The American Craft Beer movement has really taken off, but here in Tidewater, it started slow. Now, in just the last few years, we have witnessed our own microbrew boom. So who are the people behind our local brewing businesses?
We’ve set out to talk to some of those working in and around the Hampton Roads craft brewing scene. Not the owners and master brewers (everyone talks to them), but people working behind the counters, and stirring the pots to power the local movement. Here’s the first in a series of interviews with some of the folks behind the Hampton Roads brews.
We’re starting with Smartmouth Brewing Company. This is how they describe themselves: “Located on the banks of the Elizabeth River in Norfolk, Virginia, our 20-barrel brewhouse typically churns out around 100 barrels a month – that’s 33,067 cans, around 200 kegs, and 9,920 forty-ouncers if you’re classy. It also includes an 1100-square-foot tasting room open to the public where you can have a sip or several, purchase a keg, fill your growlers and score some Smartmouth swag.”
Kristin Turner is the tasting room assistant manager. When she’s not at Smartmouth, Kristin busies herself with two young children and running her own quilt company, where she designs and makes custom quilts. Check out her creations– they are AMAZING! I stopped into the brewery to catch up with Kristin. Here’s our chat.
AltDaily: What brought you to Norfolk?
Kristin Turner: My father was in the military. He was stationed at Joint Forces Staff College back in the 80’s and then popped around between Little Creek and Oceana. Except for a few years oversees we stayed here the entire time. I got married about eleven years ago, and we lived in Virginia Beach and bought a home there, but then I worked in Norfolk, my church was in Norfolk, my friends were in Norfolk, all my social stuff was in Norfolk, so my husband and I decided to move to Norfolk.
How or why did you get into the brewing business?
My friend Noel is the tasting room manager here, and she had always talked about how much she enjoyed working here, so last April I asked her that if they were ever hiring to let me know. She texted me two days later, I got roped in, and here I am.
Did you have any experience with brewing?
No. I didn’t even like beer until I started working here.
What does the assistant tasting room manager do?
I help run the tasting room, keep it clean, keep the customers happy, pour beer, take cash, basic customer satisfaction. I worked as an insurance person, so I talked to people all day long helping them with polices. I enjoy helping people.
What is your focus here as far as the business side?
My main objective when I work here is to create a welcoming, fun environment for people to come spend time. When people want to go drink a beer, they want to have fun, and they’re looking not just to have good beer, but they’re looking for a fun environment, somewhere to laugh, somewhere to let loose, and to relax and have their friends with them. This is promoted not just by myself and Noel and the rest of the staff here, but by (the owner) Porter. They want this to be a neighborhood hot spot, a neighborhood brewery somewhere the community has a connection to.
Do you think this area is in a position to support this craft beer movement?
I do, I really do. With my limited scope of knowledge about all of that, I can’t really speak to the whole craft brewing scene, but I think with respect to Smartmouth in particular, the response to this brewery and this tasting room has been so welcoming and so positive, and we keep growing the business. Month by month we see more and more business, and more people, new people and regulars. Like I said, I can’t speak for other breweries in the area, but I know there are a lot of small businesses that specialize in food, and coffee, and wine that are also seeing the same positive feedback in this area.
Do you think having the brewery here is sort of helping the neighborhood community, like a resurgence, because this part of Norfolk has always been a little off the beaten path?
I feel like it is. Each Norfolk neighborhood is very loyal, the communities, people and neighbors know each other. It’s different than living in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, where you drive into your garage and walk into your house, and you don’t see your neighbors. In Norfolk it’s not just due to the lack of garages or just the abundance of on-street parking, but I feel that people who live in Ghent have a community spirit. There’s something very unique about this area. There’s not many chain restaurants, there’s not much big-box stuff. And I think this community is very accepting of small businesses and very supportive of small businesses. I’m not knocking Chesapeake or Virginia Beach, I grew up in Virginia Beach, but you know what I mean.
I actually live in Virginia Beach now.
See, and you come to Norfolk.
Well, I work in Norfolk, so it’s all on the way home.
Well, then you spend most of your time in Norfolk!
Well I guess I do…unfortunately, well not unfortunately. The working is unfortunate.