Local brewing goes all the way back to when the English first arrived here. Within two years of the founding of Jamestown in 1607 advertisements went up in London seeking brewers to move to the new world colony. The ads worked because there is record of the first brewer in Jamestown in 1609. Coastal Virginia brewing was born. Archeological finds in 1955 confirmed Jamestown brewing with the discovery of the remains of a building that was used for malting and brewing.
Brewing at Jamestown | photo credit to National Park Service artist Sydney King
By the early 20th century, beer brewing had become a thriving industry and Norfolk had a number of breweries by this time. The 1916 city directory lists ten breweries: Anheuser-Busch, Bay View Brewery, Consumers Brewing, G.B.S. Brewing, Heurich Chris Brewing, Hoster-Columbus, Monumental Brewing, Pabst Brewing, Portner Robt Brewing, and Schlitz Brewing. Besides the local operations of the national companies, Consumers Brewing was probably the most successful and long-lasting brewery at the time. Located at Church St. and Washington Ave, Consumers opened in 1896 and for the next 22 years it was Norfolk’s most successful brewery until Virginia’s self-imposed prohibition forced the brewery to close in 1918. It did reopen for a time after national prohibition was repealed in 1933.With the repeal of prohibition in 1933, local breweries began popping up looking to tap into the now legal alcoholic beverage market.
Some, like Mohawk Brewing, Glasgow Brewing, and Atlantic Ice & Coal Brewery, only lasted a year or two. Others, though, were more successful and operated for a number of years. Century Brewing, Jacob Ruppert-Virginia Inc Brewery, and Champale Products Corp Brewery all achieved some success and operated for a decade or more. Consumers Brewing also reopened and soon changed their name to Southern Breweries. They continued operating in the old Consumers facility on Washington Ave.
Consumers Brewing building in 1933 | photo credit to Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library
Bottling at Southern Brewing in the 1930s | photo credit to Courtesy of Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library
By the 1980s and 1990s, the local beer scene had stalled. On the West Coast craft beers and microbreweries were starting to heat up. A couple of local brewers tried to bring craft beers here, like Chesapeake Bay Brewing and Steamship Brewing, but the area just wasn’t ready for good beer yet. By the early 2000s, though, things were starting to change. Craft beer was exploding nationally and the local population looking for good beer was growing. In 2010, O’Connor Brewing opened to great success and a number of breweries followed, finally establishing the thriving craft beer scene we have now.
The future of local brewing appears to be bright. Cheers!
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