Wednesday, February 7, 2024

A Loss for Virginia

The Virginia brewing scene is a poorer place today.

Do we still have around 350 breweries in a state with a population of 8.6 million, giving us a brewery for approximately every 24,000 people? Yes we do. Can you go in pretty much any decent sized store and get beer brewed in Virginia? Yes you can.

Still, the Virginia brewing scene is a poorer place today.

"Why?" I hear you ask...

Yesterday, Josh Chapman, owner and brewer at Black Narrows Brewing on Chincoteague Island announced that they have decided to close their doors - their final weekend in operation will be February 16-18th. You may, or may not, know that I wrote a profile of Josh and his brewery for Pellicle just last year.  It was also just last year that their magnificent malted corn lager "How Bout It" was awarded a Good Food Award - the corn in the lager being an heirloom variety, grown on the Eastern Shore, malted by Murphy & Rude in Charlottesville, and fermented with a yeast strain derived from a Chincoteague oyster. Beer does not get much more local than that.

My few hours on Chincoteague with Josh was a shot in the arm for me. Here was someone making beer in ways that deeply resonated with me, on equipment that wasn't state of the art, in a manner that seemed to encapsulate the early pioneers of craft beer. Josh's hops were mostly from the Eastern Shore, he only used Murphy & Rude malt, which is all made from Virginia grown barley, he did interesting things, like using pine needles, oyster liquor, and eelgrass in his beer. He supported his community by taking what they could offer, and returning it to them in the form of insanely tasty beer.

Black Narrows was a local brewery in perhaps the purest sense of the word.

In announcing the closure, Josh noted that "we watched our ingredients, equipment and labor costs increase. It was all too much". In the end, the finances of being a hyper local, community supporting brewery just couldn't sustain the business, when I interviewed Jasper Akerboom noted that "If you start a brewery, you are not going to get very wealthy". Prescient words perhaps.

Thankfully, the beer scene on the broader Delmarva Peninsula is not losing Josh entirely, and there is something new in works, and when it opens you bet your life I'll be trekking up past northern Virginia to get there - and how much I hope the corn lager will be part of this new adventure.

I am not generally a sentimental person when it comes to the business of brewing, but when it came to Black Narrows, I genuinely wanted them to succeed and thrive as their vision of what local, community, brewing means is something I can readily sign up for, where a company is not just a local brewery, but a brewery for locals.

1 comment:

  1. Also very sad to see them lose, but it's an exhausting business. I've watched a few of my local favorites come to an end. 3 Star, Astrolab, and sadly Mad Science in Adamstown MD.

    I'm in the DC area and publish a beer blog myself, which I don't keep as updated as i like. I wrote about Black Narrows in October 2022 when we spent a weekend in the area, as well as EVO and Burley Oak.

    Let's be beer pals.


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