Facebook is all atwitter with the news that Stone Brewing Co has chosen a date for the East Coast beer prom, and it’s Richmond, our hipper-than-thou sibling up the road.
Let’s start by saying that there are a lot of people in our area who worked really hard to convince Stone to come here. I truly admire the work these neighbors have done, and the love they have for our city. I know they probably feel disappointed the Stone isn’t coming to town. A big-name national brewery, and the jobs for locals that would come with it, would be plenty good for Norfolk.
But, I would rather Norfolk be known for the great beer we make here than how well we make someone else’s beer here.
Image | O’Connor Brewing Co
Beer is unique among adult beverages because of its relatively low barrier to entry–it’s cheap and is a simple pleasure–and its ubiquity. (Got water and grain? Let’s get started.) Wine takes much of its character and flavor from the soil and climate of its origin. The finest spirits are made unique by the aging and blending processes. The skill of the distiller and the vintner play no small part in creating a truly fine drink, and usually at no small cost. Comparatively, beer can really be a blank canvas. Macro-breweries turn it out bland-truckload-by-bland-truckload. The basic ingredients don’t carry the sense of terroir you might find in a fine wine’s grapes, or the ribs of an oak cask used to age Scotch. It’s easy to make a pretty basic, bland product. But craft beer is different: the heart of the craft beer movement is the people making the beer, and the art they bring to their beer.
And that’s what matters here. Are the folks from Stone serious, gifted artists in their medium? Unquestionably. But we live in a veritable gallery of craft beer already. The guys over at O’Connor pioneered our craft-brewing scene in Norfolk and their new facility is exactly what the doctor ordered in our little part of the world– a big, open gathering place for the neighborhood to drink some good beer and listen to some great live music. Smartmouth is an anchor of Chelsea, with inventive beers and a fantastic patio on the edge of the rail yards where the trains that cross our neighborhood streets fill ships that travel the world. And I hear tell of a new brewery to the Norfolk scene, up in Lambert’s Point. The best part is, that’s only Norfolk– Virginia Beach has Back Bay, Young Veterans, Beach Brewing, Pleasure House, plus others I’m probably missing, and in the not-so-distant-future, one of those fancy West Coast breweries, Green Flash. And that’s just in NFK/VB. Throw in Hampton, Chesapeake, and Williamsburg and you could easily drink nothing but great beers made within a 50-mile radius, by your neighbors.
Friends, neighbors, beer, art | image from Smartmouth
The people making these beers are living in the same neighborhoods as us, they walk the same streets, sit in the same traffic, eat in the same restaurants, and fish from the same piers. The art they are making is influenced and driven by our same milieu. If you value beer for something other than the shortest distance to inebriation, then you know there is subtlety and style in the way that the best beers are crafted. We’re surrounded by these works of our neighbor’s art, at every bar where you find our local beers on draft. The things that make this home for you– the sun-filled days at the beach and the cool autumn evenings on the patio at Stella; from memories of stolen first-kisses behind the Naro to the first time your kid rides their bike without training wheels through Larchmont– are all out there, captured by these artists. So before we go crying into our beers about the big out-of-towner who picked somewhere else to manufacture and distribute their product, let’s take a minute to contemplate the beer made right here by people we know and who know us. Maybe we don’t need outsider validation. Maybe we have a great thing going already.
From now on, let’s drink local first.