By Jeff Maisey
Five years ago, Barbara and Joe Curtis opened what was only the second brewpub in Hampton Roads.
Their decision proved insightful given the ever-expanding cast of breweries in the region.
At the time, nationally-known Gordon Biersch operated a full-service brewpub in the city of Virginia Beach’s Town Center corridor and continues to do so today to rave reviews for consistency and quality.
As a locally-owned, award-winning brewpub, the Joe and Barbara carved an ideal niche on Laskin Road within a block of the Neptune/31st Street Park at the Oceanfront on the famed boardwalk. They’ve been able to capitalize on tourists visiting the resort strip as well as local northenders.
Home Republic produces all of its beers in-house on a tiny two-barrel brewing system that would classify them as a nano brewery.
Brewing on such a small system allows them to be creative. For visitors sampling a flight and chowing down on a burger, the warm aesthetics of the dining room are enhanced with the sight of the brewing equipment on full view. It’s especially inviting for would-be homebrewers to contemplate the possibilities once they return back home to upstate New York, New Jersey or West Virginia.
As a kickstart to their 5th anniversary, Home Republic has expanded its alcohol menu to include craft cocktails to please every possible adult beverage taste. They’ve also changed the menu around and will rotate items based on the season for the freshest ingredients.
I recently bellied up to the bar to get the latest from Barbara and Joe. Here’s an excerpt from our afternoon conversation.
VEER: Breweries often unveil a brand refresh of its packaging and tap handles. For your 5th anniversary, the new appeal will come in the form of adding craft cocktails, a full-service bar, and new food items for a focus on seasonality, correct?
Barbara: Yep, absolutely.
We’ve spent the last five years looking at what our customers really want and are excited about, and three things came to fruition. One was an expanded tap line. We now have 15 taps of our own beers that are brewed in-house. The second was to focus on a more seasonal menu so we have a lot of new food options. Third is our expanded bar to include a full liquor license. Those are all now active as we head into year five.
VEER: Beer cocktails are trendy these days. How will your liquor offerings be incorporated?
Barbara: We’ve always had beer and wine cocktails on the menu, and now we can expand it by adding liquor to it. Our team is working to build it based on customer feedback.
VEER: Was liquor something added due consumer requests?
Barbara: We’ve heard from a lot of customers that love our beer and food. They might bring people with them that are more liquor-driven. So to be more welcoming to everybody and to support our amazing craft beer customers we wanted it for that.
VEER: Bourbon is hot these days amongst craft beer drinkers. Will you focus on whiskey or more on refreshing craft cocktails given you are a block from the Atlantic Ocean?
Joe: We have our Virginia Gold Rush, which is a Bowman Brothers’ small batch bourbon from Fredericksburg, Virginia. We want to showcase some Virginia bourbons. We want to incorporate the Virginia theme into some of our craft cocktails.
VEER: Because of your location in this resort city you get a lot of tourists during the shoulder season and summer months as well as the year-round locals. What trends have you observed over the course of your first five years?
Barbara: When we first started five years ago we were the first locally-owned brewpub (in Virginia Beach). It’s been interesting to see how it has all evolved. The scene has certainly changed. People’s palates for what they want out of beer have changed.
Because we are so small we can really do innovative things. Salted Caramel Ale is one that we’ve watched a lot of consumer demand for as a good tasting beer that feels smaller batched and local.
It’s amazing to see tourists from around the country come here and look for locally-owned breweries as a destination.
Joe: We get people year round that are local. We get visitors from up north in Pennsylvania and they’ll be fans of craft beer and look us up at the beach because they like to visit craft breweries when they are home.
VEER: What are your most popular beers with consumers?
Joe: Our Juice Sea Fruit IPA has been a staple for years. Our Helios Blood Orange Double IPA, Gladiator Session IPA.
I’d say the hazy IPAs are more popular now than the Brut IPAs.
Then, of course, our Cup of Joe (Coffee Brown ale) and Salted Caramel Ale do very well.
VEER: What food menu items are you excited about?
Barbara: Again, the menu is seasonally focused. One thing we’ve started that we can’t keep in is our Poached Pear Salad (Beer-Poached Pear & Roasted Butternut Squash, $12.59). We also use our beer in our burgers to give them a juicier flavor.
Joe: This is the first year we’re doing Restaurant week in Virginia Beach (February 18-24). It’s something our customers had been asking about so we wanted to do that.
VEER: You had two local craft breweries open second locations within close proximity to you here at the Oceanfront. Does having several local breweries operate so closely benefit all?
Barbara: I think what’s amazing about the local beer scene is that it’s all supply and demand. People are demanding more and more craft beer, and more and more breweries are popping up. I think the market can support that.
One thing that we really like is that we are a brewpub. We aren’t distributing right now. Everything we brew we keep in-house. We become a destination.