Rivah breweries worth the tour
by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi
A decade or so ago, fields of grapes and tasting rooms started popping up in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula as the Tidewater region joined the “Virginia is for wineries” craze. With over 280 wineries dotting the Commonwealth’s landscape from the mountains to the bay, Virginia is still a destination for wine lovers.
The Commonwealth also has quickly become a beer drinker’s playground, with breweries competing with wineries as the new trail to take.
Craft beer has surged in popularity over the past few years and craft breweries are opening up here, there and everywhere. According to the Brewers Association, in 2017, there were 190 craft breweries in Virginia, which produced 358,903 gallons of beer.
I’m typically a white wine drinker, the sweeter the better, but I’ll throw back a light beer or two on occasion. Craft beers and IPAs have never been my cup of tea. My husband, however, has never met a beer he didn’t like. So when I was challenged with visiting all of the new local breweries, from Colonial Beach to Gloucester, he was a logical companion.
And I have to admit, I’ve come to appreciate, dare I say enjoy, a craft beer or two. There are beers for every taste and palate at most breweries. They all have a lighter beer, many with fruity flavors, and all have the darker, more bitter brews.
Many also offer nightly or weekly entertainment and all have a fun, casual atmosphere. They are the place to be and be seen.
Pale Ales and IPAs
Craft beer is simply defined by the Brewers Association as beer produced by a brewery that has an annual production of less than 6 million barrels. There are many types of craft beers, including pale ale and India Pale Ale or IPA. Pale ales are one of the most popular of the craft beers. It’s light, coppery-gold color comes from the lighter malts. It typically has a low to average malt taste and is less “hoppy” or bitter. India pale ale or IPA is more bitter and hoppier than a pale ale. Most IPAs are around 5-7.5% alcohol by volume. IPAs originated when beer was transported from England to India in the 1820s for consumption by British officials there. It was discovered that beers with more hops and a higher level of alcohol survived the trip far better than pale ales.
Colonial Beach Brewing
215 Washington Avenue
Hours: Sundays, 2-7 p.m.
Wednesdays and Thursdays, 5-10 p.m
Fridays, 4-11 p.m.
Saturdays, noon-11 p.m.
It’s tiny but it packs a punch.
That’s how one online reviewer described Colonial Beach Brewing, a family-owned brewery in Westmoreland County’s beachfront town.
The tasting room has a max occupancy of 30 but features live music most weekends with karaoke on Thursdays, has a large screen TV and a small bar, where Nick Saffos was serving up brews when I visited in August. The brewery celebrated its one-year anniversary on July 4 and opened its outdoor beer garden July 19.
When Nick’s dad Theodore Saffos opened the brewery it was in an even smaller parlor in the rear of the building, which over the years has served both as a garage and cafe. The parlor seats about 18.
The beers are all named after local folks or attractions. I picked my flight of four, after telling Nick I was a light-beer girl, that included a tasting of Beach Blonde Ale, Washington Wheat, Sour Seaman Berliner and River Range Red. I also took a sip of Beach Haze, an IPA with citrus that Nick says “is a west coast style [IPA].” It still contained 8.0 alcohol by volume (ABV).
Hurricane Mitzi DP boasts a whopping 8.9 ABV and Barnacle Baltic Porter 8.5 ABV.
“Our brewer is excellent,” said Nick. “He’s a young guy with great ideas.” Casey Blaylock is the mind behind the brews and has created among Nick’s favorites a tempting peanut butter cup porter and an oyster stout.
The brewing company just released its second lager just in time for Colonial Beach’s Bikefest and Oktoberfest.
My favorite: Washington Wheat. It was light and easy sipping.
On October 20, Colonial Beach Brewing will host the “Beach to Beer 5K”, which will include a 9 a.m. 5K and 1-mile fun run and end with a party on the hill. There will be three styles of beer, music and food. An after party at the brewery includes music by Carlos Castro.
Colonial Beach Brewing uses fresh hops from Warsaw.
15381 Kings Highway
Hours: Fridays, 5-9 p.m.
Saturdays, noon-9 p.m.
Sundays, noon-5 p.m.
I could have lingered at Montross Brewery all afternoon. Although it was raining the day we visited, the brewery was hopping with hops lovers. The small, intimate tasting room was packed and taproom manager and head brewer Matt White was busy passing out the brews. A few folks in the corner were playing checkers. The couple at the bar was playing a card game.
We opted to take our flight of six tastings outside to the patio, where we met Jim and Tammy Allison, a couple who’d made the drive from King George. Jim enjoyed a Summer Brown brown ale and Allison a Summer Shandy while they waited on Janet Gallagher to deliver a fresh pizza from the adjoining pizzeria, which opened in June.
Our flight included a taste of all six of the day’s brews. Artiste is a sour raspberry Hefeweizen, Homewrecker a city saison, Berry Farmer a strawberry Kolsch and The Berserker a coffee stout. We also had the Summer Brown and Summer Shandy, which was half home wrecker and half the brewery’s housemade ginger ale. Yum!! It was light, refreshing and easy sipping on a humid day.
Along with the beers, Montross Brewery makes its own ginger ale using a recipe from the late 1800s. With cane sugar, real lemons and fresh ginger, each small batch is handcrafted in the brewery.
Montross Brewery has the distinction of being the Northern Neck’s first brewery. It opened in the fall of 2016. The brainchild of John and Roxanne Warren, the brewery specializes in small batch brewing.
John, the brewmaster, made his first adult beverage while serving the U.S. Army in Operation Desert Storm. He’s refined the art and previously owned a vineyard and winery in Texas before transitioning to craft beer brewing.
My favorite: Artiste and Summer Shandy
The brewery is in a former law office. Light-strung trees on the front lawn, green with foliage in the summer, almost hide the rustic building from traffic along Route 3. The patio includes picnic tables, an outdoor bar, fire pits and corn hole boards.
Artwork for the brews is designed by New York graphic designer Andrea Roberts. The cleverly named beers include Critic, a peppercorn saison; the Staffer, a blonde ale; Berry Farmer, a strawberry ale infused with fresh Northern Neck berries; and the Waterman, an oyster stout.
44 West Church Street
Thursdays and Fridays, 5-10 p.m.
Saturdays, 1-11 p.m.
Sundays, 1-5 p.m.
There’s a lot more brewing at Kilmarnock BrewHaus than just beer.
It’s a meeting place, where locals can grab a guitar and jam. Where oyster lovers can crack into a fresh bivalve at the raw bar. Where lovers of Byrd’s Seafood can buy a tasty fish, crab or fried oyster taco on Thursdays and where craft beer lovers can get their fix.
Don Lee opened Lancaster County’s first brewhaus in March, fittingly just in time for St. Patrick’s Day weekend. But, the brewhaus isn’t an Irish pub. In fact, it has a German-themed logo, interior and brew selection.
Beers are brewed according to the strict 1516 Reinheitsgebot (German bier purity law). Introduced in 1516 by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria, the law allows for only hops, barley, water and later, yeast in the making of beer.
First on the list is Edelweiss IPA, a full-bodied brew. There’s also Grier’s Gaire Pilsner with floral and spice flavors.
My flight, because I requested lighter beers, included the Peach Shandy, 38 Special, Back in Blackberry Pilsner and the Summer Ale. My husband chose Escape from Cologne Kolsch, a medium bodied brew that is sweet, light and spicy.
The Peach Shandy and Blackberry Pilsner are what you’d expect. Both are refreshing and light and infused with a hint of the fruit they are named for. The Summer Ale is also sweet and refreshing.
38 Special is a Kilmarnock BrewHaus favorite. In fact, I got the last pour that night before the bartender wrote sold out on the menu of brews. 38 Special is a new addition to Lee’s list of 13 beers. It’s light and sweet but with a bit of zest.
Lee brewed his first batch of beer in a five-gallon pot on his father’s stove when he was 18. He started refining his technique about two decades ago.
His Kilmarnock BrewHaus has that traditional urban brewery feel. It’s open and airy with metal tables and chairs and it’s parsely decorated with much of the “guts” of the building showing. The building on West Church, with the Blues Brothers mannequins in the alcove, once served as a Nehi Bottling Company, Inc, then a vehicle repair shop, shoe repair shop, gun repair shop, and HVAC business. The building’s housed a little bit of everything but a brewhaus seems the perfect fit.
Passersby can get a peak of the brew room through windows facing the street. A small patio offers outdoor seating on nice evenings.
My favorite: 38 Special and Peach Shandy
Lee is excited to announce that the newest addition to the BrewHaus is Karen Knull of Windows on the Water at Yankee Point Marina, who will offer food in-house. Of course customers can still order to-go from local restaurants with delivery from several including NNBurger and The Dub Shack. Or they can bring their own from home.
Local and Richmond-based bands perform on Friday and Saturday nights and Lee sometimes comes from behind the bar to perform with his own band. A stage with musical instruments is always set up and ready for open mic at a moment’s notice.
That Damn Mary Brewing Company
5036B George Washington Memorial Highway
Wednesdays and Thursdays, 4-9 p.m.
Fridays, 4-10 p.m.
Saturdays, noon-10 p.m.
Sundays, noon-6 p.m.
The baby of the bunch, That Damn Mary Brewing Company opened in mid-July in the rear of the former Goodfella’s restaurant in Gloucester.
Owner Mary Jane “MJ” Anderson partnered with restaurateur Dean Tsamouras who opened Mobjack Tavern in the front of the building.
The brewery takes up 2,500-square feet of the 8,000-square foot building. It has an open, bright tasting room with a relaxed, fun vibe, much like it’s owner. Anderson, who retired as a YMCA executive director to pursue her passion of beer making, is a whirlwind of energy. Anderson rolled years of beer making knowledge into a 30-minute lesson for me. It was a little overwhelming but entertaining and educational.
“That’s what this is all about,” she said. “Helping people pick an IPA based on their palate.” Bartender and one of many investors, Lisa Shivers, said “at first when we opened, it was more the craft beer people, then it turned in to people saying, ‘what’s most like a Bud Light?’.”
I guess I was one of those, ‘what’s most like a Bud Light’ folks since I told Anderson to load my flight up with lighter-flavored beers.
Oh no, she said, I was tasting them all.
She put seven small pours in front of me for tasting, including the heavier Oh Mama! Milk Stout, the Proud Mary New England Style IPA and Funked Cluster, a bitter, hoppier American-style IPA.
Arm Candy Light Lager, which the menu describes as “sunlight in a bottle” is a low-calorie, light beer that had me wanting more. Easy Money Amber Ale was also a favorite as was Gose Trippin’ Kettle Sour Ale which was both fruity and sour.
Anderson only brews with two-row barley despite drinkers being about to pick up flavors of coffee and chocolates in her stout.
She said the longer you roast malt the darker it gets and the flavors change.
Anderson is the brewmeister and uses all her own recipes. She started making beer in college and used her many friends as guinea pigs in the last few years, taste-testing all her concoctions for their favorites. Proud Mary, so named after the brewer, is obviously Anderson’s favorite.
“But I like them all or I wouldn’t have brewed them,” she said.
Next on tap is a peanut butter and banana flavored brew called Fat Elvis.
Patrons to the taproom can come through a separate entrance and have access to a limited menu from Mobjack Tavern, including pizzas and burgers.
The brewery’s name comes from Anderson’s common saying about herself. She often refers to her fun-loving, misbehaving alter-ego as “That Damn Mary.”
In November, That Damn Mary will partner with Mobjack Tavern for a beer and food pairing dinner.
Acoustic acts play inside the taproom on occasion now, and Anderson plans to utilize some of the 3.5 acres the brewery sits on for outdoor events next spring. There will be music and fire pits with outdoor seating.
Anderson lives in Lancaster County but chose to locate her brewery in Gloucester after much research.
My favorite: Arm Candy and Easy Money
“My population was larger here and I met with the economic developer in Gloucester and decided this was the place I wanted to be,” she said.
She’s brewing off-site right now but hopes to start production on-site in November. She also hopes to partner with local distributors in Northumberland for her barley in the spring.