W&M alumni business profile: Commonwealth Brewing Company

Commonwealth Brewing Company

Virginia Beach, Va .

Owner: Jeramy Biggie, MBA ’03

Nibbles: Food trucks daily

The enormity of the taproom at Commonwealth Brewing Company immediately impresses the visitor. Huge wooden tables and benches sit in rows on the concrete floor. The same wood paneling lines the bar. At the opposite end of the space, a built-in bench mirrors the long line of the bar. A painting of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge stretches almost as long as the built-in bench below it. Softly glowing lights accentuate the concrete spandrels of the ceiling that the same company that built the the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in 1962 poured. Garage doors open to salubrious beach breezes. You feel like you’re standing on a viking ship and a pier overlooking the Bay all at once. It’s old world meets new world; tradition meets modernity.

Jeramy Biggie, a structural engineer turned software developer turned brewer, fits the space. Biggie has the stature of a Beowulf-type character — complete with the prerequisite beard — and a tan, even in March, seldom acquired anywhere but the Southern coast.

“I was trying to create a sense of sophistication but also make it extremely approachable,” Biggie explains. “In Chic’s Beach where flip-flops are kind of a mandatory thing, we wanted it to be a nice balance: You’re going to have one of the best beer experiences you’ve ever had when you come here, but it’s going to be in a relaxed environment. You can come with your family, you can come with your dog, you can hang out.”

The building itself has a history of bringing people together. It began as a fire and rescue station and became a community hub. Children of the families who volunteered grew up there as they attended bingo nights and sock hops. Today, locals gather to share a pint or two.

“It was really a win-win for both of us,” Biggie says of purchasing the location. “The building needed a massive upfit, and I was going to make it a place where people came again.”

And the beer is worth going back.

Just like the building, the beer blends old and new. One of Commonwealth’s staples is a twist on a juicy IPA, a style that developed in the Northeast. They’ve named their take Wapatoolie; hazy golden goodness rings with notes of mango and subtle citrus peel. Despite the summer flavors, it remains a favorite throughout the year in Chic’s Beach.

“Our sour program has also been a huge favorite, our fruited sours in particular,” says Biggie. “Penthesilia and Hippolyta are our first two that we put out. They are Old Bruin styles, so a rich sour brown that we age for a year in red wine barrels. Then, we rack them onto one ton of dates and sour cherries for Penthesilia, and for Hippolyta, one ton of blackberries and figs.”

Hints of the California wine casks come through, particularly in the Hippolyta, which smells like a jar of granny’s dark fruit preserves. The sophisticated sours finish with a tart pop of fruit.

Biggie enjoys the creativity in brewing and experiments with a lot of different styles. You’ll find anything on tap from sours, saisons, and stouts to IPAs and Pilsners. Biggie has even used marshmallows in the fermentation process of a beer called Marshmallow Eyes.

“Marshmallows are basically a puffed, extruded sugar, so it’s not that exoctic of a thing to do. People just don’t use sugar in that form,” he explains.

The creativity extends to names. Marvolo, a chocolate stout with strong notes of coffee grounds and cocoa nibs, takes its inspiration from J.K. Rowling’s Tom Marvolo Riddle, more commonly known as Voldemort.

If you're in the area stop by, and you will definitely be impressed with the offerings.