At AleWerks, a bustling taproom reflects growth

WILLIAMSBURG – Well before becoming the brewmaster at AleWerks Brewing Company, Geoff Logan tried home brewing with his older brother, George. They had dispiriting results with a brown ale.

“It was awful,” said Geoff Logan, a 33-year-old native of Seaford, Del. “I still have a bottle.”

Later, George brought him a nice, chocolaty porter with a hint of smoke on the end.

George said he had brewed it.

“I didn’t believe him,” Logan recalled recently at AleWerks. 

“It was a neat spark. When you have that beer that’s really good that somebody made at their house, it’s eye-opening.”

That was in 2004 or 2005, when Logan, a guitarist, was living in Willoughby Spit with fellow members of the Norfolk band Rainmarket. When the band split up, Logan moved back to Williamsburg and returned to home brewing with George. After a year of serious brewing and beer education, he became the first employee at AleWerks, founded by Chuck Haines in 2006 at the former Williamsburg Brewing Co. site along Ewell Road.

Logan worked under founding chief brewer Mike Pensinger, now at Holston River Brewing Company in Tennessee. Logan then became head brewer.

AleWerks has expanded at the location while building a reputation for its core beers and other offerings, such as its flavorful Pumpkin Ale. Its small shop and tasting room has been significantly reborn into a taproom and gift shop that showcases the beer itself, merchandise and even hand-crafted growler carriers.

AleWerks, like a number of local breweries, has benefitted from the 2012 state law allowing on-premises sales and tastings.

“For breweries like us and St. George Brewing Company, some of the older breweries, we had to catch up and build out a taproom,” Logan said.

The taproom was hopping during a recent visit. The taps boasted the year-round brews – Chesapeake Pale Ale, Drake Tail IPA, Wheat Ale, Redmarker Ale, Tavern Ale, and Washington’s Porter – as well an advance taste of the brewery’s popular 

Pumpkin Ale, a seasonal, and Brewmaster’s Reserve selections Shorty Time IPA and Rapadou Porter. The latter is named for the Haitian unrefined sugar it features.

A number of guests had signed up for an informative, often funny afternoon tour and tasting led by Corbin Coronel, 23. 

Attendees included couples, friends and even tourists who sought out the brewery after tasting its handiwork at a local restaurant.

“Get a little closer,” Coronel said when the tour kicked off. 

“We’ll all be friends by the end of this.”

The tour featured a hop grown at the brewery for those on the tours, as well as a look at the 2,500-square-foot production facility. It ended back in the taproom with a tasting of several beers. Among those in the group were Dave Edwards, a 40 year-old Hampton man who is director of food and beverage at Lager Heads Restaurant at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

“We’ve got these guys down there,” he said, noting that local craft beer is a large portion of tap and bottled offerings.

Edwards and Yorktown’s Kyle Olsen, 30, had visited AleWerks before the taproom was expanded.

“I’m excited to try the pumpkin ale,” Olsen said.

“As soon as they release that, that one will be in the restaurant in bottles,” Edwards said.

“This is one of my favorite breweries, so far,” Olsen said. “It has so many tastes, and all of them are pleasurable. I’ve never been as much a fan of ales as lagers, but this redefined what ales are for me. It’s fantastic.”

Recent AleWerks beers include an IPA brewed with 50 lbs. of fresh cascade hops from Huguenot Hops, a farm in Midlothian, and an American wild ale called Lover’s Greed, aged for 18 months in red wine barrels from the Williamsburg Winery. Lover’s Greed should be available by the time this edition of HR Growler hits the streets.

Also on tap is food. The menu may include baked brie, bruschetta, chips and hummus, and other light fare.

“We’re trying to give people a little something to eat while they drink beer, but we don’t want to take business away from local restaurants,” Logan said.

Despite the growth of craft breweries in Hampton Roads, Logan said, the brewing business remains a friendly one characterized by collaboration and a more knowing customer base.

“If anything, the interest is higher,” he said. “With more breweries, people are more informed about craft beer and beer in general. When they’re more informed, people are more demanding.”

This leads to better and more ambitious beer, and, Logan said, the AleWerks would continue to try new things. The brewery’s ale-centric name aside, it may even tackle a lager down the road.

“We try to keep things interesting,” he said. “We try to keep regulars happy with core beers but also keep them interested with seasonals and one-off beers. There’s nothing worse than knowing what’s coming.”

By John-Henry Doucette