Beer fests are back in force, with world-class sours, block parties and collaborative brews

Beer fests are back in force, with world-class sours, block parties and collaborative brews

As temperatures rise and mask mandates begin to drop, Hampton Roads can welcome back a sight it hasn’t really seen in a year: The in-person beer fest.

For the most part, these will still be indoor-outdoor affairs — and in one case, a hybrid virtual and in-person fest — a nod to degrees of COVID comfort that have become as individual as the fit on a pair of jeans.

In addition to a couple of notable beer events, the region will see at least two, multi-brewer, all-you-can-drink beer festivals at the end of May with beers from all over the region or country. It’s a form of bacchanal that would have seemed impossible just a month before.

Here’s the rundown:

Friends With Benefits at Oozlefinch Brewing

2 to 10 p.m. Saturday, May 22, 81 Patch Rd, Fort Monroe. All-you-can-taste tickets $65 at with access to all 41 beers. $20 tent camping available for pairs.

During the pandemic, Hampton’s Oozlefinch became a pioneer for a form of festival that didn’t exist until it did: the virtual festival, which travels by beer box to states all over the country with wholesome beer-related programming streamed on the Internet.

In the process, they’ve formed some tight relationships with some of the best brewers in the country: American Solera in Oklahoma, Tripping Animals and J. Wakefield in Florida, 450 North in Indiana, Alvarado Street in California, Weathered Souls in Texas, Grimm in Brooklyn.

Before anyone knew the pandemic’s timeline, Friends With Benefits was planned as another virtual fest, home to sour beers from 41 of the finest craft breweries in America, many of which are rarely available in Virginia. Well, goodbye to all that. People in Nebraska can make do with their beer boxes, but Hampton Roads can just show up and drink.

Pucker fans: Gather whatever transportation plan you need, and get tasters of some of the best kettle and barrel-aged sours in the country for $65 a person — plus excellent Virginia breweries that include Benchtop, Aslin and The Answer. Feel like camping? It’s $20 to stay on-site with a two-person tent.

Things We Don’t Say Beer Release at Smartmouth Brewing

Friday, May 21, during open hours. 1309 Raleigh Ave, Norfolk, 757-624-3939; 313 32nd St, Virginia Beach, 757-624-3939;

The past year has been a time of reckoning for a lot of breweries — and also for people’s relationship to alcohol and to mental health, as people felt trapped at home with nothing but their thoughts. Unlike COVID, which has dominated the media for more than a year, mental health struggles are often pushed under the rug.

In a perhaps provocative move, suicide-prevention nonprofit Hope for the Day has partnered with craft brewers to bring out a countrywide collaboration IPA called “Things We Don’t Say,” made at breweries nationwide according to a recipe template designed by Wisconsin’s Eagle Park Brewing. The beer will be made with donated hops and malts, with profits going to local mental health charities.

Suicide prevention and mental health care is of personal importance for many at Smartmouth, said co-owner Chris Neikirk, who served on the board of CHKD. Smartmouth brewer Jimmy Loughran posted a video on the brewery’s Instagram talking about his relationship with mental health.

“And myself, I just had a friend who lost a son to suicide,” “said Neikirk.

Smartmouth will take part in the nationwide initiative at both its locations. Proceeds go to Norfolk’s Sarah Michelle Peterson Foundation, which works to help prevent suicide among teens. Representatives from the foundation will be on hand.

Among other local breweries, Williamsburg’s Precarious Beer Project has also signed on to the Things We Can’t Say beer initiative. The release date has not yet been announced.

Pretty Ugly Spring Gorilla Festival at Cogan’s

Noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, May 29th. 4311 Colley Ave, Norfolk. Tickets $25 for a free tasting mug and unlimited tasting. Live music.

Local beers have kept on cranking during the pandemic — but it’s almost assured that beer fans haven’t been able to make the rounds like they used to. Lucky you: Fourteen of them are gathering in one place for an all-you-can-drink festival at the North Colley Cogan’s Pizza, which boasts a parking lot and a rooftop patio.

Pretty Ugly beer distribution is holding a springtime beer-reveal party — no pink or blue explosions, just good brews. If you haven’t made it to Newport News’s excellent new Coastal Fermentory yet, here’s your chance to try it, along with Hampton Roads stalwarts like Oozlefinch, Big Ugly, Caiseal and Tradition. Farther flung spots such as Brothers and Nansemond will also be in attendance. $25 buys you all you can safely sample.

Block Party at Coastal Fermentory and IronClad

2:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 27, 206 23rd St., Newport News, No tickets, just show up. Food trucks, live music.

Speaking of Coastal Fermentory: The new brewery has been busy hosting a series of parking-lot and yard parties with their neighbors at IronClad Distilling, including a recent 0.081-mile costumed “marathon” from the whiskey hall to the beer hall. (There were no winners, or everyone was a winner, depending on your perspective.)

Those block parties continue Thursday with live music from Nick Weber and Fine Swiss Cheese, and a trio of food vendors: seafood from The Black Pearl, Puerto Rican empanadas from El Coqui and the fancy loaded franks of the 757 Hot Dog Project.

Full article: Matthew Korfhage with The Virginian-Pilot