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Williamsburg Area Features

Tasting Trail: Breweries, Wineries, and Distilleries

  By: Jacquelyn Eurice

The craft beer, wine, and liquor industries just keep exploding on the Virginia Peninsula. From Hampton to Richmond, many home brewers, fermenters and distillers are taking their products to the public. Adults who like to relax with a tasty beverage will have no problem selecting something to their liking in this region. Plus, many of these businesses have great indoor and outdoor areas for socializing and games. Visit any one of these places to unwind and imbibe with good friends!

Breweries

After William & Mary alumni partners Chris Smith and Robby Willey decided to quit their desk jobs, Virginia Beer Co. was born. Brewmaster Jonathan Newman (formerly of SweetWater Brewing in Atlanta, Georgia) typically has about 8 beers on tap. Their very hoppy Free Verse IPA (77IBU) combines 2 different types of hops—Azacca and Chinook—and is a favorite among those who love bitter ales. Meanwhile, Elbow Patches, their oatmeal stout, has a creamy finish accented by notes of chocolate and coffee. For something unique, try their workshop series where you’ll find small batches of styles combined with unique flavors that are on tap for short periods of time. If you’re hungry for a bite after sampling their beers, a food truck is likely to be on-site to satiate your food craving.

Open since 2006, Alewerks Brewing Company was the first microbrewery in the Williamsburg area. The company brews over 30 different styles of beer with up to 16 on tap including their flagships such as the Chesapeake Pale Ale, Paycheck Porter, and Tavern Brown Ale. As the popularity of craft beer has grown in Virginia, so has Alewerks’ taproom. Tours are available and a biergarten hosts games and fun outside, or visitors can simply relax and sip their brew.

Brass Cannon Brewing Company's claim to fame lies with their five mainstay brews including Barrage Brown Ale, Angry Scot, and Broadside IPA. A seasonal is also offered as the sixth choice and for the seventh, they brew what is called a langrage beer. The term langrage refers to the shots from a cannon that include miscellaneous items instead of a cannonball—nails, wood, etc. These are experimental brews and have included varieties such as an Apple Scot, Winter Warmer, and a Honey Basil Brown. In the fall of 2017,

Within a mile of the Jamestown Settlement lies Billsburg Brewery at the James City County Marina. Offering beautiful views of the river and delicious craft brews, B2 (as they are playfully called) is a cornerstone business at the marina and the city’s only microbrewery. In addition to a lineup of beers that are usually on tap including Fly Away IPA, Betty Wit Witbier, and James City Export Lager, seasonals and special editions are also offered in small-batch quantities throughout the year.

Amber Ox Public House recently opened near the Historic Area of Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary. Their sister company on the same premises, the Precarious Beer Project brews a large array of ever-changing beers including Belgian dubbels, stouts and Double IPAs. The names are unique too. Care to try a hoppy beer called the Cyborg Assassin Kittens From The Future? In addition to their thirst-quenching brews, the foodmenu is outstanding. Amber Ox chef works to serve fresh, local and seasonal foods that complement the drafts on tap.

Newport News is welcoming the addition of a new microbrewery! Twisted Knot Brewing Co. opens near City Center at Oyster Point in early 2019. Beginning with a one-barrel system, Twisted Knot carries up to 10 beers on draft. Some selections you may find include IPAs, sour beers, a salted caramel milk stout, hoppy IPAs, and lighter beers such as pilsners and wheats. They do like to get creative though, and (for personal consumption) have even used kids’ cereals in the brewing process. As this new brewery continues to grow, we look forward to seeing their unique concoctions!

The first brewery to open in Newport News, Tradition Brewing Co., is also at City Center at Oyster Point. The brewery not only keeps exceptional ales like the Mothership Cream Ale and the Hull 488 IPA on tap, but you’re also sure to find some interesting seasonals to sample including the Persnickety Witch Pumpkin Ale and the Mighty Mick Irish Stout.

In Hampton, five microbreweries have been hard at work making their craft beers:

St. George Brewing Co. has been brewing beers in the downtown area near NASA-Langley Research Center for almost 20 years. Their beers, such as the English Style Nut Brown and the Golden Ale (an American Pale Ale), are almost as well-known in Hampton Roads as the company’s namesake—the famous patron saint of England and chivalry.

At the beautiful and historic Fort Monroe, The Oozlefinch Craft Brewery has a rotating list of beers on tap including the Lady in White Hefeweizen and a Trappist ale called the Featherless Guardian. What’s an oozlefinch? According to local legend, it’s a backwards-flying, large-eyed, goose-shaped bird that a captain reportedly saw at Fort Monroe in the early 1900s. It quickly became an unofficial emblem of the army’s Coast Artillery Corps—now the Air Defense Artillery. After visiting the brewery, you just may see an Oozlefinch yourself!

Bull Island Brewing Co. is perfectly situated along the Hampton River for some exceptional water views as you sip their brews. In addition to the list of seasonals they offer, 5 flagship beers are consistently on tap. You’ll definitely find a variety of beers to sample, from the Waterman’s Wheat to the Double-Dare Stout. Try the Queen’s Way IPA that they say is truly fit for a queen!

Capstan Bar Brewing Company is another recent addition to the Hampton microbrewery scene. This family-owned brewery makes a variety of ales including an IPA, cream ale, and a historically inspired brown ale. Yet they also rotate some seasonals along with their Apricot Wheat and the Red IPA. What is a capstan, you ask? Sailors use a capstan as a pulley mechanism on ships to hoist the sails. It resembles a wheel and makes handling significant weight much easier. Stop in Capstan Bar Brewing Company to try some of their flagship ales!

The newest addition to Hampton’s breweries is coming soon to the historic neighborhood of Phoebus. Traffic Brewing Co. is not far from the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, making it the perfect place to stop for a brew. That brew can actually be one of their beers, but they also offer coffee! Get a pick-me-up with an espresso drink, iced coffee or just a regular cup of Joe. Wood-fired pizza and other snacks are also available, making this a pleasant place in a unique area to stop and relax.

Wineries

Beginning in 1987, the Williamsburg Winery has been crushing grapes into award-winning and best-selling wines. The Adagio, a red blend, is one of their most coveted wines and even won the Governor’s Cup award in 2014.  Their best-selling wine, a semi-dry Riesling named Governor’s White, is perfect to relax with after touring a local historic landmark. The winery offers different tasting tiers depending on what you would like to sample—some even include tours of the facility and dinner at Café Provençal or lunch at the Gabriel Archer Tavern.

Hampton Roads Vineyard & Winery is situated a few miles south of the James River Ferry in the beautiful, natural countryside of Surry County. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the “World’s Tallest Goat Tower” that sits on the property. After tasting some of their fine wines including their Seyval Blanc or Cabernet Franc in the tasting room, buy a bottle or glass of your favorite and sit on the back patio to take in the scenery. If your preference is for sweet wines, try the Hog Island red or white. Both complement desserts and hot weather very well!

Oenophiles may want to venture a bit farther out to explore even more great Virginia wines. As you head towards Richmond, you’ll have the chance to sample other varietals and blends at three different wineries: New Kent Winery, James River Cellars Winery and Saudé Creek Vineyards. Try all of them on a wine tour!

With grapes first planted in 2001, New Kent Winery currently farms nearly 30 acres of grape varietals including staples such as Merlot and Chardonnay.  Grapes that do particularly well in Virginia including Cabernet Franc, Vidal and Norton are also grown on the property to make some of their more notable wines like their Meritage and Vidal Blanc. The historic site that houses the winery is worth a visit in its own right, but the wines make the half hour trip from Williamsburg that much more enjoyable!

James River Cellars Winery was founded when the owners stopped their quest to find a Gewürztraminer they enjoyed and began to make it. Now, the winery offers approximately 20 different varietals to choose from such as Petit Verdot, Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc and Chambourcin. For a small tasting fee, you can try at least 12 of them at their location outside of Richmond!

The tasting room of Saudé Creek Vineyards is work of art that is created from lumber reclaimed from old tobacco warehouses. It overlooks the acres of grapevines that contribute to gorgeous views of the entire landscape. By purchasing a regular tasting, visitors can try any 7 of their many regular wines including a Viognier, Traminette, Petit Manseng and others. For an extra fee, 4 of their reserve wines such as the Bordeaux-styled 1791 can be added to experience the best that the vineyard has to offer.

Meadery

Mead is one of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages. If you’ve never tried the sweet “nectar of the gods,” venture over to the Silver Hand Meadery. Here, the fermented honey drink is available for adults to sample for free! Plus, honey samplings are available for a small fee for those who are interested. By tasting a few different types that originated with pollen from different flowers, you’ll be able to see how they vary and how the flavor of the honey affects the outcome of the mead. Unfortunately, Virginia law does not currently allow mead to be sold by the glass—but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy a bottle or two to take home!

Distilleries

While visiting the colonial capital of Virginia, be sure to stop into the 8 Shires Distillery (formerly the Williamsburg Distillery). Here, you can try some of the liquors that would have been enjoyed in the early days of America. Using techniques and ingredients that were employed between 1667 and 1775, 8 Shires creates silver and gold rums, and also a Genever gin that is unlike any other gin you’ve likely tried. It is whiskey-based (since vodka wasn’t produced in colonial America) from grains including Indian corn and is flavored with juniper berries and regional botanicals. Tip: Check their hours to make sure they are open!

Rick Wasmund studied the art of distilling whiskey while touring the U.S. and also through an internship at Bowmore distillery in Scotland where they still malt their own barley. After absorbing as much knowledge as he could, Wasmund founded Copper Fox Distillery in an area just east of the Shenandoah Valley. In 2016, the distillery opened its Williamsburg location and offers product tastings and free tours. In addition to their “hand-malted and applewood aged” rye and single-malt whiskey, they also craft a gin using local barley. It’s possible to make your own version at home with a barrel kit that is sold on the premises. An aspiring distiller or whiskey connoisseur would love it as a gift!

Ironclad Distillery in downtown Newport News is only a half-hour away from Williamsburg. Named for the ironclad ships (the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia) that participated in the famous Civil War battle in Hampton Roads, this distillery features Virginian bourbon that’s just as fortified as the ironclads themselves.  Currently, all bottles are aged one year, with the intention of aging smaller future batches for longer durations. And because most bourbon comes from Bourbon County, Kentucky, many people incorrectly believe that it can only be called bourbon if it’s from that region. Strictly speaking, in order to be bourbon, it only has to come from the United States.  So yes, Virginia can and does make bourbon!

Please be safe while enjoying these beverage destinations. There are always bottles for sale, growlers to fill and other to-go options so you can sip these beverages safely at home or at your hotel. Plus, these items also make wonderful gifts and souvenirs. Cheers!

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