Thousands of tourists make the pilgrimage to the Outer Banks every year, with the allure of lazy mornings on the beach, afternoons browsing in boutiques, and cocktails over fresh seafood in the evenings.
Of course, COVID-19 has changed the vacation game this year, but for many, crossing the Wright Memorial Bridge still means shedding the stresses and responsibilities of the real, social-distanced world. Fans of craft beer will find a handful of breweries to explore, but if you’re up for a road trip a bevy of Virginia breweries are a relatively short drive away.
Just across the state line, Hampton Roads is home to one of the fastest growing craft beer scenes in the country. With close to 30 breweries on the southside alone, it has quickly become a national craft beer destination. So if you need a break from the fun and sun of the Outer Banks, here are five Hampton Road’s breweries that are less than 2 hours away from Kitty Hawk, listed nearest to furthest.
Big Ugly Brewing Company, Chesapeake
The closest Virginia brewery to the Outer Banks, Chesapeake’s Big Ugly Brewing has quickly become one of Hampton Road’s favorites. Big Ugly’s spacious tasting room is a gearheads dream come true. From bar stools made from vintage motorcycles to a retrofitted Volkswagen bus complete with a TV and seating for four inside, the nostalgia factor is substantial. The taproom is impressive, as is the large outdoor area complete with fire pits and cornhole, but the beers are the real star of the show. Offering a diverse selection of lagers and ales, Big Ugly always has something for everybody. While you’re there, try Rockers IPA, Ghost Rider Vanilla Porter or Magic Berlinerbus Berliner Weisse.
Back Bay’s Farmhouse Brewing Company, Virginia Beach
One of the most unique experiences in Hampton Roads is Back Bay’s Farmhouse Brewing Company. The Farmhouse, for short, is set on 1.5 secluded acres of land in the middle of the Virginia Beach suburbs. It’s tranquil, pastoral-like setting is tied together by the taproom, which is found in a renovated 1912 farmhouse. Ingredients from the farm are used in many of the brewery’s beers and ciders (for folks who need gluten-free libations), and can be enjoyed anywhere on the vast property, which includes bocce courts, private enclosed tasting igloos and a vintage ice cream truck. It’s one of the few breweries in the area to also serve wine. The Farmhouse rotates its offerings more than most breweries, so there is always something new to try. While you’re there, try Orange Crush New England IPA or the Apricot Belgian Tripel.
O’Connor Brewing Company, Norfolk
The elder statesman of the group, O’Connor Brewing Company was a Hampton Roads staple before craft beer exploded across the country. Ten years later, the brewery is still going strong by maintaining its local presence and expanding its regional footprint. A massive tasting room with an adjoining outdoor beer garden makes O’Connor one of the best destinations in Hampton Roads. The brewery hosts events ranging from farmers markets, live music, and even a comic book/music/video game convention, although the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the O’Connor’s ability to host some of its previous large gatherings. Some of Hampton Roads best food trucks can be found at O’Connor, making it a one-stop shop for a beer and a bite. The 30-barrel brewhouse allows O’Connor to keep the local restaurants stocked with the brewery’s distinguished flagship beers, but also allows room to experiment with new styles and releases. While you’ re there, try El Guapo Agave IPA, ODIS Dry Irish Stout and Green Can Golden Ale.
Commonwealth Brewing Company, Virginia Beach
Found in the Chic’s Beach area of Virginia Beach, Commonwealth Brewing Company has quickly established itself as one of the premier breweries in the area, arguably in the state. Opening in 2015 in a former fire and rescue building, Commonwealth has never shied away from testing the limits of what can be attempted with beer. The results, while strange at first glance, have been overwhelmingly tasty. An IPA brewed with marshmallows, a barrel-aged cream ale spiced to resemble eggnog, and a green tea gose are just a few examples of the boundary-pushing brews Commonwealth has served.
While Commonwealth is known for innovation, its calling card is its popular hazy IPAs and mouth-puckering sours. Most of the offerings are also packaged to-go in cans featuring mesmerizing artwork that has won the brewery international awards for label design. While you’re there, try Big Papi Double New England IPA or Mano Del Puma Mexican-style lager.
The Bold Mariner Brewing Company, Norfolk
Located in the resurgent Ocean View section of Norfolk, The Bold Mariner Brewing Company is housed in a former bank overlooking the beaches of the Chesapeake Bay. Founded by a U.S. Navy veteran, the brewery has been a popular destination since it opened in its first location in Lamberts Point in 2016. The brewery opened the Ocean View location last fall and features wrap around patio seating. It is also home to Bar-Q, purveyor of mouth-watering smoked barbeque. An expanded brewhouse at the new location has allowed Bold Mariner brewers to dabble in small batch offerings, but their bread and butter is the flagships beers. While you’re there, try fan favorite Frogman Lager or Red Maiden Red Ale.