Tidewater’s no backwater, but trends can take a bit longer to show up in our corner of the Commonwealth.
Fortunately, finally, craft beer has come to the region in the past few years and proven itself to be not merely a trend but a social, cultural, and economic force for good. Decades after the repeal of Prohibition, Americans, Virginians, and locals are tapping into the proud tradition of craft beer and restoring its historical place in local culture. Norfolk can finally be famous for the quality of the beer it consumes, not merely the quantity.
America finally has over 3,000 breweries for the first time since just after the Civil War. Besides the end of Prohibition, two state laws in Virginia stand out as having helped restore the craft beer industry and put our experience of tasting craft beer on par with any famous beer scene domestically or internationally.
Just two years ago, SB 604 passed allowing breweries to serve and sample their beers at the breweries. Hanging out at breweries became the new normal overnight. Breweries like O’Connor and Beach Brewing Co. that hadn’t really been set up to accommodate people on premises had the best problem any young business could have– too many satisfied customers.
Both have since moved to newer, larger facilities, both to welcome in more people and increase production by around 300%. This is part of a larger local trend where since SB 604, literally every brewery in the region has either expanded its tasting space, moved into larger space, or created new space entirely, and they’re all still talking about expanding more.
For each of the eight craft breweries in the area, that’s new jobs that can’t be shipped overseas, local money staying in the local economy, and a lot of excellent craft beer. The trend shows no signs of slowing as yet more breweries are set to open in Williamsburg, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake.
With the breweries in place, beer tourism (another boost to the local economy) also became a thing, but state law prevented tourguides from collecting tasting fees for the breweries. Each guest had to pay each brewery for each beer, a problem when groups show up in already packed tasting rooms.
At the suggestion of our family business, Taste Tidewater Tours, State Senator Jim McWaters proposed and saw passed SB 178, which allows tour companies to include tasting fees in the tour price. This means Virginians can finally have as seamless a wine or beer touring experience as anyone in Napa, Seattle, Bordeaux, or Berlin.
For as much as the citizenry’s relationship to politics is fraught, it’s heartening to see a local business able to work with a local representative to find a local solution to a statewide problem that puts Virginia on par with worldwide beer and wine tourism.
With Smartmouth getting accolades at the Great American Beer Festival and O’Connor getting attention internationally at the Dublin Craft Beer Awards, the quality of local beer is no secret. Within a year of starting to offer guided brewery tours, besides hundreds of locals, we have taken out groups from Scotland, Germany, and France.
The local roots and international reach of Hampton Roads’ craft beer scene is astounding given its relative youth. The collaboration of local industry, government, and small, family-run business like Taste Tidewater has rarely produced so much positive impact so quickly.