Cat and I set out on the road last month to see some family and friends, catch our favorite band Phish playing in one of our favorite venues, and evaluate the state of craft beer in our border state of Virginia. Several years ago, when we were first developing a passion for craft beer, there were less than a dozen craft breweries in Virginia. Norfolk, where I grew up, had one brewery, O’Connor Brewing. It was a new brewery that had been open less than a year. I wondered, how good was the beer? Would the people of Hampton Roads like/understand craft beer? Would this be just a “phase” everywhere in America, or could it be sustained?
Every time we visited my parents in Norfolk, we would buy O’Connor beers. From the first time we tried the Norfolk Canyon Pale Ale and the Great Dismal Swamp Black IPA, a Bronze Medal winner at The Dublin Craft Beer Cup, we were hooked. In addition to these the Red Nun Red Ale, Silver Medal winner at The Dublin Craft Beer Cup, is a great beer for craft beer nerds and is approachable for those just getting into craft beer. ODIS, O’Connor Dry Irish Stout also took Bronze at The Dublin Craft Beer Cup. Yes, their Irish Stout won a medal at the Dublin Craft Beer Cup. O’Connor also has El Guapo IPA, a very unique Agave IPA that is excellent and not like any other IPA I have ever had.
We and the local bars and restaurants agreed that question was answered, the beer isn’t just good- it is AWESOME! Virginia is making some killer beers! Devil’s Backbone has won multiple awards at National festivals, Hardywood in Richmond makes some beers I am lucky to have had people bring me to sample, Starr Hill has been there since the beginning and makes some really kick ass beers, too. This time of year you can find Boxcar Pumpkin Porter, my favorite of all of the Starr Hill beers. There are many more breweries in Virginia that I am sure are making some great beers at this point.
O’Connor just moved into a new facility, a few blocks from the one he started in which was complete with picnic tables dropped in the middle of the production floor next to a hole he cut in the drywall for a bar. Kevin told us that when they moved into the new facility, they actually tripled the capacity of two breweries in one day, because they sold their old equipment to a brewery in Goochland County Virginia, Midnight Brewery. When we walked in to the new O’Connor Brewing taproom, we saw the familiar face of our friend Johannes behind the bar, and we asked him what he thought about craft brewing in Virginia. He said, “It’s not the same game anymore!”But how did we get there?
A few years ago, Kevin O’Connor visited Big Boss Brewery in Raleigh. The bartender entertained him with samples of all of the beers on tap before asking Kevin if he wanted a pint. Kevin replied inquisitively, “A Pint?” The bartender replied with, “You do know what a pint is?” Kevin was shocked: North Carolina allowed breweries to sell a pint DIRECTLY to a customer? No distributor, no middle man, straight from the brewery to the craft beer lover?
So Kevin made some phone calls. Mark Thompson, Brewmaster of Starr Hill and the Chair of The Virginia Craft Brewers Guild, and a few other friends in the business all agreed that it would be great if they could open to the public. As soon as these pioneers were able to get the law changed, planning for brewery upgrades began state wide.
Thank you Kevin, thank you great craft breweries, thank you state of Virginia, for creating a friendly and fun craft beer scene. I don’t think I am alone in saying that there is a lot of excitement to see what the future of craft beer in the state of Virginia holds in store. Green Flash, out of San Diego, is set to open a brewery in Virginia Beach in the winter of 2015. They will be opening in the same area as Beach Brewing, a locals favorite near the Oceana Naval Air Station. At the time of this writing we are currently awaiting Stone Brewery’s decision to build an east coast brewery, with Norfolk and possibly Richmond rumored to be on the short list of cities. With or without Stone, Virginia’s Craft Beer Scene is as strong and exciting as it has ever been! Cheers to the future Virginia! It’s not the same game, anymore!