Virginia Beach Travel Guide

If Danner can post topless pics, so can I
I thought I’d take this opportunity, with Pat gone, to check in to KC. First off, though, Pat did  a hell of a job keeping this place up and expanding the reach of the KC Beer Blog. This has always been a collaborative effort to expand the KC beer scene and I’m sure the new contributors will do a great job as well.

I’m no longer any kind of authority on KC beer, though I play one around Virginia. Boulevard beer recently hit Virginia Beach and I’ve taken the opportunity to explain to the beer personalities around town that I come across that I come from Boulevard’s home town.

One of my last projects as part of being proprietor at KC Beer Blog was having writers around the country write beer travel guides to their towns. I’ve been negligent in not writing one for Virginia Beach. Since this is actually a resort and sought after vacation destination for DC, Pennsylvania, NJ, NY and Quebecians it makes sense to have a travel guide to Virginia Beach.

This little island type thing we call Hampton Roads, is chock full of breweries. We have, in my order of preference, Young Veterans, Smartmouth, O’Connor, Back Bay and Beach Brewing on this side of the Chesapeake Bay. If you cross the bay, you have Williamsburg Aleworks and St. George. All of these breweries are within 40 minutes of each other, depending on traffic and if there’s a wreck underneath the bay. Breweries here run a little different than in KC, due to Virginia’s laws. We don’t really have brewpubs around other than a Gordon-Biersch, but each brewery has a tasting room where they sell pints and fill growlers. The breweries are really a destination if you’re near one to go and grab a quick beer. Young Veterans and Beach are about 2 blocks apart and Smartmouth and O’Connor are within a mile of each other. All the breweries are pretty incestuous with various brewers having worked with all the other brewers at some point or another.
This is Tom. Those are Tom's muscles.
Tom brews good beer.

Young Veterans just opened their tasting room recently and the grand opening  was a madhouse. I’ve stopped by several times now on my way home from work and really enjoyed all the beers so far. They have a real capacity problem in that this is a town full of military looking to support other military and military loves beer so it’s a perfect business, but they just don’t have the capital equipment necessary to produce enough beer to meet demand. I foresee beers like Jet Noise, a fabulous double IPA, and Night Vision American Stout being very difficult to get until they have time to expand their brewing capacity. It’s a good problem to have. Pineapple Grenade and Semper FIPA are fine beers that I could drink all of the time.

Their neighbors, Beach Brewing, which can barely be found in bottles in stores, has the same capacity problem which has resulted in them building a new facility. I’m not a huge fan of their regular beers, they have a heavy hand with the hops, but every Saturday they have a cask of something infused with vanilla or orange or habanero or whatever and that’s always pretty interesting as well as having food trucks come in regularly. I’ve had really great fish tacos, pizza and barbecue in the Beach Brewing parking lot. We even welcomed the front end of Hurricane Sandy drinking Hurricane Ale from Beach Brewing in their parking lot.

This was the Beach Brewing 3rd anniversary party.
The 2nd anniversary party featured an uninvited guest,
Hurricane Sandy. It was pretty fun still even with
that bitch around.
Interesting note about Beach and Young Veterans. Both of them are within the flight path of Oceana Naval Air Station. When we moved here, we had no idea what the Naval Air Station would entail. What it entails is F/A 18 Hornets doing touch and go’s 6 hours a day. Being within a mile of the base that means F/A 18’s are flying less than 1000 feet overhead, you can practically feel the jetwash and you can definitely not hear anything else. It’s very similar to living next to the el tracks in Chicago over in that area. Incidentally, there’s been many a night where we’ve just turned off the tv to read a book because it’s pointless to try and hear a tv show and we live a couple of miles from Oceana. Anyway, Beach and Young Veterans are in the crash zone of Oceana so their retail space is limited by statute. It’s a hopeful thought while drinking beer.

Smartmouth and O’Connor produce some great beers and have pretty good tap coverage around town. O’Connor is, by far, the most easily found local beer in six packs around town. It’s a rare day when some sort of O’Connor beer is not in my beer fridge. Smartmouth doesn’t bottle anything at all and is only available on tap. That’s a bit of a bummer. But, nearly any restaurant or bar and grill (we don’t have bars here, everything is a bar and grill) worth its beer salt will do growler fills for you. Smartmouth Alter Ego Saison is the best of this bunch, but they don’t really make a bad beer. I really enjoy the O’Connor Red Nun and El Guapo IPA. But, again, nothing they do is bad. If you’re only going to visit one brewery though, I’d make it Smartmouth. They have the best tasting room with absolutely no chance a fighter jet will crash into it ruining your beer buzz. They also have the best merchandise if you’re into that sort of thing (this may not be true soon, Young Veterans has a pretty good sense of style and they’re going to have some great merchandise someday soon).

As far as the non-brewery portion of town, Virginia Beach and Norfolk have several pretty great places to grab a beer or three. If you’re up at the resort beach, the most prevalent option is the 11th Street Taphouse. 11th Street is on the ground floor of the Hampton Inn (basically hotels line the boardwalk on the oceanfront from 4th street to 45th so all the beachside restaurants are in hotels) and has a great view of the beach. Unfortunately you’re really paying for the location as everything on tap is about 30% more expensive than it should be. I once spent $11 on a Southern Tier Unearthly pint there. 11th Street is what us locals would call touristy. But, if you’re staying at the beach and want to watch girls in bikinis drinking fine craft beer, it’s a place to go. Also down at the beach, Abbey Road (on 22nd) has a fine bottled beer selection and pretty good food. The beer prices are reasonable for the beach (I think I had a $6 Allagash White bottle the time I went there) and the food is pretty good too. A favorite beach place, Tautog’s (23rd Street), is more of a restaurant  (the bleu cheese topped tuna is one of the greatest things I’ve eaten) but has very good taps for only having 6 of them. The resort area is full of restaurants (read bars) that have varying degrees of beer goodness. Generally, though, you can always find a craft beer on tap at any bar though it may be a Fat Tire. If you don’t like the options, go to the next bar.

The Tautogs bar, Pumking was on tap last time I was there
If you get away from the beach, the 2 most beer centric bars are the Lynnhaven Pub and Birch Bar. Lynnhaven Pub is just a couple of blocks from the bay and they generally have some very good, rarish type beers on tap. They also make rum ham regularly, so there’s that. Birch Bar is in Norfolk, just a couple of blocks from Smartmouth and is perhaps the most intimidating beer place I’ve ever been in. They seem to bathe in beer pretention there (though they’re very nice). At least half of the beers they have on tap are foreign and a 3rd are of the sour variety. They also serve very nice cheese plates and goat cheese truffles. It’s a place that is not for the average person who doesn’t want to research beer but you won’t be able to drink a bad beer there.

Tapped Gastropub is just a couple of miles from the beach in an area of town called Hilltop (I don’t know why it’s called Hilltop because no place in town is over 50 feet above sea level, so it seems like it might be some sort of joke). Hilltop houses everything including all of the traffic. Imagine a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Kroger, Fresh Market, Target, 20 restaurants, a Total Wine (a gigantic wine and beer store, think Lukas without the liquor) and tons of other retail on the same intersection and you get the gist of Hilltop. Anyway, Tapped is just what it sounds like, a gastropub with middling food and pretty good taps. No Frills Grill is actually a better option for food and you can still get several varieties of Virginia Beer.

Norfolk also has a great bar type district called Ghent. There you will find some great beer places with good food like the Taphouse (not to be confused with the 11th Street variety) and Vard favorite Public House. Bardo (a small bites restaurant), AW Shucks (a great seafood restaurant) and the Belmont House of Smoke (okay, strike that, there’s no need to eat barbecue in Norfolk) all are a great place to get a seal and some fine beers.

All around town is a nice family friendly pizza place called YNot Pizza. They all have a nice tap selection, good food and cannoli. The one in Chesapeake is probably the most beer centric, so if you’re out that way you should go there, but the one just north of the resort area, near the bay in Great Neck is great too. Pizza places abound in Virginia Beach because tourists love pizza and military guys love pizza. Cogan’s is a Grinder’s like place with the same crap service, but has some good taps and delicious pizza and sneers from tattoed waitstaff come free. Shorebreak Pizza is a great place to watch the sports games and eat pizza and drink some locally brewed beer and is also pretty good for kids (in that you can send them off to the little arcade with a handful of quarters). Brothers Pizza has perhaps the best happy hour around, but you’re not going to get any kind of great local beer or anything, but a $2 Sam Adams seasonal in the fall is a fine price to pay over and over while shoving some great pizza in your piehole.

You want some good seafood? Of course you do, I mentioned Tautogs and AW Shucks above. There’s also Waterman’s (where the Vards go when we have guests) and Mahi Mah’s. Both of those places are on the beach around 5th Street. Waterman’s is famous for the Orange Crush, an orange rum drink that’s quite enjoyable. You can also get a good bowl of she crab soup there. You’ll be very happy. Mah’s is a little more party (which is odd since Waterman’s is famous for a drink) with more of a nightclub atmosphere but not in a Midwestern-y way, in a beachy way. But, my favorite place is Big Sam’s. Sam’s is located on the Rudee Inlet and has a great happy hour where you can get your fill of steamed clams, shrimp and oysters for a reasonable price. Sam’s feels like what beach eating should be. But, the beer selection is wanting, you’ll probably just want to get a $2 tall boy of PBR. Then there’s all sorts of various raw bars in the resort area. Oysters and crabs are local here, you can go put a string in the bay and catch a crab, I don’t want to oversell things here, but, the food is local, it’s not going to make you sick. If you’re near Harpoon Larry’s or one of the other raw bars and you want seafood, it’s going to be good. The only problem in seafood restaurants here involves overcooked fish. If you’re getting raw or steamed oysters, I don’t think you can go wrong if the place has any kind of crowd and looks reasonable clean.

I mentioned growlers a little bit back and they’re a pretty important piece of beer culture around here. Almost any restaurant in town with a tap selection of anything worthwhile will do a growler fill for you. Depending on the beer you can get a growler fill for $10-$15. You see a beer you want to take home with you, such as a Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’, go out to your car and get your growler and get a fill. The Whole Foods in Hilltop is one of the best places to find a really interesting beer on tap. They have a little bar/restaurant called The Porch with 8 rotating taps. You can expect to find almost anything on tap at any given time and of the 8 taps, you’re bound to find at least one beer you’re interested in. I just got Pumking on tap there this weekend, but I could have had La Folie or Schlafly Tasmanian IPA.

A note about beaching. Odd are, you’ll be staying at the resort and the beach will be just outside your door. But, that is not an ideal place to beach. First, the lifeguards blow their whistles a lot. It’s an awful noise to hear 500 times in an afternoon. Second, it gets a little crowded. Granted you won’t have all the chairs and blankets and cooler and beach bags that the Vards carry to the beach, but you’re going to have an overweight Pittsburg’er 3 feet from you when you’re reading your book. Third, the water’s pretty crowded too.  The locals go just north of the resort and spread out. There’s no lifeguards (or bathrooms), but there’s no whistles and you can do what you want. And, how do I put this, the views are likely to be better since you’re moving from middle age tourists to locals. Grab a beach box (sandwich and chips) from Taste (on the north end of the beach) on your way north for a beach lunch. Also, do yourself a favor and don’t bring beer or booze to the beach. There’s plenty of other time for that, there’s no reason to drink on the beach. The sun and waves are going to beat you senseless. Adding alcohol into the mix is a recipe for your family to be on the local news with the word “drowning” mentioned frequently. The best beer is a beer after your beaching shower (or during). That’s not to say that you shouldn’t drink on the beach, take your chair out after the sun sets with a cooler full of beer or a bottle of wine and listen to the ocean. Just don’t get in the water and take care of your trash when you’re done.

The right side of Grape and Gourmet is where the beer is
As far as beer stores go, you have a couple of good options, Total Wine, Whole Foods and Grape & Gourmet. Total Wine has everything and is a little cheaper and is closer to the beach where you’ll probably be staying. It is a gigantic store and you can spend a good hour in there if you’re not familiar with all of the beers available in Virginia (it’s a lot). Whole Foods has a good beer selection, but they don’t have everything. Whole Foods does have a handly little shelving unit filled with Dan’s selections (Dan runs the beer operation for our Whole Foods, he’s a local beer legend). You can probably find what you want to take back to the Midwest on that shelving unit. Grape & Gourmet is my favorite place to go, though, they have everything relevant, just not a whole lot of it. It’s probably the best merchandised store to get familiar with what’s available in town. Total Wine has everything from every brewery, but Grape & Gourmet has everything you want from the breweries you want. Plus, Gabe and Kevin can answer any question for you and get you a good recommendation.

I mentioned the local breweries who don’t all bottle their beers, but there’s also some Virginia beers to be aware of. Devil’s Backbone is the most well-known with their GABF gold medals. You can find their beers in just about any store including 7-11’s. I like the Eight Point IPA, but they don’t make a bad beer, even the Vienna Lager is worth buying. Just pick the style you want. Blue Mountain Brewery makes great beer as well, but it tends to be a little difficult to find bottled and nothing they bottle or can really stands out. I’ve had a really good stout from them though. Starr Hill is very widely available and frequently makes its way into the Vard family fridge. I wouldn’t pack any Starr Hill beers in a checked bag, but if you see one on tap or want to drink some in your hotel, you’ll be happy. The Northern Lights IPA is my favorite. Williamsburg Aleworks, makes several serviceable sixers, the White Ale, coffee or pumpkin,are probably the best, but each is only available seasonally. They do make a double IPA in a big bottle, bitter Valentine that comes out, you guessed it, around Valentines Day has set many a beer geeks’ heart aflutter. We get Red Marker, a red ale, quite a bit because it’s only $5.99 at Whole Foods. O’Connor El Guapo IPA, an IPA with agave nectar, is one of my go to beers because it’s always available at 7-11 (the 7-11 by my house has a really good craft beer selection) and it’s a great IPA. O’Connor also does a saison for every season. I’d rather have a Tank 7, but they’ve been interesting so far.

This may seem like sacrilege based on what I wrote about for 5 years (mostly Midwestern beers), but I could be happy with only beers from the mid-Atlantic. The Virginia breweries mentioned above, Duck Rabbit, DuClaw, Yards, DC Brau, Dogfish Head and Heavy Seas make up just about all of my beer drinking. New to Virginia Beach Boulevard Brewing and, of course, Lagunitas make up just about the rest of it (with some Yuengling thrown in). There seems to always be something new coming in from Devil’s Backbone or one of the local breweries.

The perfect beer weekend here, and this is a no effort situation, is to get a growler fill from Young Veterans on a Friday after work ($2 off growler fills on Friday night) with a pint of Jet Noise (a top 10 beer for me) while I wait. On Saturday, go to one of the tasting rooms, Smartmouth let’s say, a pint or two. On Sunday morning, go out to The Porch, get a growler of something good ($2 off growler fills before 11), go home, sit down and watch some football.

My future work neighbors will be the Green Flash brewers
On the horizon, Green Flash Brewery will be opening their east coast brewery here (next door to my work) with a tasting room setup similar to the other breweries. The sign says 2015 but they haven’t started building yet and everything involving a brewery tends to take longer than it should. Green Flash is around town and are starting to gain acceptance as a local brewery and have done a lot to help out the existing local breweries. The Green Flash Brewery is just 2 miles from Young Veterans and Beach and 2 miles from the resort (the only turn you’ll make is when you spot a bikini on a bike). Back Bay Brewing is opening a tasting room just a half mile from the resort, and really close to Green Flash, Beach and Young Veterans. It’s also going to be just a couple blocks from one of the best fish taco places in town, Gringo’s (damn, we made it this far and didn’t mention fish tacos, the pecking order is Baja Cantina, Gringo’s, Pelon’s, anyplace else that serves fish tacos). Back Bay only has 2 beers right now, but I enjoy both of them, so that’s a good start.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the beers, bars and food around town, but it’s a start. Plus, you’ll be at the beach most of the time. You can really have a great time in the Hampton Roads area. I would make it a long east coast swing, because we haven’t even covered Raleigh, Richmond, DC, Rehoboth or Philadelphia which are all under 4 hour drives from here. Not to mention the stuff to do in Williamsburg, Yorktown or Jamestown. I can think of better beer vacations than Virginia Beach, but it’s a pretty good vacation spot with good beer activities. You'd obviously want to come in the summer, but if you're here in the winter, there's still plenty to do and there's free parking everywhere. 

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