Williamsburg, Virginia. It conjures up images of the Revolutionary War, a matronly Martha Washington, and, if your parents were anything like Angelica’s, lots of time spent in Colonial Williamsburg. But today, a part of America rich with history and responsible for the early direction of our country is forging a new revolution in the libations arena, bringing a diverse lineup of adult beverages to the landscape.
Over the past few years, Williamsburg has seen several new breweries, distilleries, and craft beer restaurants join the ranks of seasoned wineries to carry on where our drunken forefathers left off. Seriously, learn your history. The guys who shaped our colonies into a country were drunk off their assses the entire time.
Thanksgiving 2017 just so happened to find the two of us in Williamsburg once again to celebrate the holiday. So we decided, in colonial style, to do a tour of the town’s libations trail (as much as we could cover in a day, anyway). Hey, if being drunk all day is good enough for Thomas Jefferson, it’s good enough for us!
And since we’re all about local libations, we figured we’d practice what we preach and enjoy what we could from the area. It was a great opportunity to see what Williamsburg had to offer in the adult beverage world and how several businesses were contributing to the evolution of Virginia’s libations culture.
We dubbed our journey “#VABoozeCruise” and our travels took us to the following haunts:
- DoG Street Pub
- Copper Fox Distillery
- Brass Cannon Brewing
- AleWerks Brewing Company
- The Virginia Beer Company
- Craft 31
Here’s what we discovered:
DoG Street Pub
ANGELICA: The DoG Street Pub is housed in a converted bank in Merchant Square, right off Duke of Gloucester Street. Their menu reminds me of Piper’s Pub here in Pittsburgh with the English presentations and beer list. Their bottle selection is really quite extensive – next door is Hair of the DoG, their sister bottle shop – while their tap rotation features 16 beers.
My Beer Choice: Save the Cans Hibiscus Saison, O’Connor Brewing Co, Norfolk, VA – A light, refreshing start to the day. While it paired nicely with a ham and cheese sandwich, it fought with the screaming baby two tables over for who got more of my attention.
JASON: I was first introduced to DoG Street Pub in 2016. The beer list provides a nice mix of Virginia beers + other staples from breweries across the country. Like Angelica’s take, I see some similarities to your typical English style pubs, complete with some tables offering communal seating. Very fitting for its location in the heart of the historic city of Williamsburg. Hair of the DoG offers a great selection of bottles with a smattering of breweries making the VA beer scene shine.
My Beer Choice: Founders Breakfast Stout on Nitro – Local or not, I’m a sucker for a good stout before noon. Plus, nitro. Silky and smooth with those pleasurable roasty characteristics. Simply put – Founders does stouts pretty damn well.
Copper Fox Distillery
Rick Wasmund opened Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, VA, in January 2005 after visiting Scotland, home to some of the best whisky in the world. Their whisky (they drop the -e) is made in a traditional style by hand-malting their barley and flavoring wood barrels with apple and cherry wood smoke.
ANGELICA: I was really impressed with Copper Fox. I’ve seen it being built in Williamsburg over the past year and a half, though I’ve never had a chance to make it in until now. The woman leading our sampling was knowledgeable about the product, explained everything clearly, and was just plain nice to be around.
While I tried a few of their whiskies, their gin stood out as my favorite. Vir Gin is perfectly sippable. The flavors were mellow and complemented each other; there was no harsh juniper taste or burn. Each bottle is named after James Bond characters.
JASON: I still feel like I have a long way to go with whiskey, but I’ve slowly but surely been getting myself acclimated to different variants, nuances, flavors, etc. That said, it’s always a plus to be guided through a distillery’s portfolio by a professional who can break down the offerings in an easy-to-understand fashion. Our whiskey guide (and I feel like a complete ass because I forget her name) was great. Having only been with Copper Fox a few months, she showed a true dedication to her craft and spoke about each product with confidence.
I, too, was a fan of the Vir Gin. But the Bourbon Mash equally captured my heart. 124 proof certainly packs a wallop, but the delicate sweetness was present and didn’t drink like a spirit that high in proof. I ordered the Bourbon Mash in a lemonade cocktail to round out my visit and look forward to returning to Copper Fox in the future.
Brass Cannon Brewing
ANGELICA: Brass Cannon is a great example of the highly subjective nature of beer. I say that because their beer was not to my taste, though their Smoothbore Stout received a gold medal at the 2017 Virginia Craft Beer Cup. To each his own.
We sat down with a flight of their lineup, ready to try everything. Personally, I found their beer to be too malt forward, even on hoppier styles, with a lack of complexity. While I wasn’t a fan, clearly other people enjoy what Brass Cannon is featuring.
Something I do love about this brewery is their Langrage Line. Langrage is what you shove in a cannon when times got desperate instead of, y’know, a cannonball. Think bottles, nails, bones, and so on. It’s experimental and that’s what this line is. It’s done in small batches and, per their website, can be a combination of whatever they want it to be. They’re using this as a test to see what works and what doesn’t. Their Langrage Line Pumpkin Pie Stout was one of my favorites from their tap list that day. The spices came through the maltiness and played together well.
JASON: Brass Cannon has some work to do. Like Angelica mentioned, beer is subjective. And one thing I’ll never do is tell you not to try something simply because it wasn’t for me. My favorite beer could be the one you’d rather slam your hand in the car door instead of drink. But my take here was nothing truly stood out. The Muzzle Flash American Amber Ale and Broadside IPA fell way too far to the malty side, offering no real flavor or aroma of the chosen hops in each beer. The Pumpkin Pie Stout would headline my list, but front to back, it was a flight I couldn’t get on board with.
This being my first time at Brass Cannon, I’m not willing to write them off completely. I look forward to visiting my next time through Williamsburg to see if the lineup better fits my tastes.
AleWerks Brewing Company
AleWerks was established in 2006 in an industrial park and quickly made a notable name for themselves. Chuck Haines saw a need in Williamsburg for craft beer and stepped in to save the day. He’s been able to keep them going through troubling times as the scene now is not as friendly as it was then. They currently supply Colonial Williamsburg with their tavern beer, brewing it in the traditional style with a few modern updates, like parasite-free water. Thanks, AleWerks!
ANGELICA: This is my favorite Virginia brewery and I don’t care who knows it. Their Coffeehouse Stout is the yardstick I measure all coffee beers against and I was lucky enough to try their cask version on this visit. Orange peels over cocoa nibs. Boy, that sounds just horrible. I better drink all of it so no one else is subjected to this swill. Kidding. Pretty much fell in love at first sip and more of that delicious cocoa flavor came through as the beer warmed in my glass.
We ventured back to AleWerks on Black Friday for their release of A Fun, Old-Fashioned Family Christmas Ale – a classic Christmas beer featuring vanilla, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peel. In true AleWerks fashion, this beer delivered. Plus, the Christmas Vacation reference drives the point home and gets you ready for another fun-filled holiday season.
JASON: Angelica introduced me to AleWerks when we first started dating with Jubilee XI and the aforementioned Coffeehouse Stout and I’ve been a fan since. Every beer I’ve had from their portfolio since has been clean, true to style, and incredibly drinkable. This visit found me gravitating to the Unrequited Double Red IPA and Superb IPA, the replacement for Drake Tail, another solid offering I had when first introduced to the brand. Superb truly lives up to the name, pouring a hazy light orange with a soft white head. Amarillo and Simcoe hops take center stage and deliver notes of passion fruit with a light to medium mouthfeel.
Superb is my new go-to beer when in Williamsburg. Well done, AleWerks!
The Virginia Beer Company
Like most craft breweries, this started with a financial analyst, consultant, and high school teacher walking into a bar. Wait, wrong joke. But seriously, folks…a group of friends got together and said, “Hey, we should do that!” Sound familiar? Their hard work paid off when they opened their doors in 2015 in an old garage.
ANGELICA: Perhaps my second-favorite Virginia Brewery (you always love the first child more. It’s science.), I have a newfound appreciation for Elbow Patches, their oatmeal stout. It was in the fridge instead of the usual Free Verse IPA upon our arrival at my Mom’s house, so obviously, I had to drink it. Smooth and creamy, lightly chocolate and coffee roasted, and velvety.
Luckily, my lack of Free Verse was corrected when we visited the brewery and it came in the form of Brett Free Verse. You wouldn’t think brettanomyces and an IPA would mesh, but it does. Beautifully.
JASON: It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 2016 that Angelica and I first visited Virginia Beer Company and I was excited to get back for Round 2. With hazy beers ruling the roost these days, I was happy to find Free Verse and, thanks to Angelica’s mom bringing a fresh supply to Pittsburgh every time she visits, it has stayed on regular rotation in my home beverage lineup. It’s not your quintessential ‘juice bomb,’ but it pours that popular hazy orange, forms a full white head when complete, and still delivers elements of juiciness and tropical flavors.
This visit, Toil & Trouble became my seductive mistress. This Triple IPA tips the scales at 10% and drinks incredibly smooth for a beer so high in ABV. Intoxicating floral aromas hit your nose immediately, followed by citrus notes intermingled with its full body. VBC’s brewers utilized Mosaic lupulin powder and dry-hopped T&T with Mosaic and Lemondrop hops.
To round out the day, it was dinner and drinks at Craft 31, an exceptional craft beer bar and restaurant specializing in gourmet burgers, pizzas, and featuring 30 beers on tap. It was here we both discovered Ashland, VA’s Center of the Universe Brewing as El Duderino White Russian Stout and Pocahoptas IPA both found their way to the table to accompany our burgers and Dr. Pepper wings. I know what you’re thinking, and yes…the flavor of these wings is exactly that – sweet and tangy with hints of Dr. Pepper soda. Outstanding.
I was happy to secure three bombers of the El Duderino at Hair of the DoG Bottle Shop later in the week and those bad boys came home for later use. Angelica also checked out some Nitro Marvolo Stout courtesy of Virginia Beach’s Commonwealth Brewing Company as a capper on what proved to be an impressive tour through Williamsburg’s drinking scene.
Being that Thanksgiving in Williamsburg is becoming a tradition for us, it’s safe to say checking back in with these haunts throughout its city limits will become one as well. We’ll be looking forward to seeing what’s changed and what’s stayed consistent when we drop in to these destinations upon our next visit. Until then, keep the good liquid flowing, boys and girls!