Saturday, January 1st, 2011 was a landmark day for the Hampton Roads craft beer community.
As the tired populace of Norfolk nursed New Years hangovers or shouted obscenities at their television (thanks for not showing up for ANYTHING, Big-10) two local entrepreneurs readied their bar for it’s grand opening.
At 3 PM, The Birch opened their doors for business.
The buzz surrounding The Birch has been considerable, and well warranted. Although there are some good beer places in Hampton Roads, Malia Paasch and Ben Bublick have created something new to the area – a true beer bar, where the focus is 100% on the beer.
You won’t find a menu full of burgers, wings or nondescript-breaded-deep-fried-mystery-meat. You won’t find flat screen TVs, neon Bud signs or pool tables… and you certainly won’t find Miller Lite served up in a frozen shaker glass.
What you will find is a beer list like no other in the area. The Birch has a well thought out selection of taps that cover a wide array of styles and flavors that literally span the globe. The tap handle for the golden, refreshing Reissdorf Kölsch from Cologne, Germany resides next to the Left Hand Fade To Black, a pitch black beer who’s smoky flavors were referred to many times during the evening by patrons as “brisket in a glass.”
California brewer North Coast’s Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout looks right at home next to Liefmans Fruitesse, a Belgian fruit beer that pours bloody red and has a pink tinged head. Even Afton, Virginia’s own Blue Mountain Brewing is represented by their Full Nelson Pale Ale. (With any luck, the local tap handles of O’Connor and Beach Brewing will soon join the ranks.) All the beers are served in appropriate glassware – a big deal for beer aficionados.
Something else you will find is a minimal menu. Most items are either salty snacks, such as soft pretzels and cocktail nuts, or simple sandwiches. There is a wide array of cheese boards to choose from, however, featuring cow’s and goat’s milk cheeses from the United States and Europe. The cheese boards are designed to be complementary to your chosen libation’s flavors, and the staff is rather helpful in pairing the right cheese with the right beer.
The atmosphere is laid back and is engineered to promote conversation. With no televisions or other “shiny objects” to pull your eye, you either end up focusing your attention on your companion or your beer. Additionally, the lack of music allows for casual conversation – which was plentiful Saturday afternoon. Discussions at the bar were wide ranging, with lots of new friends being made.
Malia, in a brief moment she was able to chat between filling beer orders, indicated that this was by design – “I hated going to bars that were so loud you couldn’t carry on a conversation. We didn’t want that.”
It would seem the plan worked. There was a general feeling of camaraderie in The Birch, with an almost corner bar vibe – albeit a hipper, slightly more upscale feel than the traditional neighborhood watering hole.
Everything The Birch sells is available for take out – the food, bottled beers and the beers on draft. This is the final component that really sets The Birch apart – draft beers are available “to go” via growler. (A growler is a 1/2 gallon reusable jug patrons can bring back for refills.) While common in brewpubs, The Birch is the only non-brewing establishment in Hampton Roads to offer growlers.
It remains to be seen, of course, if the momentum sustains after the initial whirlwind that accompanies the inaugural few weeks of a place like The Birch. Saturday was, however, a very good start.
1231 W. Olney Rd.
Mon – Thurs: 3:00 pm – 12:00 am
Fri – Sat: 3:00 pm – 2:00 am
Ample parking available in The Birch lot, one block away at the corner of Boissevain Ave. & Orapax St.