Looking up at the tap room board at Commonwealth Brewing Company, you may have some difficulty pronouncing the bilingual names of the beers. You haven’t had too much to drink; this Virginia Beach-based brewery just likes to have a little fun with its names—and with its beer, too.
Marshmallow Eyes, a wheat IPA and easy to say aloud, is made with an admiration for Eastern Shore fall wildflower honey, brewed with copious helpings of marshmallows and pours with a marshmallow haze in the glass (steady, eager drinkers, it’s tap room cans only). Taonga, an Imperial Hopfenweizen with New Zealand citrus dry hops, is named for the natives, when owner Jeramy Biggie trekked the countryside in a camper and learned more of the culture from the people. And if you don’t know already, go ahead and ask for the rather comical translation of Papi Chulo, an IPA that could be considered a centerpiece in their lineup.
Among the galore of selection of Belgian style ales, Burgundy is crafted with candi syrup and ruby red on the eyes. It’s best cherished when cupping the chalice in the palm of your hand, taking note of the nose on the beer and the mouthfeel evoking the dark fruit used to make the Belgian Dubbel. If your appeal rests in lagers, try Aureole, while still a Belgian-style pilsner, its alluring pale and bright aura was named in common with the halo circling a monk’s head. Otherwise, for something wild, Sophrosyne, named after the Ancient Greek concept, is an aged saison spontaneously created from capturing a wild yeast strain at the brewery.
The actual location for Commonwealth is as intriguing as its styles and names of its beer too. It’s housed in the former Chesapeake Beach Fire & Rescue Station in the Chic’s Beach neighborhood of Virginia Beach, sitting on Pleasure House Road, where dog walkers and bikes drift by and often you can feel a breeze from the nearby Bay. Not wanting to set up shop in a retail space, Jeramy and Natalie Biggie chose the location to be the face of the brewery, repurposing the storied station and initially gathering some emotional responses from certain members of the community with ties to its history. On warm days they’ll slide up the tasting room doors, paying tribute to the old firehouse in its heyday.
With a drink in hand, take a seat at one of their communal tables, made for the tradition of conversation and bringing together a gathering, with the confluence of beer, talk, storytelling and laughter as focal points in the deliberate absence of television monitors. The tasting room expands with what is referred to as the Corduroy Room, a namesake for perfect sets of rolling waves as seen on the ocean, as Jeramy shares that he will take his surfboard out when there is a swell. An interlude of light and shadow shade the lounge with bulbs glowing amber throughout the room. Finished wooden tables add to the refined tasting room experience alongside a matching shuffleboard for game playing.
Behind the scenes, Jeramy keeps with the brewery’s decorative and functional ordinance of using wood, fermenting sours and wilds in a trio of foeder vats and storing red and white wine barrels for sours that have been aging since the brewery’s grand opening in 2015. Here, the yeast works on sugars from souring fruit flavors of figs, blackberries, dates and cherries. A fine example of one of their aged sours is the Oud Bruin Penthesilia, which we thought to pair with a chocolate truffle last February.
Jeramy, who could be conveyed as living his vocation, has a background in naval engineering, and that ingenuity shows in his detailing of the brewing equipment. Cylindrical-conical brewing tanks (CCT) and an open fermentation tank are housed separately from the barrel room. The CCT is where most of the Commonwealth beers come from and provide the diversity of tasting options for all sorts of styles for every subjective drinker. This is where the hop happy ales and lagers are made, demonstrating the multinational brewing practices that inspired Jeramy from his times in Europe. In Germany for example, he would pull off the roadside to eat full German meals paired with well-rounded beers. It’s tales like these that are best shared with a glass and sitting a large table, much as Commonwealth provides.
Another stash of brewer’s barrels are stacked nearly to the concrete ceiling, these being the former barrels used for Woodford Reserve whiskey bourbon (Jeramy is a self proclaimed drinker of Woodford). Now they are used for Marvoloso, a bourbon barrel aged imperial chocolate stout and the seasonal Eggnog Riot, a bourbon barrel imperial blond cream ale, both of which are available on nitro and in cans decorated with a mirage of swirling colors, distributed selectively in the area. There are plans for a canning line, the next progressing addition arranged for Commonwealth.
With a tally of all the wooden tap handles, perhaps a flight provides the best chance to try generous pours of all the brewery’s offers. For what is neither a common brewery nor brewery tour with Belgian, farmhouse, sour, hop-forward, stouts, lagers, it’s uncertain if there is a catch-all term for Commonwealth’s beer styles. Maybe the best way to describe them in range and quality would be “worldly.”
Commonwealth Brewing Company is located at 2444 Pleasure House Rd, Virginia Beach. Be sure to see them collaborating with other breweries on June 3 at their second annual Common Grounds Beer Festival.