Tell anyone you’re travelling to Williamsburg, Va., and they’re likely to assume you’ve got a fascination with America’s past. After all, colonial Williamsburg, where the elected assembly that went on to found the United States first met in 1619, is celebrating the 400th anniversary of that inaugural gathering this year. For many of Williamsburg’s new crop of visitors, however, the date that matters most is 2012, which is when a change in legislation allowed the city’s breweries to start selling beer on site, sparking a spike in local options. Alex Laws heads to the landmark destination to sample some of the best spots to enjoy a pint.
Amber Ox Public House
“We are big craft beer fans so we wanted beer to be a huge component of what we do,” says Andrew Voss, co-founder of Amber Ox Public House. The brewpub has been a hit with locals and tourists since opening in December, 2017. “It’s unlike anything Williamsburg had seen before,” says Voss. The exposed-brick interior, with wooden banquettes designed for family-style dining, open kitchen and stainless-steel beer vats, deliberately contrasts with the area’s more traditional eateries.
Precarious Beer Project
“The beer took off so well that we spun the brewery into a side project,” says Voss about his next venture. This June, Voss and business partner Chris Cook will open a 10,000-square-foot venue featuring vintage arcade games and live entertainment. “I think people these days are forgoing the bar experience,” he says of his increasingly young clientele. Strung with Edison bulbs, Precarious will have a beer-garden feel and serve tacos from a shipping container.
Virginia Beer Company
Robby Wiley and Chris Smith met at William and Mary University and opened the Virginia Beer Company in 2016. The duo often hold pop-up events, including mini music festivals, with other breweries. “Brewing is a business, but beer is fun and we enjoy having breweries come together and share recipes,” says Wiley. Favouring an experimental approach to beer-making, the pair are fans of IPAs. Shutters of the old garage building roll up onto a huge patio where they host a steady rotation of food trucks.
Brass Cannon Brewing
“We are a malt-forward shop,” says Matthew Webb, owner of Brass Cannon Brewing. “Everybody’s gone hop crazy!” Webb’s flagship beer is called Anti IPA: “It’s heavier, smooth, with English treacle on the backside,” he says. Brass Cannon, which opened in 2016, is so focused on the craft-brewery experience that the company withdrew from distribution entirely last year. Webb says he hasn’t looked back. “We get almost a million visitors a year."
Alewerks Brewing Company
Alewerks Brewing Company is the leader of this craft-brewing pack. Chuck Haines, an army veteran who developed an affinity for different styles of beer while in Europe, opened it in 2006. “He wanted to introduce the beer drinkers of Virginia to what was possible in terms of style and creativity,” says Jeff Phillips, the brand’s marketing director. Recently, the brewery installed a three-and-a-half-barrel brewing system at its satellite taproom for small, experimental batches. “There’s more to Williamsburg than the tri-cornered hats,” says Phillips.
Built on 4-hectares facing the marina, Billsburg is the newest brewery to arrive in town and the only one to have a waterfront setting. Owner Dave Baum started brewing in his kitchen and his homespun approach translates into laidback lagers. “You see people making aggressive IPAs in town, then there are more traditional beers like Alewerks, and we’re up here on the water making our lagers.” Baum has 12 to 15 beers on draft, with the ability to brew double batches and half batches, splitting base recipes into different yeast strains and hops.
This seafood and Latin American fusion restaurant opened at the end of 2018 offering fresh oysters from the Chesapeake Bay and po’ boy tacos in a repurposed gas station.
The Estate at Kingsmill
A four-bedroom, 7,000-square-foot private mansion overlooking the James River comes with two SUVS for local road trips. Rooms from US$4,000 per night.
The Historic Powhatan Resort
On the site of a beautifully restored 1735 manor house, the Powhatan offers 144 newly renovated two-bedroom suites. Rooms from US$79 per night.
Delta, American Airlines and United Airlines fly to Richmond International Airport via New York, Philadelphia or Washington. Williamsburg is a 75-kilometre drive from Richmond. For more information, visit visitwilliamsburg.com.
The writer was a guest of the Williamsburg Tourism Council. It did not review or approve this article.