By Pete Newell
An evolution is occurring as the Virginia craft brewery market becomes more competitive. While the brews still take center stage, the activities offered at local breweries have become more diverse, transforming them into more than mere watering holes as business owners jockey to get people in the door. From mobile arcades and goat yoga to craft shows and children’s birthday parties (yes, you read that correctly), breweries are hosting myriad events in an effort to draw a crowd. As a result, people watching has never been better.
Here are five examples of the most interesting characters you’re likely to run into (sometimes literally) at a Virginia brewery.
As Virginia breweries enter the realm of high-profile, limited releases, restrictions on the amount of beer you can buy at one time are commonplace. Enter The Mule, a person whose sole job is to circumvent those restrictions by buying beer for you. Sometimes they’re friends and family. Sometimes they’re hired. Next time you see a line at a beer release, see if you can spot The Mule. Chances are that grandma with a hand truck isn’t into New England IPAs, she’s muling.
The Hipster seems like an obvious choice, but like an endangered species, they are disappearing from breweries. Increasing popularity can bruise The Hipster’s sense of operating outside the cultural mainstream and thus their enjoyment of going to breweries has waned. They may return as an OG or part of The Family, but the days of breweries being overrun by The Hipster are over.
Every local brewery has its own version of Norm from Cheers. The Regular usually sits in the same spot, knows every employee by first name, is a member of the beer club and spends more time at the brewery than the owners. If you see someone walk in and get handed a beer without ordering anything, you’re probably witnessing TR in action. The Regular spends lots of money at the brewery, which can be offset by the inevitable free beer (or two) and odd-jobs behind the bar or in the brewhouse. They’re there all the time anyway, so why not?
Love them or hate them, The Family is here to stay. Breweries are catering to this divisive demo more and more. Designated kid’s areas, outdoor playgrounds, and non-alcoholic sodas and seltzers are just a few of the ways The Family is changing the scene. There are some places that are resisting the pull of the stroller crowd, however, setting aside time when kids aren’t allowed. So if you want to enjoy your dry Irish stout without having to worry about tripping over little Johnny having a tantrum on the floor, seek these breweries out.
The Old Guard
The Old Guard has been drinking Sierra Nevada Pale Ale since the mid-1980s. They were into craft beer before it was cool and now worry about certain trends. Glitter beer? Bleh. Fruited sours that taste like juice? Nonsense. This OG beer fanatic can recite Germany’s beer purity law by heart. (Sprechen sie Reinheitsgebot, anyone?) Look for The OG at your favorite spot – just don’t ask about pastry stouts.