By Annie Tobey
Mike Isley has mastered the art of riding the waves with his eponymous brewery, so it’s only fitting that his second brewery will open in Virginia Beach.
Isley Brewing Co. opened in October 2013 in Richmond’s Scott’s Addition (before Scott’s Addition was the cool neighborhood for breweries, cideries, a distillery and other hip spots).
Mike Isley’s first wave came with the peanut butter porter. Among Isley Brewing’s opening day line-up, the Choosy Mother would certainly be a one-and-done. Or so Mike Isley thought. “It’s a great novelty beer,” he says of the brewery’s best seller, “just not one of my favorites. It always amazes me how much people like it.” However, he admits, “The public dictates what you do.”
As the beer scene has grown over the past four years, so has Isley Brewing. To the rugged but comfortable tasting room with coffeehouse feel, Isley has added a deck and patio behind the brewery, accommodating larger crowds and al fresco imbibing.
The brewery has gained a loyal following since opening. Besides the ever-popular Choosy Mother, noteworthy Isley beers include The Bribe, a flagship oatmeal porter; Plain Jane blonde ale; Raspberry Razzle gose; and creative experiments such as Root of All Evil ginger golden ale and Drunken Uncle hard root beer, now retired. Isley promotes beer blending, too, like the Choosy Mother with Plain Jane Blueberry to make a PB&J.
The Way to the Beach
In choosing Virginia Beach for his second location, Isley rode several currents, considering several markets, before settling on a destination. He was offered a building at William & Mary but was more intrigued by the resort market. Virginia Beach “seemed like the right fit.”
Isley’s new digs are in the 300 block of Virginia Beach Boulevard, a short stroll to the Boardwalk and Atlantic Ocean. “I’m pushing to open by Memorial Day weekend,” he says. “I’m hoping we don’t miss much of the summer window.”
In 2016, Virginia Beach hosted 15.2 million visitors (7.1 million overnight visitors and 8.1 million day visitors) with average visitor spending of $1,955. (Source: Longwoods International)
Josh Stamps, brewmaster at Isley Brewing since the early days, will oversee opening up the new location—setting the equipment up, getting it running and making tweaks.
Virginia law allows breweries to transfer beers between their locations. “We’ll have a different line-up in Virginia Beach,” says Isley. “Fifty percent will be the same, giving us the opportunity to try different things as well. We may do a few more genuine sours. We’re really loving our kettle sours and goses.”
Despite the prospect of plenty of visitors during peak season, resort markets slow down off-season. To compensate, Mike Isley plans on offering winter classes on commercial brewing, hoping to partner with universities.
Besides a second location, this new space represents another growth point for Isley Brewing. The 3-barrel system and 7-barrel fermenters from Richmond will make their way to Virginia Beach, replaced by a larger system for Richmond.
In addition, he says, “We have signed a contract with a company that will be taking us into the Outer Banks about the same time we open the doors in Virginia Beach,” initially on draft only.
Fielding requests from his distributors, Brown and Virginia Craft Distribution, “We will be adding a lot of packaged products in 2018 once we up the size of our equipment,” he says.
Mike Isley’s background is not brewing, but in running Winter Plumbing and Heating, his family business. When opening Isley Brewing in 2013, he told Richmond beer writer Lee Graves, “‘I’m in a business where I sell products that people don’t really want to buy,’ he said about plumbing. With beer, ‘people are spending their money and they’re happy.’”
He also told Graves back then, “We’re going to let our customers and clientele tell us what to brew next and how fast to grow.” Apparently, Mike Isley is riding that wave, too.