By Jeff Maisey
When Gordon Biersch opened its brewpub in Virginia Beach Town Center ten years ago, a much need void was filled for consumers looking for freshly brewed beer in the resort city.
Since then, of course, a sea change has occurred and the craft beer craze has exploded with nearly as much velocity as the Big Bang.
Gordon Biersch in Virginia Beach has been a model of success since Day One. That’s when brewer Allen Young turned locals on to the high quality German and Czech style beers the company is known for. Most of the local brewers have tapped into Young’s expertise to the benefit of all.
Young has since retired from the restaurant group, but today GB is in the capable hands of head brewer Adam Gurtshaw.
I recently posed a few quest to him regarding the July 20 anniversary
How has GB done in its 10 years in Virginia Beach?
Gordon Biersch in Virginia Beach still remains one of the top beer-selling breweries out of the 35 GB locations. We have consistently produced just under 1,000 bbls/year and the credit for what has kept us up and running has to go to the love and support of our regulars or Stein Club. I moved down here from the DC area last September to take over as head brewer and had heard some crazy things about how intense the Stein Club was in Virginia Beach. I was slightly nervous being a young, baby-faced brewer taking on a brewery after the beloved previous brewer, Eddie Leal, who was moving on to GB in Seattle. On that first Tuesday afternoon the bar area was filled with seasoned beer drinkers laughing, catching up and yelling “prost!” The Stein Club couldn’t have made me feel more welcomed. I’m still blown away from the support and friendship from our dedicated Stein Club.
When Allen Young was the brewer at the beginning of GB here in Virginia Beach we were only offering our flagship German beers and a few seasonal beers. One of the biggest changes happened almost two years ago when we moved to a rotation of many different styles and giving each local GB brewer control of what is on tap. I still like to stay as traditional as possible offering mostly classic European styles, but I usually have at least two American hopped IPAs to satisfy the crazy hop breathers. Right now I have twelve beers on tap that I brewed right here in Town Center. I always keep the original Export, Marzen and Hefeweizen on, but GB has opened it up for me to rotate the other nine taps and brew my own creations in my stainless steel jungle gym. As a drinker, the rotation of beers keeps it fun. You can come in once a month and have four new beers to try. As a brewer this is dream job. I tell people all the time that I got away with the scam of the century landing this gig.
What have been the 3 most popular beers brewed in Virginia Beach?
Our flagships are still our best sellers: Hefeweizen, Marzen and then Golden Export. Hefeweizen is our bread and butter lately. Even in the colder months I have to brew a new batch almost every two to three weeks on my 10-bbl brewhouse. I’ve even tried putting multiple wheat beers on to try and slow up the hef and give me some breathing room. I ran out of hef a few weeks ago for a total of 13 hours and the death threats crashed my email. Hefeweizen drinkers are very serious about their beloved beer. Historically, Marzen has been the top seller but with the lineup change letting me offer a rotation of different beers have taken away from Marzen sales but the Hefeweizen drinkers remain diehards.
Are Virginia Beach consumer tastes similar of those at GB locations in other parts of the country?
Before taking over here at Virginia Beach I was an assistant brewer at all five different GB locations in the DC metro area. Each location within even 30 minutes of each other had a different beer culture and different kinds of beer drinkers. Golden Export, our helles lager is usually the best sellers at other GBs. It is even strange to have Hefeweizen be so popular here. I think this area has a slightly more expanded palate and knowledge of European beer styles. For example when I brewed a Belgian Tripel I was expecting to have to explain what the style was but instead most of the time people were asking what yeast strain I used or if I used candi sugar. I believe having a lot of military in this area and people who have spent time overseas drinking the styles of beer I’m trying to replicate makes Virginia Beach a very special place.
What can you share about the collaboration beer you’ve done with Allen Young?
First off, I just want to express my admiration for the impact Allen Young has had on the Hampton Roads craft beer industry. I’ve heard countless stories of how influential and helpful he has been to new breweries here. He has an expansive knowledge of brewing and the beer industry. Also, he just a really nice guy. Someone should give him an award… or at least a high five.
I reached out to Allen a few months ago and we started talking about what we wanted to brew for the collaboration. I wanted to get as many of the past GB Virginia Beach brewers as possible to come for the collab beer. Eddie Leal, who was the brewer before I came down, is in Seattle and was not present for the brew but will be here for the party. Allen reached out to his past assistant brewers, Jimmy Loughran, who is the head brewer at Smartmouth, and Cory Maggard, who is a brewer at Devils Backbone. Good people and good beer. We knew we wanted the beer to be German and we knew we wanted to make it big. What we came up with was Barke Bock. A big and malty 9.4% ABV Helles Bock brewed with all Weyermann Barke Pilsner Malt. Barke Malt is a special variety of barley that is a part of Weyermann’s heirloom portfolio. Barke barley has almost become extinct because of lower growing yield compared to modern thoroughbred varieties of barley, but Weyermann is bringing back this barley because of its advantages in the brewhouse. It was my first time using the malt but not my last. Great extract, quick lauter making a nice complex malty beer. I know that I’m nerding out a little about malt…but I’m really excited to share this beer with everyone!
Can you describe the other beer’s you’ll tap on the anniversary?
Most of the beers at GB are relatively session-able. Personally, I like to drink some beers and still be able to wake up to brew at a reasonable time the next day. But 10 years is something to celebrate so I wanted to do some big ones. We are putting on five heavy hitters for the party.
Barke Bock -9.4% abv
Helles Bock. The 10 year collaboration brew.
Millennial Ignorance -10.5% abv
Belgian Strong Dark. Our 1000th brew at GB Virginia Beach back in November. Brewed with help from two of our original Stein club members know as “The Daves”
Barrel Aged Millennial Ignorance -11% abv
Belgian Strong Dark aged six months in oak barrels.
Eis Bock 10%-12% abv
Aged Doppelbock keg literally put in a deep freeze and the water freezes at the top leaving delicious high gravity beer at the bottom.
Belgian Tripel 9%
Reserved keg. A Westmalle inspired Tripel brewed last year.
Has the explosion of craft beer popularity had any impact on GB in Virginia Beach?
The craft beer boom has had an impact everyone in the beer industry. I do believe a rising tide lifts all boats but even friendly completion is still completion. There is no denying that in the past three years with the multiple options in the area for craft beer drinkers has hit our sales. This is the reason GB has moved to a rotation of beers letting the local brewer have their own identity in the beer. I love the competition, it makes me try and brew even better beer. The new breweries in the area keep making better and tastier beer. It is an exciting time to be here in the emerging Hampton Roads beer world. I know that because we are “corporate beer” most people look passed us. I’m surprised that most people don’t even know that we brew all the beer on site. Like we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on tanks as decoration. In recent years the industry has been talking about “what is craft beer.” I’ve heard opinions all across the board and, yes, I am a part of the big machine that is corporate beer. I think most brewers are just trying to make great beer and I support that at every level of the industry. I try not to let beer politics taint the taste of beer – good beer is good beer. At the end of the day I’m a brewer living in Virginia Beach making beer in Virginia Beach, and I’m going to let my beer speak for itself.