The Virginia Beer Festival, the mid-Atlantic’s largest and longest-running beer festival, was held for the 17th time on May 19, 2018 at Town Point Park in Norfolk. More than 150 beers and ciders from Virginia and beyond were served up, along with local food and live music, to an enthusiastic crowd.
My husband and I love craft beer (and any chance to get a little break from our four kids) so we headed out to Town Point Park despite the dire weather reports. For about five years now, we’ve been tracking our beer samplings with an app called Untappd, which allows you to rate every beer you try, evaluate and leave comments. Untappd also allows you to earn badges- for number of distinct beers sampled, locations visited, and styles tried. A beer festival is the perfect place to find new favorites and earn Untappd badges. I like dark beers- my favorite local is Ibrik Turkish Coffee Stout from O’Connor Brewery- and my husband loves sours and IPAs.
Fortunately, it was only a bit muddy when we got there at 2, and free plastic ponchos were being handed out at the gates. Less fortunately, I had no rubber boots, and was somewhat limited to the brewery tables without a large mud puddle in front of them. Probably for this reason, I missed the three Hampton Roads collaboration beers: N2daB Mojito Inspired Ale (made by seven Norfolk breweries: Bearded Bird, Coelacanth, Benchtop, Rip Rap, Smartmouth, O’Connor, and Bold Mariner); Erd Beer (made by five Virginia Beach breweries: Wasserhund, Home Republic, Deadline, Back Bay, and Gordon Biersch), and The Other Guys IPA (made by, of course, the other guys: Vanguard, Alewerks, Big Ugly, and MoMac.)
Not too far in, though, the rain picked up. We weren’t much interested in the national brands but decided to stop and sample a few more beers before running for cover. A lot of festival-goers pulled out the ponchos at that point, but we were unfortunately already too wet for them to make much difference and stayed under an umbrella. The real victims of the weather were the pretzel necklaces, many of which I noticed were disintegrating in the rain.
By the time we reached the last few booths, it was pouring so hard I couldn’t even hear what the servers were telling me. A lovely server at one table explained the choices, but the only word I heard was “coffee”, so I chose that because of my fondness for a dark coffee stout. Disappointingly at first, it was a light-colored beer. When I tasted it, though, it was the best surprise of the festival for me. Similar to Haywire Husky, a coffee lager (and my favorite offering from Wasserhund Brewing) it looked light but tasted much more complex. As I found out when the rain let up enough to hear, it was called James Bean, and was a bourbon-barrel aged Belgian tripel made with cold-brewed coffee by Allagash Brewing Company of Portland, Maine.
Huddling under an umbrella, my husband managed to keep up his Untappd check-ins before we finally gave up and left the park. The weather did clear a bit not long after, so the festival continued on for those who didn’t mind mud in their shoes, and once we arrived at the car we discovered we’d both earned multiple badges in our beer-tracking career- he even got the “Elite” badge for having tasted 2,500 distinct beers. Overall, it was worth the mud for a little adventurous tasting.