By Pete Newell | Photos by Jessica shea
New Virginia Beach brewery offers craft lovers a great spot for fresh air and cold beer. Just watch out for the ghost.
Hampton Roads’ newest brewery is also kind of its oldest.
Back Bay’s Farmhouse Brewing Company held its highly anticipated grand opening in September. Located off Kempsville Road near Centerville Turnpike and surrounded by neighborhoods and shopping centers, the new brewery offers a serene, pastoral escape from the grind and bustle of one of Virginia Beach’s busiest areas.
A meandering driveway leads you to the centerpiece of the brewery, a picturesque white farmhouse. Built in 1912 by William Elliott Wood as a wedding gift to his soon-to-be-bride, Lillie, the home has been in the Wood family ever since.
Three years ago Josh Canada, co-owner of Back Bay Brewing Company, and Eddie Hewitt, a local developer, began tossing around the idea of turning the house into a brewery. Hewitt’s wife, Sara, is the great-granddaughter of William Elliott Wood.
Renovating the house was a massive undertaking. Maintaining the balance between preserving authenticity and making the modern changes required to turn it into a brewery was difficult. Construction delayed the opening for almost two years.
The result, however, is a flawless amalgamation of bygone-era nostalgia and current-day brewery funk. The original hardwood floors, bannister and fireplaces remain, and the tasting room bars are adorned with repurposed wood from the front porch.
Smoking rooms and bedrooms still have the same early-20th century feel, but are now sitting rooms. Hand drawings and sketches of the house, created by friends throughout the years, hang on the walls, as do original portraits of the family (a keen eye will be able to spot the intentionally fake portraits throughout the house).
The light in Momma Lillie’s old bedroom, now a storage space, is kept on 24 hours a day as reports of her spirit wandering the house have circulated throughout the years. “The house has such a presence,” says Lauryn Adams, Farmhouse marketing director. “When you’re in it, walking the halls, you can actually feel it.”
Customers are greeted with the phrase “I am drunk and you’re insane, who’s going to lead us home?” painted onto the staircase. Past the stairs is the tasting room, which features 13 taps (one of them nitro), and a large lounge. Upstairs is another tasting room and bar that can be rented out for private events. Tables on the front porch afford visitors the opportunity to sip a craft beer while overlooking the expansive 8.6-acre property.
The large open-air drinking area is a veritable playground for adults, with plenty of room for large groups, kids or dogs. Customers can sit at community-style picnic tables and listen to live music or sit around a fire pit to stay warm.
Given the setting, it makes sense that events will be a big deal for the brewery. The farm plans to host several festivals, including some originally held at Back Bay’s Oceanfront location. They’ve even laid the groundwork to open a restaurant on the property at some point.
The brewery itself houses a 15-barrell brewing system for beer and cider, as well as four 15-hectoliter foeders for a future sour program. Overseeing the brewing is the former head brewer at Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery (also a farmhouse brewery), David Achkio. A Great American Beer Festival and World Cup Beer medal winner, Achkio brings more than 20 years of experience. And while brewing both ciders and sours are relatively new to him, Achkio says he embraces the challenge.
“It’s nice to be given the opportunity to learn while doing your job,” he says. “I am most excited about the sour program in general. I am really looking forward to learning about the process and even making a few mistakes.”
The Farmhouse is the first brewery to offer both beer and cider brewed onsite in Virginia. While it does have a small orchard, it does not produce nearly enough to use in the ciders, so apples are purchased from Silver Creek & Seamans’ Orchards in Tyro.
The brewery will also feature a barrel-aging program, including a series of barrel-aged beer releases. Canada is also a co-owner of Tarnished Truth Distillery in Virginia Beach, whose barrels will be used to store the beer. They will also offer wine, which Achkio says were hand-selected from small growers.
About 1.5 acres of the property remains dedicated to an actual working farm, run by John Wilson, founder of New Earth Farm. After retiring in 2017, Wilson has taken the lead in maintaining the property. The brewery holds educational classes on farming hosted by Wilson, and recently began a series of farmer’s markets on Saturdays.
Achkio uses as much of the farm-raised ingredients in his beer as possible, and being able to see the crops used in the beer they are drinking adds to the connection the public has with the brewery.
“People get to see it, hear it, feel it, and smell it,” said Adams. “Then they get to come inside and enjoy it in a beer.”