(L-R) Coastal Fermentory’s Mike Reppert and Brandon Samuels. Photo by Diane Catanzaro.
By Diane Catanzaro and Chris Jones
“I’m goin’ to Newport News, mama, gonna catch a battleship across the doggone sea.” The Memphis Jug Band immortalized the ‘News in their 1927 toe-tappin’ ditty “Newport News Blues.” Today, there are more good reasons to go to Newport News, and more than just toes a-tappin when you get there. Newport News BREWS is what you will find tappin’ at one of the 757’s newest breweries, Coastal Fermentory.
Coastal Fermentory opened in December of 2020, the brainchild of three friends, Michael Reppert, Brandon Samuels, and David Lamb. Although young, this brewery is generating terrific word-of-mouth buzz due to the beer quality and selection. Seldom does a new brewery open with such quality right out-of-the-gate. While Mike, Brandon and David all have homebrewing experience, they also have strong engineering backgrounds, which is a huge asset for operating a brewery. They are also shipyard-friendly, both in employment history and location. Mike, Brandon and David are in the enviable position of being the owners and the brewers, meaning they are comfortable with both receipts and recipes.
The brewery is at the southernmost tip of Newport News, a stone’s throw from Newport News Shipbuilding and very close to the Monitor Merrimac Bridge Tunnel. Very close, like a minute’s drive, from the Newport News-side exit or entrance. If you come from I-64, take I-664 to the last Newport News exit before the Monitor Merrimac tunnel and it spits you out in spittin’ distance. While “downtown” Newport News is not yet a destination, Coastal Fermentory and their next-door neighbor Ironclad Distillery are leaps in the right direction. You will appreciate the free and easy parking for patrons of both businesses.
The first thing you notice when you enter Coastal Fermentory is light, and lots of it. The tasting room has huge garage-style doors that can open in pleasant weather. The tasting room seats around 50 people, with tables comfortably spaced apart from each other, and another dozen people or so can sit outdoors, enjoying the warmth provided by propane-powered patio heaters. The brewhouse and tasting room are right next to each other so you might see one of the brewers at work. Part of the tasting room can be closed off from the rest of the space for private events. Acoustic solo artists and food trucks are on the premises on the weekends for your auditory and gustatory pleasure.
The 10-barrel brewhouse is beautiful. It’s small but nimble, allowing them to produce a wide variety of beer styles. Mike told Chris that they are “learning the system,” seeing how it reacts to the demands they place upon it. The beer leaps out of here, particularly on the weekends, so Brandon gave up his day gig to be the full-time brewer to meet the growing demand for their beers!
So, what kind of beers can you find here? The most popular styles are India pale ales, fruited sours and stouts. If you are a hophead, your boat will float. On February 28, their web page indicated there were five, count ‘em, five IPAs on tap. We enjoyed “Opening Session,” a great tasting, light-bodied, 4.7% alcohol by volume (ABV) session IPA with a bodacious but approachable level of bitterness. Hard to believe it’s only 4.7% as it packs a flavor wallop! We loved it on tap and so some traveled home with us in can form. Or, get yourself a glass of “Hoppy Reflections,” an 8% ABV New England style hazy IPA that fills your mouth with tropical flavors of citrus, mango, passionfruit and pineapple thanks to Citra, Citra, and even more Citra hops, at 8% ABV.
They brew a rapidly changing series of “sours” with and without fruit. And, somewhat unique for a new brewery, they have foeders for barrel aging and producing mixed-fermentation styles. In mid-December we had a raspberry sour that rocked our world. The tap lineup changes regularly and the current fruited sour is the passionfruit “Unicorn Rave”. Catch it while you can! A collaboration beer, brewed with Brian Martin at Tradition Brewing, is “Unnecessary Risk,” a 6.5% ABV sour dry hopped with Citra, Galaxy and Mosaic hops. It was excellent, with a nice hop bite and a pleasant level of tartness that gets your attention without making you pucker.
They usually have a couple of dark beers “au fut.” We had a glass of “Dark Forms,” an 8.1% ABV milk stout, and found it to be quite pleasant. A bit sweet thanks to the addition to lactose, a.k.a. “milk sugar,” a sugar that yeast don’t eat during fermentation. Possessing a nice combination of sweetness mixed with roastiness, this will satisfy the dark beer fan.
Diane really appreciated the “Walloonery” Belgian saison, a remarkable beer with the requisite saison-yeast complexity, low phenols, and dry finish you expect from a saison but don’t always get. And, at 4.5%, it’s closer to what the original farmhouse saisons were like. And, you don’t have to be a farmer to enjoy one.
One of the more interesting things for you to try when you visit the brewery is the “House Jun.” It’s very low alcohol (0.5 to 2.0% ABV according to the Google gang), mildly vinegarish bubbly beverage that is similar to kombucha, and the bright snap this leaves on your tongue makes this a refreshing palate cleaner. This will keep your designated driver on even keel.
Want to take some Coastal Fermentory beers with you as you depart? Of COURSE you do!! They have about a half-dozen awesome ales in 16-ounce cans that you can hustle home with you to enjoy as you binge-watch plinked pawns and battling bishops on “The Queen’s Gambit.”
You can also get a can of Coastal Fermentory’s “Hazy Double IPA,” loaded up with Citra, Mosaic and Galaxy hops, in the recently released “Equinox Box,” the latest charity fundraiser from the 757 Beach Ambassadors. Twenty 16-oz beers from local breweries, 10 “light” and ten “dark,” that you can leisurely drink with friends as you celebrate Spring. For more information, go to this web site (757battleofthebeers.com).
“Well I’m goin’ to Newport News, gonna have a beer in each hand, I’m goin’ to Newport News, gonna be a beer drinkin’ man! Chris’ band, the Esoteric Ramblers, has a song also called “Newport News Blues,” but things will not be blue much longer as the town is catching up with other cities in the 757 as a beer destination. So head to Coastal Fermentory and have a beer in each of your hands.