“It probably happened in college,” Stephenson says. While renting a guest apartment from his uncle, then head coach of the college’s baseball team, Stephenson got his first taste of real craft beer. “Once I got out of college, I lived with a couple fraternity brothers up in DC and, you know, we just liked trying everything we could get our hands on.” This passion for craft beer soon became an interest in brewing when, in 1997, Stephenson received a Mr. Beer Kit.
“It was terrible,” he says. “Nobody ever mentioned you had to control fermentation temperatures, because if not controlled the yeast makes terrible flavors. So yeah, it was not good. I think we drank it all, though.” This experience turned him off to brewing, but not for long. His brother-in-law eventually gave him a brewing kit with all of the equipment to brew properly and Stephenson has never looked back.
“It was addictive,” he says. “I was brewing two-gallon batches every week, sometimes a couple of times a week–I don’t know why. We couldn’t possibly drink that much beer. I’d just make beer and make beer and invite friends over to drink as much as they could, and then start over again.” It only made sense to start selling the stuff.
from left Drew Stephenson, Tim O’Brien and Alex Stephenson
Although the brewery itself is located on Shore Drive, the name Pleasure House Brewery has a couple of sources. For one, Stephenson and his wife Alex were living on Pleasure House Road when he started seriously brewing. The second reason reveals another one of Stephenson’s passions: he has been a history teacher for almost twenty years at Maury High School in Norfolk, where his wife teaches as well, and he did a little research about the history of beer in the beach area.
“The historians at Thoroughgood House discovered that there was actually a 17th century tavern in this area, probably close to the Bay Bridge Tunnel, called The Pleasure House,” he says. “For me, as a history guy, knowing that back then taverns were the center of community life… that meant a lot.”
And Pleasure House Brewing certainly wants to put community first. Last summer, Stephenson and his wife went on a hiking/beer tour from Denver up to Seattle. While in Seattle, they visited Reuben’s Brewery, which hosts a Thank You Thursday charity night. “It was sort of a big thank you to the community,” Stephenson says. “It got us really inspired to do that here. Maybe it’s because I’m a naïve high school history teacher, but it just seems to me that businesses are successful only if the people around them want them to be successful. And it seems like a good karma thing.”
The brewery itself will have a seating area and a bar where people can play games, eat food and, most importantly, taste the beer. The rest of the space is devoted to the brewing of the beer itself. When asked what a typical night will look like at Pleasure House Brewing, Stephenson leans back in his chair and thinks for a moment. “What we’re imagining is something sort of like this [as he gestures to the Lynnhaven Pub], where people come with their friends and hang out. We have a bunch of old school board games. I’ve got a buddy who is making a giant Connect Four game [pictured below], like life size. Tim really wants to put dart boards in there, so we’re trying to figure out a way to do that without putting eyes out. So really we’re trying to make it a place where you do things in order to spend time with your friends and enjoy some beer while you’re at it.” They are also encouraging people to bring in food, since the brewery itself will only serve beer. Pleasure House Brewery is located in a strip with two of the best local eateries on Shore Drive, Foons and Uncle Al’s, and there are tons of great restaurants in the surrounding area.
“Or people can make food at home and bring it in, whatever they want,” Stephenson says. “Foons will even deliver!” [Note that Foons is literally the space right next to Pleasure House Brewing.]
All of the businesses in the area have been very supportive of Pleasure House Brewing and its locally-minded ideals. Even the other breweries in Virginia Beach have reached out to help. “One of the things that is really cool about the craft beer industry at this point is that it seems to reflect the saying ‘a rising tide floats all ships’, or something like that,” muses Stephenson. “So people will say, ‘What if Stone comes to Norfolk?’ As far as I can tell, if we’re like the rest of the country, that will only help. And I’ve got to give some shout-outs. I know Justin who runs Beach, Dan who does Back Bay, and I’ve talked to Tom with Young Veterans, and all of them have gone out of their way to offer help. We all want to achieve together, you know?” I couldn’t agree more. The more local beer the better.
So what sort of beer can we look forward to imbibing? “We’ll have a double IPA,” Stephenson says. “I call it 416 because I have a buddy who is a CPA, and I guess tax season for CPAs is like finals week on steroids, so I said I would brew him a double IPA that will be ready the day after tax season ends.” There will also be a session IPA, and for a little fall flavor there will be a pumpkin saison, which comes in at about 8.5%.
On the lighter side there will be a lemon grass table beer which Stephenson describes as, “coming in at about 5% with a base beer that is a real gentle Belgian daily drinking beer. “Lastly, the starting lineup will include a British ale called a mild. “It will be about 4%, but it’s got a lot of flavor,” Stephenson says. “The mild is mostly malt dry flavor as opposed to the hops, so it has a lot of layers like caramel and toffee and bread. You can drink it all day and not have any problems.” These will be the beers Pleasure House Brewing will start with, but the idea is that there will constantly be new flavors to try. “Being small scale allows for some freedom,” says Stephenson, “so aside from bringing back really popular beers, we’re not going to make the same beer twice. In small batches I can constantly make new stuff.”
With O’Brien working on his second level of the cicerone certification–think wine sommelier of the beer world–and Stephenson receiving his beer judge certification, you can expect an obsession to produce great beer with a rich flavor. On top of that you have Alex Stephenson, who will be in charge of public relations and charity events. Not only are these three out to build a great brewery, they’re here to create a rich community around their product. When asked why Pleasure House Brewery selected Shore Drive as its location, Stephenson smiles and simply says, “Pretty much everyone we know in this area is a great person to be around, you know?”
Having grown up here, I can only smile and say, “I know.”
For more of Pleasure House, here they are on Facebook. They are slated to open Friday Oct 3rd.