Porter Hardy stands in front of the old post office building, now home to Smartmouth’s Pilot House

By Jeff Maisey

What better way for Smartmouth Brewing Company to complete 2017 – a year that marked its 5th anniversary and a year in which it won Best of Show at the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild annual Virginia Beer Cup competition – than with the highly anticipated opening of its Pilot House in Virginia Beach.

Where most craft breweries expand their brand by opening satellite tasting room locations in markets outside of their home base of operation, Smartmouth has taken the unique approach of enhancing its brand within the same region.

Satellite tasting rooms are allowed in Virginia when an existing brewery brews a relatively small amount of beer at a retail location other than its core manufacturing facility. Part of the draw of such locations is the brewers use the small batch system to experiment with recipes that might one day be included in the brewery’s flagship lineup. For beer geeks looking for one-off, unique beers satellites have an obvious appeal.

On Saturday, December 16, from noon to 8 PM, Smartmouth’s Pilot House will take flight at 313 32nd Street in Virginia Beach, just steps away from the oceanfront boardwalk.

Smartmouth will join Home Republic Brewpub, located just a block away, in offering visiting tourists an opportunity to enjoy some local flavor at the source. Young Veterans Brewing Company will also open a resort strip location in the coming weeks. Back Bay Brewing has its tasting room and small batch facility on Norfolk Avenue, a few blocks from the ocean.

For Smartmouth president Porter Hardy, the location has sentimental value. The Pilot House building is a former US post office branch he used to frequent when growing up nearby.

And speaking of nearby, Hardy said he selected the 32nd Street corridor due to its close proximity to Virginia Beach’s North End residents, noting people in that neighborhood rarely drive to Norfolk.

“It is a recognition of how people in Hampton Roads live,” said Hardy. “We have never wanted to be a Norfolk-only brewery. We always wanted to be a regional brewery.

“Most of the people who come to our Norfolk location live within a few miles of there. We just felt like we weren’t hitting Virginia Beach enough. So, this cements us as that totally regional Hampton Roads brewery.”

For a quick tour of Smartmouth’s Pilot House, the main entrance will be from the rear loading dock area on 33rd Street. The city would not allow parking in front of the facility as it had for the post office.

The sizeable, covered loading dock will offer seating for patrons year-round thanks to its exterior heating system. Ironically, the outside space is as large as Smartmouth’s entire Norfolk tasting room.

In fact, The Pilot House has 8,000 square feet of interior tasting room and another 1,500 on the loading dock for a capacity to host 450 people.

The interior sports a large garage door that will open during warmer months. The Pilot House has a long, solid white bar with over 30 operational taps from which both experimental beer and core brands like Alter Ego Saison and Notch 9 Double IPA will flow.

The overall look is sleek and contemporary in keeping with the breweries image – ample modern, 30-inch medal tables, six lengthy walnut tables, Smartmouth-orange chairs and long, blonde wooden benches included. The increased seating and serving capacity is from lessons learned in Norfolk.

Large glass windows, similar to those used in Norfolk, allow patrons to view the fermenting tanks of the working brewery.

For the grand opening, Smartmouth’s Pilot House will serve a new barrel-aged cherry stout dubbed Rubidus Nox, a Belgian trappiest ale that tastes like a breakfast bar called Second Breakfast (taken from Lord of the Rings as hobbits like to have a second breakfast), and a candy cane stout.