small brewery and tasting room in Richmond’s Northside demonstrates that in today’s brewing scene, there’s more than one way to make your mark.
Like owner Tony Ammendolia, the atmosphere and beers at Final Gravity Brewing Co. seem laid-back and unassuming, yet confident. And the confidence is well earned. Ammendolia had been homebrewing for 20 years and was an active member of the James River Homebrewers Club when he opened Original Gravity homebrew supply store in 2011. The shop capitalized on his knowledge of brewing and his retail experience.
After Virginia started allowing breweries to sell beer for on-site consumption, he made plans to add a brewery to his business and moved to a larger space just a few doors down. While the store’s name pays homage to an essential brewing term that measures the sugars in the wort, the brewery’s name gives a nod to the finished product.
The brewery, which opened in 2015, started small, with equipment available to home brewers and for sale in his store, including an all-electric set-up using Chugger pumps, three 100-gallon Blichmann kettles for brewing, eight 80-gallon Blichmann conicals and Blichmann Tower of Power controllers.
Right out of the gate, Ammendolia’s IPAs were local favorites. That says a lot considering the attention local breweries such as The Veil Brewing Company, The Answer Brewpub and Triple Crossing Beer have gained for their IPAs, while distributing or packaging them widely for extra branding punch.
Ammendolia’s IPAs, double IPAs and New England-style IPAs – such as Venus Rising, Doppler Effect, Sunspots, and Vapour Trail – burst with hop flavors while still offering balance. He’ll showcase single hops, as in Skylab all-Galaxy hops IPA and Retrograde all-Mosaic session IPA, as well as hop combinations. Yet the taps rotate with other beer styles, too, which keep the long-time brewer and his customers happy. His clean, quality beers have wide appeal: they’re neither gimmicky nor high in alcohol by volume – no need to establish a quirky niche or gain fans with a potent punch. Regulars include Stepping Stone blonde ale, Fire Station 5 red ale, Irish Goodbye stout, Saison de Meyer and Munich Helles lager. (Ammendolia appreciates the challenge of brewing a quality lager: long, cold fermentation without yeast esters to hide the off flavors.)
Final Gravity beers aren’t without wider accolades. In 2017, a PUNCH tasting panel picked Final Gravity Sun Spots as one of five New England-style IPAs “worth the hunt.”
“This Citra-, Amarillo- and El Dorado-hopped beer was soft and extremely crushable,” PUNCH said. This summer, a Paste magazine blind IPA tasting ranked The Doppler Effect as 12th and Sunspots as 43rd out of the 324 IPAs tested.
In the 2018 Virginia Craft Beer Cup Awards, the brewery earned both first and second in the IPA category: first place for The Doppler Effect and second place for Retrograde. And in 2016, Final Gravity won four of the Virginia awards: first place for Fire Station 5, first and third in the double IPA category for Venus Rising and The Message, and second for Irish Goodbye.
In response to the popularity of his beers, Ammendolia has expanded. When the next-door bay became available, he moved his retail supply operations there to fill the original space with the tasting room and to offer better service to retail customers. Brewing production has expanded, too. “We got two new 5 bbl tanks, which has allowed us to increase production by 50 percent,” Ammendolia says. “We were brewing four times a week and now it’s six per week.”
As the underground chatter ponders the inevitability of another craft beer bubble, breweries like Final Gravity add a touch of stability and sustainability to the picture. No need to compete with the demands of distribution, the issues of shelf space or the next trending style. Simply brew quality beers and offer a friendly space to drink, just like the good ol’ days.