Two breweries, two cities — early tastes at the newest beer halls in Hampton Roads

Two breweries, two cities — early tastes at the newest beer halls in Hampton Roads

In hindsight, 2020 wasn’t as unkind to beer as we might have feared.

Even with brewpubs limited throughout much of the year, breweries actually sold more beer in Virginia than the year before, according to numbers kept by the state ABC. The difference was a dramatic shift from draft to can sales — which is less beneficial for profit margins.

But still, Hampton Roads breweries managed to stay in business, and their ranks have expanded. After COVA Brewing already opened last summer, two more breweries cracked their doors in the past few months. One was a long-planned Norfolk expansion of Reaver Beach Brewing, while the other is a brand-new spot in Newport News that’s already turned out one of my favorite new IPAs of the past year.

A Virginia Beach Town Center location of Charlottesville’s Three Notch’d, as well as 1865 Brewing in Hampton’s Phoebus neighborhood — soon to become the first Black-owned brewery in the region — should follow sometime this year.

In the meantime, we stopped in at the two newest sudsy spots to grace both sides of the water, to check in on the brews.

Coastal Fermentory

In a fast-developing southern zone of downtown Newport News better known until recently for shuttered warehouses, Coastal Fermentory is already home to one of the more accomplished local IPAs I’ve had so far in 2021.

Logic is Logic — a tautology, if you’re keeping score at home — is a thumpingly tangerine-juicy hazy that smacks of beers you’d find in Maine and Vermont, dry-hopped with the ripe-fruit flavors of Mosaic and the tropical notes of Galaxy hops. It is a wallop of flavor without the burn, and a heady 8% ABV without any untoward booziness.

And yet, it’s nothing like any of the other hoppy beers on the brewery’s list. The 4-month-old Coastal Fermentory was home to eight hoppy beers on our last trek, and unlike many new breweries’ orange wall of hoppy haze, the offerings have been surprisingly diverse and often subtle.

A lightly hazed Unscripted IPA, made with a mix of obscure hops from New Zealand, tasted almost Japanese in its gentleness and lightness. A Severed Connection pale ale, made with grapey Nelson Sauvin hops, was bitter-balanced and as aromatic as wine.

Maybe this diversity of flavors is unsurprising. The brewery is the product of three owner-brewers — Mike Reppert, Brandon Samuels and David Lamb — who each bring their own tastes, and an engineer’s meticulousness, to the craft.

On a recent Thursday evening, the brewery’s spacious interior was home to a few different after-work crews and a scattering of couples. On weekends, when food trucks also come out to play, the brewery and its patio fill in a bit more with customers.

But for now, weekday evenings should let you taste the four-deep flights in relative calm. Spring for that Logic is Logic, but also especially a beer unlike any other I’ve had locally. The Abstraction, a coffee cream ale made with espresso from Newport News’s Canvas Coffee Roasting, is the rare coffee beer that’s also pale: a magic trick of a beer that packs a surprising amount of coffee flavor into a light and clean-drinking package. A little milk-sugar makes it all go down even smoother, like a beer frappuccino.

Meanwhile, the high-alcohol Station 10, an imperial stout, was apparently a special request from the firemen at its namesake department: Apparently when firemen drink, they drink firehose-big. But even with its assertive flavor the drink finishes dry, without boozy off notes.

Not every beer hit as well — I was less sure about the experimental mix of Belgian yeasts and hops in a farmhouse IPA, or an equally hybrid dry-hopped sour — but for a young brewery, Coastal is already hitting well above its weight. This leaves us very curious about the contents of the stouts coming soon from those bourbon barrels from neighboring Ironclad brewing, and the Belgian beers that’ll eventually leave the wine barrels and big-staved foeders. We’ll be back for them.

Reaver Beach Norfolk

Reaver Beach, on the other hand, is far from a newcomer. Back when it was called Beach Brewing, it was one of the first craft breweries in the region — just a few months younger than O’Connor.

But while Reaver’s big and bold and classic Hoptopus double IPA has become rightfully ubiquitous on beer taps all over town, their Virginia Beach taproom has always been a little bit obscure: a cozy little nook tucked away in an industrial park at the edge of farmland. This means that most of their beers remain unknown to all but their neighbors and the beer geeks who’ve made the pilgrimage.

That should change with the March opening of their long-awaited taphouse on Norfolk’s Colley Avenue, amid the beeriest stretch of Hampton Roads: The Veil, Elation, Benchtop, Smartmouth and O’Connor are but an easy Lime scoot away. (And yes, we’ve seen you all trying to ride those things after a couple beers. It isn’t pretty.)

The new taproom in the old Milan Station post office doesn’t yet have the lived-in quality of the old Virginia Beach location. But for what it so far lacks in character, it makes up for in generosity: 6,800 square feet, 23 taps, two floors. More beers, and more room to drink them in. Even the art is bigger, with a gargantuan two-story octopus splayed out across one wall.

So far, the brewing system hasn’t kicked out any of its planned Norfolk-exclusive beers. So what you gain so far in Norfolk is the chance to try many more Reaver beers than ever before at one time — making it a bit of a shame that beer flights are not yet part of the program.

In part, that means multiples of the barrel-aged beers Reaver has become known for locally, in particular an open-fermented Tides blended among three years’ worth of sours — a lightly tart and deeply complex beer that ranks among the more accomplished sour beers in the region.

But the big surprise for me — as a new brewer stepped in a few years ago and Reaver’s founder-brewer Justin MacDonald has stepped back from the operation a bit — has been the wealth and variety and quality of the hoppy beers. Even a couple years ago, Hoptopus aside, that’s not what I would have sought out from Reaver. But alongside an admirably balanced Hazy Tides also available in cans, the brewery has a wealth of IPAs ranging from old-school malt-backboned doubles and triples to dry-hopped modern renditions.

Perhaps the most accomplished is the Cerberus Batch 4, made with a newfangled hop called Citiva that tastes a little like peaches: It’s light, clean drinking and beautifully, fruitily aromatic. Really, the Cerberus tastes a bit like the post-hazy IPAs they’re making on the West Coast these days: not overly juicy or chewy, but with a back-end hit of aromatic hops. It’s a smart beer.

The house lager — brewed in Virginia Beach, but available only in Norfolk — is also subtle and deft, with little melony notes from some modern German hops. All this clean lightness amounts to a new leaf for Reaver Beach, who quite frankly are more known for hitting you over the head with big ol’ flavors from stouts and sours. But as they’ve settled into a neighborhood, they’ve also settled into some crushable standbys. It’s a welcome development.

Article via Matthew Korfhage with The Virginian-Pilot