VIRGINIA BEACH — After nearly two years of agonizing anticipation, South Hampton Roads’ first cidery and the region’s first “farm-to-tap” brewery now has an opening date – Sept. 29.
“We’re relieved and excited that our opening date is near,” said Josh Canada, one of the owners.
Back Bay Brewing’s Farmhouse Brewing on Kempsville Road was a hive of activity Friday as people buzzed around inside the old farmhouse and outside on the grounds, working to get the place ready for business.
But Farmhouse won’t be just a brewery. Yes, they’ll be beer, sour beer, and hard cider brewed and served on-site, with two tasting rooms for sampling the product as well as a repurposed ice cream truck and a converted bread truck to help dispense it. There’ll also be wine from a wine list compiled by “wine experts.”
Outside, food trucks will rotate in and out Wednesday to Sunday.
Inside is a grab-and-go food area. Live music will be played on the front porch, with an outdoor beer garden, cornhole, bocce ball, ladder ball golf, picnic areas and sitting areas within hearing range.
There’s also the opportunity to rent the grounds for events, including weddings, which event director Terrin Pitrone plans to see done 15 times a year.
But the real beauty of Farmhouse Brewing and its centerpiece 1912 farmhouse just might be the acreage around the property: There grows a fig tree, apple trees, blueberry bushes, big old Bald Cypress trees, and a garden full of hops and other things used in the brewing of beer and cider, as well as some things that aren’t.
While the people worked frantically around the house, the butterflies, bees, and other insects (as well as some Canadian Geese) were busy helping out (or in the case of the geese not helping at all) by doing their pollination magic in the garden.
Two years in the making
Work started on the 8.6 acre property some 730 days ago, after Eddie Hewitt joined Back Bay Brewing Co. as a partner.
Hewitt had a vision to redevelop the 1912 farmhouse and property — a piece of his wife’s family history — in order to return the land to its farming roots, this time growing ingredients for the production of beer and cider. After pitching the idea to Canada, the two partnered to open Back Bay Brewing’s second (or sister) location, Back Bay’s Farmhouse Brewing Co.
William Elliott Wood bought the land in 1910, built the farmhouse two years later for the love of his life, Lillie Faye Smith — they married there one year after that.
The couple had a son, William E. Wood Jr., who eventually left the farm and went into real estate, later forming a little company known as William E. Wood and Associates — now part of the Howard Hanna umbrella.
During a tour Friday morning, Lauryn Adams, director of sales and marketing, showed off Lillie’s upstairs bedroom (where a light was always left on), and stories still circulate that “Momma Lillie” might still be hanging around the old farmhouse (in more paranormal ways than simply via a painting of her that hangs above a downstairs fireplace).
“It’s been a long process, but we’re really excited,” Adams said.
“Our idea is for everyone to experience this process from our farm to our taps,” Canada said. “We want our customers to have a chance to understand what we do and why it is so important to us.”
Hops, which you could say are pretty important in the brewing of beer, are not known to perform well in the sandy soil of Southeast Virginia.
However, after some consultation from a “hop specialist,” Farmer John (Wilson, the former owner of New Earth Farm) is very happy with how the Farmhouse hops are doing. Four different varieties are growing on the farm — row after row of them climbing high up the ropes of a “hop trellis.”
Not only will the hops they’re growing be used in the beer they’re making, from time-to-time for those who are curious, Farmer John will be hosting sessions that cover the basics of hop growing.
Some of the other things that are growing on the property will be used in the making of beer and cider (beets, peppers, apples, blueberries, etc.), but some are growing there simply as cover crops and natural fertilizers, or to work as pollinator plants.
“Everything serves a purpose here,” Adams said.
Even the sunflowers, which are not used in the making of beer (at least not yet) serve a purpose. They attract honeybees and butterflies, and they also make for beautiful accents inside the farmhouse, Adams said.
A small feature, but important nonetheless, is a small solar panel that rises above the pumpkins and gourds and watermelons and heirloom tomatoes growing in the middle of the garden. It provides power for a pump that sends water from a well to hoses that are used around the property.
Farmhouse Brewing also plans to host a farmer’s market that will feature their excess produce as well as that of other vendors and to make it open to the public.
New head brewer David Achkio, who has more than 20 years of professional brewing experience, will oversee the development of new farm-style beers, sours, and ciders, as well as overseeing the production of Back Bay’s core brands for distribution.
Achkio will work with a 15-barrel high gravity brew system and multiple 30-barrel fermenters for ciders, and four 50-hectoliter fodders for the sour beers.
Tours of the property, including the gardens, will be offered periodically.
South Hampton Roads’ first cidery
Hard cider has become quite popular across the United States.
“We’ve been wanting to do cider for years to be the area’s first Urban Cidery, as we are located in the heart of Virginia Beach,” Canada said. “When we started to look at the Farmhouse and the different apple trees on-site, we thought it would be a good opportunity to have cider.”
He said they’ll use the apples grown on the property as well as some from Silver Creek and Seaman’s Orchards.
Varieties they’ll use to brew ciders include Golden and Red Delicious, Winesap, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, and Stayman, which will help produce two different types of ciders in time for the grand opening.