I don't claim to be a beer expert by any stretch of the imagination. I love sours in the summer and porters in the winter, I can appreciate a Pabst Blue Ribbon while I'm floating down the river and I just can't with the IPAs (sorry, everyone else in Richmond).
But the hopheads in my life tell me that there's so much more to it than just drinking a pint — being into beer is a hobby in and of itself, and what better way to embrace an interest than to try your hand at it?
For a home-brewing overview, I chatted with Original Gravity owner Tony Ammendolia about how to get started and some current trends in the industry. Having brewed his first batch of beer at home 25 years ago, Ammendolia opened the home-brew shop in 2011 and its brewery counterpart, Original Gravity Brewing Co., in 2015.
Style: How has Richmond's beer scene evolved in recent years?
Ammendolia: I opened Original Gravity right around the time that Hardywood [Park Craft Brewery] was opening, and that was the beginning of huge changes in the Richmond beer scene. We went from have two breweries with Legend and Extra Billy's to a flood of new breweries in the area. For someone who has been into craft beer before it was even called that, it has been very cool to see it grow like it has.
Do home-brewing trends tend to be in line with brewery trends?
To an extent the trends are the same, but what you find in home-brewing is a more diverse interest. Some home-brewers are interested in brewing whatever the latest trend is, but you also have folks interested in brewing classic styles, especially the ones that are not readily available in our market. Some of those harder-to-find styles have even become popular in the craft beer scene like gose and Berliner Weisse.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start home-brewing?
Start with a kit and brew it as close to the recipe as you can. A lot of new brewers want to jump right in adding all kinds of spices and fruit to their beers before they have even learned the basics of brewing. My advice is learn how to make good beer first, then you can experiment once you have gotten the basics down.
Are there particular types of beer that are easiest for beginners?
Most ales are easy enough for beginners. I would suggest starting with a style you enjoy drinking and stick with a moderate strength ale. I advise against starting with lagers because they require special equipment to keep the beer cool while fermenting and I wouldn't do a very high-gravity beer when you are just getting started.
What's the most common misconception about home-brewing?
The most common misconception is that you can't make good beer at home. But the reality is if you pay close attention to sanitation, pitch enough healthy yeast and keep the yeast happy during fermentation you can make beer as good or better beer than you can get from professional breweries.
What's your favorite brewery in town? Favorite beer?
Hmmm. I can't name just one. We are very fortunate in Richmond to have so many great breweries, but my favorites are Triple Crossing, the Veil, and the Answer for their IPAs
What do you predict will be the next trend?
I think a move towards lagers has already started and that's a trend I can definitely get behind.
Are there any beer trends you're tired of?
I got into brewing beer because I like beer that tastes like beer. Nowadays there are a lot of beers that taste like candy bars or fruit smoothies out there. Those are not my personal favorites, but at the same time I am a firm believer that you should drink what you like.