A triple threat
Don’t be fooled by the sci-fi stylings, Triple Crossing is deadly serious about sophisticated beer.
Monday 13 April 2020
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Welcome to Virginia
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My first stop in Richmond is Triple Crossing, whose brewery and taproom is a stone’s throw from a local curiosity that causes physical excitement in a subset of railway nerds. Rather than just being a cool name for a craft brewery, it turns out that Richmond’s ‘triple crossing’ is famously the only point in North America where three main train lines cross at different elevations. With hindsight, I probably should have reacted more when this was explained to me.
In my defence though, I’m here for the beer, and fortunately Triple Crossing is more than capable of delivering on that front. The brewery was founded six years ago, by friends Adam Worcester and Jeremy Wirtes. Police officer Jeremy had been a keen home brewer for a number of years, and inspired Adam to take it up himself.
“I remember calling Jeremy for some brewing advice, and before I’d finished speaking he asked what trouble I was in! I was like, ‘no, no, I'm actually trying to make beer and I have literally no idea what I'm doing!’,” says Adam.
The pair started by brewing the styles of beers that weren’t available in Richmond at the time. New England IPAs were the big new thing and hadn’t really spread this far down the coast, so it was a style they were keen to perfect. When they decided to open their own brewery not long after, this recipe – which they called Falcon Smash, in homage to the game Super Smash Bros – became Triple Crossing’s flagship beer and remains its best seller.
It’s certainly been highly successful in riding the wave of enthusiasm for Richmond as a craft beer destination. I put it to Adam that the city is now being mentioned in the same breath as cities like San Diego and Denver for beer geeks looking to make a pilgrimage.
“We travel a lot, to go to other breweries and festivals, but I do think Richmond is one of the strongest beer cities, especially on the east coast,” he says. “I mean there are a large number of breweries, sure, but I think it’s unusual to have so many good breweries in one place… There was a time when people would just go everywhere, because the scene was new and it was like a fun thing to do. But now I think people are starting to get a little bit more discerning and mature; they're starting to spend their dollars at the breweries that they know will be great.”
As customers’ tastes have matured, I get the feeling the brand is also going through a bit of an evolution. The taproom has colourful sci-fi murals along one wall, and most of the beer names contain some sort of oblique reference to classic video games. But Adam is clearly keen to shift things in a more sophisticated direction, which also reflects the more grown up, refined beer his team is brewing these days.
He’s certainly got a point. While brash and juicy IPAs are certainly the staple, Triple Crossing has some really serious chops; the brewing team is keen for me to try a new lager recipe straight out of the tank, ahead of bottling the next day, and it is genuinely sensational. There are also two foeders sitting in one corner of the production floor, and the final step of my impromptu brewery tour is a brand new coolship, in its own wood-panelled room.
Back in the taproom, Adam is most enthusiastic about his lagers and traditional styles, and is particularly proud of his Czech side-pull tap. At the moment, he has a phenomenal rye lager collaboration on, which perfectly matches the spiciness of the rye with the spiciness of saaz hops. He likes to keep a seasonal brew on throughout the year, with a Czech dark lager during the winter, an amber lager during autumn and a pale lager for summer.
But why have so many great breweries, restaurants and other related businesses coalesced around Richmond, a city which 15 years ago really didn’t have much going for it?
“Part of it is definitely the VCU Arts College, right in the middle of the city,” continues Adam. “It turns out that a lot of young, talented, artistic folk decide to stay after graduation and be creative here. But it hasn’t always been that way; I grew up in one of the neighbouring counties, and my parents never took us to the city, because there was no reason to come here. But I moved here after college in the mid-2000s, and things have just continued to go up and up in terms of quality. That grew from a couple of quality places, a couple of people that really were dedicated to doing something great here and gave those other businesses something to build on.
“I love that feeling of being part of the cool things that are happening here. There's a lot of fun stuff to do right on the river. We’re also pretty central to a lot of things, so I can drive to Raleigh in two hours, to DC in two hours, Charlotte and Philadelphia…”
Triple Crossing already commands a lot of affection locally, as well as the respect of its brewing peers (people’s faces tend to light up when you say you’re going there), but it’s also starting to make progress internationally. Its main European market just now is France, thanks to a distributor there who recognised Virginia as a hotbed for the kind of brewing the French market would enjoy. It’s now importing regularly from Triple Crossing, The Veil and a few others, to a great critical reception.
Adam and I both have other meetings today, but he makes sure to load me up with several ultra-fresh four-packs of NEIPA for the team back in Scotland. I also take away a bottle of Rosé Franc brewed for Valentine’s Day, and refermented on cabernet franc grapes from Pollack Vineyards. This, I keep to drink in front of the fire back in Scotland, and it’s exquisite.
Whatever form it takes, there is no doubt that Triple Crossing is a profoundly nerdy brewery. They may paint over the mural, they may change their logo, they may even retire the three-foot Master Chief figurine that watches over the office, but as long as they keep applying the same obsessive approach to pushing their brewing forward, this is the kind of geekery we should all get behind.
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