The history of American beer making starts in the Virginia Peninsula. These five Virginia Peninsula Breweries should be on your list of fun things to do.
Virginia Peninsula Brewing History
The Virginia Peninsula is a great place to visit a brewery. While some Native Americans may have been brewing corn or birch-based based beers for centuries, beer making as we know it began in early colonial America.
Early colonists started brewing a corn-based ale almost as soon as they arrived. Beer was included in supply shipments from England to the colonies. Demand for beer in the colonies was high – help wanted ads looking for brewers to join the Virginia Colony were posted in London in in 1609. That’s well before historic events like the first General Assembly meeting in Jamestown in 1619 and the arrival of Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Beer brewing quickly spread through the colonies to places like Colonial Williamsburg, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.
Some Virginia Peninsula breweries are working to recreate colonial recipes. Others create traditional European brews. Many are taking a much more modern and flexible approach. By visiting Virginia Peninsula breweries, you’ll discover a fun way to taste the past and the present of beer making.
Brewing beer is an ancient practice using just a few basic ingredients. With just four items, a grain like barley, hops, yeast, and water you can make beer. Yet, there are an almost infinite number of types of beer, varying in color and taste.
Every brewmaster brings their own approach and recipes. They might choose to use lightly roasted grains. A brewmaster might add corn for a bit of sweetness. They can select from multiple varieties of hops and yeast. Just like in cooking, the process, temperature, and timing impact the final product.
Why Visit A Brewery
Whether you’ve had a long day at work or a busy day of sightseeing, a craft brewery is a great place to relax. They typically have an informal, come as you are, atmosphere. Craft breweries are usually family and dog friendly.
When I am traveling, I find that a craft brewery is a great place to meet friends. For example, when I visit Minneapolis, my friend Mark (on Facebook as A Drink a Day) and I like to check out a local craft brewery. We can get a bite to eat from a food truck or have food delivered. The casual atmosphere is a great place for us to catch up. And, the beer varieties are a good conversation starter.
Most craft breweries offer entertainment and you can find something fun to do most evenings. They may have a trivia night or other fun games. There are often board games and outdoor games like cornhole. Many breweries have live music.
Craft breweries can also be a great opportunity to learn. Tastings and tours provide you with a way to learn about beer making. You can also get a good sense of the types of beer they make and the why behind their approach.
The Top Five Virginia Peninsula Breweries
I recently visited the top craft breweries located on the Virginia Peninsula. Each one is a fun and unique experience. To help you plan your visit, I’ll share what I learned.
Alewerks has been brewing since 2006. The main Alewerks location is in an industrial park in Williamsburg VA. The taproom has the feel of a pub with a nice wood bar and tables. In addition to the rotation of sixteen beers on tap, half pound pretzels are served with beer cheese. Bottled soda is available in the taproom.
Alewerks has a wide variety of beer. They make both ales and lagers. Alewerks works to recreate historic styles. If you visit Colonial Williamsburg and dine in one of the historic taverns, you might find an Alewerks beer. They produce Old Stitch and Dear Old Mum based on colonial-era recipes.
Their Weekend Lager is an easy drinking beer – perfect for a hot summer day. The Chesapeake Pale Ale is a bit more hoppy but is still a refreshing year-round choice.
Alewerks also experiments with both traditional beers, like Berliner Weisse, as well as and new and interesting recipes. During my visit, they had a lager brewed with jalapeno & lime, a blueberry vanilla witbier, and a “pancake house stout” brewed with ingredients like maple syrup, oats, and vanilla.
Alewerks also has cask beer. Cask beer is served from a cask by hand pumping. This is a traditional method for serving beer where no carbon dioxide is used. The cask beer offered changes frequently.
There is seating outside including an area with tables & umbrellas. Alewerks provides a cornhole game outside. Dogs are welcome in the outside area but not in the taproom.
Food trucks are frequently found at Alewerks. During our visit, instead of a food truck, a portable wood-fired pizza restaurant was on location. The pizza was great.
Alewerks also has a second taproom they call the LAB, short for Little Auxiliary Brewery. The LAB is a great place to take a break when shopping at the Williamburg Premium Outlets. The LAB taproom is set up more like a gift shop, with a great selection of t-shirts and accessories. Comfortable seating is provided. And, of course, a great selection of Alewerks beers. Note that Dogs are allowed in the LAB taproom.
Tours are offered at the main brewery on Saturday and Sunday. You can reserve your tour online or just ask one of the bartenders in the taproom. A tour includes a visit to the brewery, a tasting of six beers, and a souvenir glass for $9. If you just want to do the tasting without visiting the brew house, try the guided tasting for $8 which includes a taste of six beers and a souvenir glass.
Alewerks is located at 197_A Ewell Rd Williamsburg VA 23188. The secondary taproom is at the Williamsburg Premium Outlets, 5715 Richmond Rd, Williamsburg, VA 23188.
Virginia Beer Company
The Virginia Beer Co started brewing in 2016. They are located on a main thoroughfare about 2 miles from Colonial Williamsburg.
The taproom is large and has an industrial feel. Tables and high-top tables are available. Outside the taproom is an additional patio seating area sheltered by a tent. Dogs are welcome on the patio but not in the taproom.
Virginia Beer has up to sixteen beers on tap. You can order a pint or consider getting a sampler flight. For the sampler, you pick up to eight beers and get a sample sized portion of each. Virginia Beer charges for each glass on the flight and prices vary. Flights are served using a logo-shaped glass holder.
During my visit, a tart ale was available. It tasted like a milder version of a sour and was pretty tasty. The Centennial Pale Ale, an American pale ale, was also light and refreshing.
Food trucks are frequently found at Virginia Beer Co. You can also order food delivery from a nearby Italian restaurant.
The web site indicates that tours are provided every Saturday. However, on the day I visited, they had two food trucks visiting, one in the front and one in the back. The brewery had a path marked through it to provide access to the rear food truck. Due to the second food truck, no tours were available.
Virginia Beer has a lot of scheduled events including live music concerts on Fridays, live acoustic music on Sundays, coloring night and trivia night.
The Virginia Beer Company is located at 401 Second Street in Williamsburg VA
Tradition Brewing Company
Tradition Brewing Co started brewing in 2016. They are located adjacent to City Center which is a dining and entertainment area in Newport News VA.
Tradition has a large two-level taproom. Tables are provided along with comfortable seating groupings. Outside, you’ll find a small patio area with a nice brick fireplace.
Tradition has a good variety of beer on tap. The bartenders are friendly and knowledgeable. You can get a pint or a sampler flight with four selections.
Flights are served in a glass holder with a chalkboard labeling your beer selections. This is a nice touch. At many craft breweries, flights are served without labels.
For one of my selections, I ordered a Berliner Weisse. I was surprised when they offered to add a squirt of fruit flavored syrup to the glass. Some of their customers prefer to sweeten what can be a somewhat sour beer. With the squirt, it was described a tasting like a Jolly Rancher candy. Wanting to taste the beer itself, I passed on the syrup.
Food trucks like Sliders757 are frequently available and you can have food delivered using Door Dash.
One cool thing about Tradition is that it can be changed into a concert venue. One seating area can be replaced with a stage. Then, with the loading bay open, the back parking lot can accommodate a large crowd. Tradition Brewing has had some great acts including local favorites like The Connells and Joey Cook.
Dogs are welcomed on the patio and in the taproom.
No tours are available at Tradition Brewing.
Tradition Brewing is located at 700 Thimble Shoals Blvd in Newport News VA.
St. George Brewing Co.
The St. George Brewing Co. starting brewing in 1998. It is among the oldest of the Virginia craft breweries. St. George is located in an industrial park adjacent to NASA Langley. On the drive in, I could see the gantry that was used to prepare for the Apollo Moon Landings and is still being used for research today.
The taproom at St. George is small relative to other craft breweries on the Virginia Peninsula. When it was founded, there were tight limits on serving alcohol. They built the facility more as a brewery than an entertainment venue. Additional seating is available in the loading bay and at picnic tables with umbrellas located outside on a grassy area.
There is a good selection of beers available on tap at St. George. You can get a sampler flight of four beers for $10. I tried a Roggen Lager, a lager made with special rye grain. It had visible carbonation bubbles and a slight hop bitterness. Overall, a smooth and tasty beer. Their American ale was also an easy drinking option. Notice on the flight that your order slip becomes the sample label.
St. George offers tours on Saturday at 3:00. I had a personal tour with the owner of the brewery, Bill. It was a great opportunity to learn the history and philosophy they apply to making great beer. They focus on traditional recipes done well. Bill described the attention to detail that they apply in their beer making. For example, they adjust the water for each beer to match the mineral content where a recipe originated. Their attention to detail results in some fantastic beers.
St. George Brewing Co. sources their ingredients from Germany and England, again to match the ingredients that would be found in an original recipe. The desired result is that a Scotch Ale tastes like it would taste in a Scottish pub. They also have a centrifugal filter that can ensure a clear beer, something not every craft breweries uses.
The St. George Brewing Co. is located at 204 Challenger Way in Hampton VA.
Oozlefinch Craft Brewery
Oozlefinch Craft Brewery is located at Fort Monroe, a decommissioned Army base that is now a National Monument. They opened in 2016.
Fort Monroe is an interesting place to visit. You can tour the fort and a variety of historic sites, visit the Casemate museum, or just relax at the beach. Of course, after that, you might like to relax with a visit to Oozlefinch. The brewery is named after a legend from 1905 where a Captain looked out from the Officers’ Club and saw a strange, large eyed bird. The Oozlefinch later became the mascot for the Fort Monroe Officers’ Club.
The taproom is relatively small but does have a long bar and several high-top tables. The taps are set into a unique reclaimed wood backing.
The patio offers a number of picnic tables with large red umbrellas. At night, the patio is lit up with string lights. The patio area extends into a large grassy field. Live music is a weekly event. On a night when a band is playing, this area would be great for a picnic so don’t forget to bring a blanket or some folding chairs.
There is a good selection of beers on tap. During my visit, the selection was mostly Gose beers, which are a German summer sour beer. They were also serving a dark lager, a hefeweizen, a coffee cream ale, and a Kellerbier. If you like sours, this might be the place for you.
I appreciate it when a brewery finds its own niche. This one, surprisingly, didn’t have the extra hoppy IPA so many craft breweries seem to love. I would have passed on the IPA, but it might be nice to have one or two additional Summer selections like a Blonde Ale or a Kolsch.
With Oozlefinch being near the water, you might even catch a nice sunset.
Oozlefinch Craft Brewery is located at 81 Patch Road on Fort Monroe in Hampton VA
Visiting Breweries With Your Dog
Many breweries welcome well behaved dogs. In most cases, they can join you outside on the patio or deck. In some cases, they are welcome inside the taproom. Bartenders may bring your dog a bowl of water. If they are lucky, your dog may even get a tasty treat.
Visiting Breweries With Children
Many craft breweries are working to ensure a family friendly environment. Most have board games. Some have outside games like cornhole. St. George also provided some outside toys & games for kids.
In most cases, visiting with children is OK. You can have lunch or supper together from a visiting food truck. Soda is usually available as an alternative to beer, either from the brewery or food truck.
Some kids might not consider time at a brewery to be their kind of fun. Consider alternatives to a brewery visit that the kids may enjoy more like a visit to park or playground. On the Virginia Peninsula, consider these great options: Waller Mill Park, Newport News Park, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, or the Living Museum.
Before You Go
Craft breweries produce a wide range of beer styles. Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming, especially when you aren’t familiar with the choices. You may want to do a bit of preparation so you can better enjoy your brewery visit experience.
I have been using The Complete Beer Course to learn about beer styles and their history. Packed with over 300 pages of beer knowledge, it’s a good guide to the world of craft beer.
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