Those of us who follow the blossoming craft brewery scene in Hampton Roads are positively giddy at the number of breweries opening here in the near future. Just a few short years ago you could have counted all of our breweries on one hand (with fingers to spare); soon you will need to borrow a friend’s fingers and toes.
As exciting as it is, there is still ample room to grow, and there is one very deserving underserved market in which to do it. If you were to mark all of our craft breweries on a map you would see one area that is getting surrounded, yet strangely lacking it’s own mark; Portsmouth.
For many of us, when we think of Portsmouth and beer we think of one place: the Bier Garden (below). It’s a beloved local spot, and I think it is an indication of the potential for the beer scene in the city. Olde Towne Portsmouth has a charm that most cities dream about; we will often hop on the ferry from Norfolk just to wander around there, and I occasionally make a special trip just to go to the Bier Garden.
If there were also a brewery there the incentive to make the trip would increase drastically. I know from speaking with some of the new brewery owners that the city of Portsmouth has recruited heavily to get a brewery, but thus far they haven’t been able to do so. The question of why is complicated, but the fact remains that Portsmouth is a great opportunity for the right operation.
Fairly unique to the craft brewing industry is the idea of clustering. Whereas in many business models it makes more sense to be isolated from your competitors, for smaller scale craft breweries it makes more sense to cluster. The idea is that patrons visiting one brewery will likely go to another one that is close by and are more likely to travel to an area with multiple options, therefore everyone benefits. It works, but at some point an area becomes saturated and the effect to the smaller breweries is lessened. On the other hand, success can certainly be found in isolation. One needs look no further than the success enjoyed by Big Ugly in Chesapeake (below), and that is the model that would initially work for Portsmouth. They need someone to be first, a quality brewery in a great location.
Locations are certainly not an issue. I would love to see a solid craft brewery in Olde Towne, perhaps in the former Brutti’s on Court Street or on High Street near Effingham. A brewery could secure some great space with parking in a myriad of places in the area, which is becoming more difficult elsewhere. The water quality in the city, as with most of Hampton Roads, is excellent for brewing. Great beer can be made there.
The elephant in the room is the tunnel tolls. Those tolls are the boogeyman for someone to make the leap to Portsmouth. I complain about the tolls as much as anyone, but the fact remains that I will gladly pay them to go to a great place. Honestly, if I can get free parking I still feel like I’m getting off cheap. What would a great place be? I would love to see either an established brewery put a smaller pub brewery there or have an entrepreneur go in with something different and experimental, along the lines of Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium. But any place with quality beer will fit the bill.
When someone finally jumps in there, Portsmouth will quickly take off. If we can get a solid operation there to prove what many of us already know (that the city is a sleeping beer giant), others will follow.
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