A peaceful farmhouse in one of the busiest areas of Virginia Beach soon will become a brewery
By Robin Sidersky, The Virginia-Pilot
Drivers hurrying along Kempsville Road near Centerville Turnpike can’t miss it: an island of rural nostalgia that, somehow, never got swallowed up by the sea of suburban sprawl.
A long, winding driveway leads to a white farmhouse, set back far from the road, that William Elliot Wood built in 1912 for his soon-to-be bride, Lillie, as a wedding present. It looks like a movie set that got plunked down in the middle of one of the busiest areas of the biggest city in Virginia.
Given the surroundings, though, what might be even more surprising for the property itself is what’s in store for its future.
It won’t be razed for a new subdivision. Or condos. Or a shopping center.
Instead, the graceful old home, where legend has it that the spirit of “Mama Lillie” still hangs around, will house the city’s next craft brewery.
Farmhouse Brewing Company is a partnership between Eddie Hewitt, a local developer whose wife, Sara, is a descendant of the Wood family; Ross Vierra, the president and CEO of Axis Global Enterprises, who will build the brewery; and Josh Canada, one of the owners of Back Bay Brewing, who also works for Axis.
“We’re going to preserve the family house,” Hewitt said. “It’ll be something the whole community can enjoy.”
The business will include the brewery and a tasting room in the house. Eventually, the partners want to host special events such as weddings. Down the road, they’ll consider opening a farm-to-table restaurant.
For the past several years, the house has served as offices for the real estate firm William E. Wood and Associates. Accounting and development services for the company remained there until earlier this year.
The Farmhouse Brewing partners intend to restore the house to its old glory, complete with hardwood floors, a green and white marbled fireplace, and a big front porch for relaxing with a beverage.
The beer-making operation itself will be in a 1,500-square-foot hangar, off to the side of the property, boasting a 15-barrel brewing system and 30 barrel fermenters.
For Sara Hewitt, the great-granddaughter of William Elliott Wood Sr., the farmhouse property is near and dear to her heart.
“When my husband was talking about his love of beer and he connected with Josh Canada, it sounded like a great way to maintain the property close to the way I have always known it,” she said.
But that doesn’t mean it will be easy.
“It’s a little daunting for me, personally, because I have so many personal family history moments,” she said. “Because it’s so special, I realize it’s better to share it with everybody.”
The capital investment is $1.4 million for the improvements and equipment. The Virginia Beach Development Authority approved a grant for $35,000.
City Councilman Bob Dyer, who represents the Centerville area, worked with the partners on the project before it was presented to the Planning Commission and then the City Council.
“What we’re looking for is to turn the Centerville District into more of a destination,” Dyer said.
One key step is improving Centerville Turnpike. The city plans to expand it into a four-lane divided highway with sidewalks and bike lanes. The project, to be done in phases, is currently focused on the 1.8 miles between Kempsville and Indian River roads. That stretch isn’t expected to be finished until 2021.
Dyer said Farmhouse Brewing can be a big part of the effort to attract more commercial ventures to Centerville.
Referring to the region’s craft brewing boom, he said, “We have a nice little variety, and right now there is definitely a market for those type of things.”
While several breweries have popped up in Hampton Roads in the past few years, including in Virginia Beach, Farmhouse will be the first in this part of the city. And unlike most of the others, which opened in industrial spaces, it will offer customers a more bucolic experience. They'll be able to roam the property, glass of beer in hand.
The farm, which once covered 500 acres, originally had cattle, pigs, chickens and crops, but the agricultural operation ended in the 1960s. The brewery plans get it closer to its original use.
The landscape already includes a blueberry bush and a fig tree, but the partners want to plant more trees, including apple and peach, for fruits that will be used in beer-making. Other brewing ingredients, such as hops, barley, and grain, may also one day be grown there. A farmers market is also planned.
The head of brewing operations will come with a few years under his belt at the state’s biggest craft brewery, Devils Backbone, which was recently sold to Anheuser-Busch. Cory Maggard, a Beach native and 2007 graduate of First Colonial High School, will steer the direction of Farmhouse Brewing.
Maggard first worked for Allen Young, the former chief brewer at Gordon Biersch in Town Center, before spending five years at Devils Backbone. He was the lead brewer and cask master until he left in mid-March.
In Hampton Roads, he’ll not only oversee brewing at Farmhouse, but also at Back Bay and Wolfe Street Brewing, in Harrisonburg. Another brewer will oversee the day-to-day beer-making. Maggard’s main focus will be the production of all of the beers, at a separate facility with a 30-barrel system, near the Oceanfront.
Maggard said he was drawn to the new brewery’s commitment to authenticity and the unique location.
“There’s not many places in Virginia Beach you can stand inside that front porch, look out and see green pastures all around,” he said. “I saw that and saw an amazing opportunity.”
Maggard has plans for rustic farmhouse-style beers, clean Belgians, and even sours.
Dedicating land for beer-making crops will require extensive planning, figuring out what to grow each season that can be used later in brewing.
“I want to be able to make a big, bold, interesting beer, but still be able to show that we can have nuances and subtleties in the clean, classic, approachable style,” Maggard said.
He also has his eye on making barrel-aged beers, using aged bourbon barrels and red and white wine barrels.
The beer scene in Hampton Roads has grown exponentially in the past few years, but Maggard doesn’t think it’s reached its limit yet.
“Anyone who is open to continually improving their craft and trade will excel in this industry,” he said.
The brewery plans to open in December or January. In the farmhouse, they’ll serve a wide array of beers – their own and Back Bay’s, but also coffee, tea and prepared foods not made on-site.
Customers will also be able to take home growlers and, eventually, bottles and cans. Farmhouse wants to distribute its beers to local bars and restaurants as well.
Hewitt likes to think her ancestors who lived on the farm would approve of the brewery plans.
“We’re not just real estate people,” she said. “We’ve been a family that has been in this community for generations."
“We want to help make this place better, one beer at a time.”