Bearded Bird Brewing brings craft beer to the NEON District

In the midst of Waterside District’s opening, the Virginia Beer Festival taking over Town Point Park and Grain drawing craft beer lovers to its rooftop, another brewery quietly opened its doors in Norfolk.

Bearded Bird Brewing welcomed customers to its Granby Street taproom in May after months of delays, finally giving the city’s NEON District its own brewery and marking the city’s seventh.

Nestled on Granby Street, north of Brambleton Avenue, brewer Joe Cloonan is cranking out beers and hoping to draw people downtown. “I think we’re at the point where small breweries are the norm, like it used to be,” he said, while brewing a vanilla porter that featured barley, chocolate, and two pounds of vanilla beans.

The scent of beer brewing wafts through the space, which seats about 100 between the wooden tables and large wraparound bar. Colorful, life-sized murals painted by local artists adorn the walls. A back patio decorated with string lights beckons guests to step outside through a pull-down garage door.

Bearded Bird Brewing’s colorful wall murals are done by local artists. Photograph by Chrystal Culbert

Cloonan harbors dreams of helping make Norfolk the next Asheville, North Carolina, or Portland, Oregon — well-established craft beer meccas that attract people from all over the country.

The Hampton Roads’ region boasts more than two dozen breweries, and has several more in development. Soon each city on the Peninsula and southside will have at least one brewery within its borders. “We haven’t hit the top,” Cloonan said. “People are starting to look at beer like wine, and there are a ridiculous number of wineries.”

Bearded Bird promises to differ from its competition by showcasing the best home-brewed beers. The brewery invites amateur brewers to submit recipes for a chance at a cash prize and a spin on the big system. It’s not quite the homebrewers’ co-op promised months ago, but Bearded Bird still considers itself “a home for homebrewers.”

It just wasn’t feasible to run it like a co-op, said Brittany Jones, one of the brewery’s owners. City regulations got in the way of the initial plan, so instead Bearded Bird will incorporate the concept into a more traditional brewery.

Bearded Bird owners, from left, Brittany Jones, Kathleen Ruehlmann, Scott Moran and Joe Cloonan. Photo by Chrystal Culbert

Each quarter, the brewery hopes to have a competition between home brewers. They’ll invite them to bring samples that can be made into all-grain beers (but no lagers or sours) and then allow the public to pick the top ones. Jones said they will have three on tap in mid-July.

 Bearded Beard joins a scene of artists, artisans, and other creative-types in the NEON District. The brewery hopes to honor its vibe by inviting local artists to display their work. The brewery is near Zeke’s Beans and Bowls, the new Commune, and within walking distance of Scope.

 In keeping with the area’s creative bent, Cloonan has created his own style of beer: the graf, a beer-cider hybrid, where cider is used in place of water. Actually, author Stephen King should get the credit. Cloonan read about the style in King’s novel “The Dark Tower” and decided to make his own. He didn’t realize until after some research that King actually made it.

The brewery has two on tap: a Belgian graf and a dark graf. They join a lineup that includes a hoppy wheat, a pale ale, a brown, a milk stout, an IPA, and an amber (the brewery’s most popular).

Each beer name is inspired by a bird, such as Walrused Woodpecker Wheat and Half Beard Heron Honey Brown Ale.

 Cloonan said the beer lineup will change based on popularity. “As we go along, beers will get voted off the island by new ones.”

Author: Robyn Sidersky

Robyn Sidersky writes about Virginia Beach news and beer. She writes a beer column called "Did Somebody Say Beer?'' for the Virginia Beach Beacon.

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