Since it opened, The Commons has made consistently great beer. Five years after Mike Wright brewed his first batch of commercial beer in his Richmond neighborhood garage, the brewery has earned medals and a sterling reputation. Jeff Alworth, the Beervana blogger who authored the forthcoming Beer Bible, recently told me they've never made a beer he didn't like.
We like them, too: In 2013, the Commons' Urban Farmhouse Ale was our Beer of the Year. So there are a lot of reasons to get excited about their shiny new brewery and taproom (630 SE Belmont St., 343-5501, commonsbrewery.com) in Buckman.
But after two visits, I'm not feeling it. They're going for industrial chic: a huge expanse of exposed brick broken up by gorgeous paned windows. Since their handmade chairs have not arrived, you're meant to stand around a barrel with your stinky plate from the charcuterie window operated by cheesemonger Steve Jones. One barrel has been turned into a water station, but there are no cups to fill.
OK, fine, same as the old place—except before, you could lean against barrels of Brotherly Love or actually pop a squat on the slatted steel stairs on the bright tanks. There, you traded comfort for intimacy. Here, we are kept away from the tanks by a metal railing and strands of yellow chain. It makes sense given the scale of the new operation, but the whole thing feels hollow.
Could it be better? Sure, just look up the street, where Base Camp took a very similar space and turned it into a singular experience. Then again, Base Camp's beer can't compete with the Commons'. And the new pub was pouring the most exciting Commons beer I've had in years, a collaboration with Florida's Green Bench that features kumquats and was fermented with 100 percent Brett. Hopefully they send a few kegs to Bailey's Taproom and Belmont Station—the Commons makes great beer, but there are better places to drink it.