Norfolk, Virginia

Photo: Coelacanth Brewing Company

Is it time for a beer? No, not the type that you can find in a 12-pack at any grocery store. We’re thinking about a craft beer from a local brewery. A place that’s always experimenting and uses ingredients grown nearby sounds good. Bonus points if it’s a cool place to hang out, as well. Get ready for a day trip.

It’s been a long time since you’ve visited Norfolk, Virginia. You know the Hampton Roads city as a Navy town; it’s the location of the largest naval base in the world. There’s a big port, waterfront parks, and historic buildings along the Chesapeake Bay, too. But everyone has been heading to the opposite side of the city, along the Elizabeth River, lately. Ghent is where you’ll find the renown Chrysler Museum of Art and Naro Cinema, which shows foreign and independent films. It’s also become a hot spot for craft breweries.

Your first stop is Coelacanth Brewing Company, which was named after an ugly and rarely seen fish. You’ll find the family-owned brewery in a renovated warehouse that has whitewashed brick walls and glass garage doors. Food trucks, like Redwood Smoke Shack, hang outside on the weekends. Inside, there’s a wooden bar, sturdy picnic tables, and bright orange stools. Their 15-barrel system brews 465 gallons at once. While the beers they produce are well-balanced, not overly hoppy, as the trend seems to be.

Photo: O’Connor Brewing Co.

So let’s start tasting. CBC’s regular—make that usually available—beers include ales, sours, and stouts. Bramble Berliner Weiss, made with fresh blackberries from a local farm, has a purple hue. A trio of mild peppers, plus lots of habaneros, are fermented in Hippocampus. And Kopimanis, a latte stout, features organic coffee beans from Sumatra. There are seasonal (Saturnalia) and limited-edition (Fool’s Gold) beers, too. You quickly fall in love with Quiet Storm’s big chocolate flavor. Careful, at 9.5%, it’s a powerful one.

If you prefer hops to farmhouse styles, then you’ll enjoy the next brewery. The owner of O’Connor Brewing Company started brewing in his dorm room during college. His passion has turned into quite a business. The space is a little sleeker than CBC’s, but with picnic tables and a stage overlooking the brewing equipment, it’s still a chill place in which to hang out. The brewery offers tours, live music, colorful Adirondack chairs, and more food trucks. While the award-winning beer list features Flagships, a Tidal Seasonal Series, a high-alcohol content Offshore Seasonal Series, and an Endless Saison Series, which is inspired by famous surf spots around the world.

After tasting more beers than you can count, you try to decide which ones you like the most. You could drink the slightly spiced R&R Lager all day. Zephyrweisse, their version of a hefeweizen, is the perfect spring beer. Heavy Footer was dry hopped twice and has a nice citrus aroma. But you ultimately pick Shipwreck Bay, an ale that was named after one of the best surfing locations in New Zealand. At least for today, the farmhouse styles take the cake. But it’s Norfolk that’s become the real winner.

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