Väsen Brewing Co.’s philosophy blends European culture with the spirit of the New World, and Scandinavian heritage with Richmond’s outdoor scene. On July 29, Väsen opens its much-anticipated tasting room to the public with a singular beer lineup: a dubbel, an American pale saison, a smoked farmhouse, a passion fruit saison and a sour saison.
The brewery occupies 17,000 square feet in the renovated HandCraft Building in Scott’s Addition — and it makes a big first impression. The tasting room looks into the brewery. You see large wooden barrels and the 20-barrel brewing system in a room lit by generous skylights. On one side, high ceilings and a caribou wall mural — by Emily Herr, I learned — draw the eyes skyward. A faux boulder surrounding a faux tree trunk marks the transition to the other, rustic side of the room where the bar is located.
I reached out to co-founders and cousins Joey Darragh and Tony Giordano, marketing and environmental director Nate Winters, and head brewing scientist Jon Warner to find out more about Richmond’s latest brewery.
Style: Why the European focus?
Nate Winters: Joey and Tony took a trip to Europe to find what styles resonated most with them, and Belgian beers is what they both really latched onto. They went to Sweden, because they’re Swedish on their mothers’ side. They tracked [their heritage] to indigenous people that lived in northern Scandinavia, the Sámi, who were reindeer herders by trade. That’s why you see the caribou up front and animals in our branding. The name Väsen [is Swedish]. It means your inner essence or animal spirit. On the mural, we re-created symbols based on Sámi cave paintings.
What makes yours a distinctive brewing process?
Jon Warner: We condition all of our beers for a period of weeks after primary fermentation, which allows the yeast to metabolize compounds [that] can contribute off flavors and undesirable aromas into simpler molecules with less sensory impact. This slow maturation process makes our beer relatively smooth tasting and enhances drinkability. We also use far more strains of yeast than most breweries — and as with many traditional Belgian beers, micro-organisms contribute a large part of the character of our beers.
What about your barrel-aging program?
Warner: We will allow our beers to age in oak barrels for several months to a few years, which will allow the [yeast] and bacteria to sour the beer and produce a wide array of flavors and aromas.
Which explains the big wooden barrels visible from the tasting room?
Winters: Those are our 80-barrel wooden foeders, one sour and one farmhouse style. They’re American white oak. The plan is to let one sit for six months and the other for nine months, depending on when it hits that right flavor. With those three months between, we’ll have a new beer every season. The flavors will really soak into the wood, so when we take one beer out and put another one in, those flavors will compound on themselves and it will be a new beer every time.
What’s an example of playing with traditional styles?
Tony Giordano: Our Märzen. Märzens-Oktoberfests are typically fermented with a lager strain and have a fairly mild hop profile, but ours is fermented with an ale strain and dry-hopped with Noble hops. The malt bill of our Märzen is fairly standard for the style, but the unconventional yeast and hop aroma distinguish it from other, more traditional examples of the style.
Will Väsen beers be distributed?
Winters: We’ll be distributing [initially in kegs only] with Hop House. It’s a smaller outfit, which allows us to have more of a personal relationship.
How are you highlighting the outdoor theme?
Winters: The number one way we’re bringing the outdoors to Väsen is our ambassador program where we sponsor local athletes. We have three right now — a climber, triathlete and trail runner. They’re all involved in some sort of outdoor sport but they also do teaching or guiding and help spread the message. Rick DeJarnette [rock climber, owner and guide at CapRock Ventures] is with the Blue Sky Fund. We’ve been doing some trail building with [RVAMore]. We’re also working with Peak Experiences and Triangle Rock Club.
What are your favorite local outdoor sports and spots?
Joey Darragh: Pocahontas State Park for hiking.
Warner: Rock hopping on the river by the old pylon bridge.
Winters: Longboarding the Cap Trail.
Giordano: Trail running on Buttermilk Trail.