When my family and I coasted into Norfolk's Chelsea neighborhood on a recent rainy weekend and noticed the stilled streets, I assumed everyone used the gloom as a good excuse to stay in bed. Alas, upon opening the door to Benchtop Brewing Company, I found sleeping in is overrated. Everyone (and I mean everyone) was wide awake, drinking beer and downing brunch. The Benchtop buzz is strong, and I knew there had to be good reason. I refused to allow the standing-room only situation deter me and began shuffling through the crowd in search of some innovative suds.
Brewery Mood: Benchtop mingles well with Chelsea, a hip, industrial area known for its restaurants, culture and craft brew scene. The renovated old customs warehouse turned brewery only opened in late 2016, but if the crowds are any indication, people really dig the beer. On the day I visit, I share limited space with a mix of board game-playing hipsters, sleeping babies and families brunching on gourmet comfort food from pop-up Waffletina, who had set up shop in the production area. An exposed wood wall behind the bar and trendy string lights jazz up the modest tasting room's cinderblock walls lined with rustic tables. In brighter weather, I'm certain the quaint outside seating area opens up the entire space and provides a plum spot to relax, drink and people watch.
Tasting Notes: I came to Benchtop expecting to encounter one-of-a-kind offerings and did not leave disappointed. The brewers here are known for taking risks, making lesser-known beer styles popular and, most refreshing, infusing their creations with local ingredients. Knowing all of this, my husband and I opted for two of the four-beer samplers ($8 each or $2 per sample) in order to taste the entire tap list. Standouts were Piquant, a carrot, chili pepper gose; Long Funky Streaks, a grisette aged for 9 months in white wine barrels; and, my favorite, Wicked Lobstrosity, a porter blended with coffee beans from Lynnhaven Coffee Company, coconut, chocolate and malt from Copper Fox Distillery.
Favorite Finds: Regulars like Waffletina, Redwood Smoke Shack, Voodoo Pies, Belly Full Mobile Kitchen and many more serve up satisfying sustenance to complement the beer. Of course, Benchtop welcomes patrons to bring food in as well, especially from nearby gems like The Bakehouse at Chelsea or Torch Bistro (hello glorious pizza and burgers). And don't be shy about bringing the kids. While you imbibe, encourage them to scamper off to a dedicated children's corner in the back complete with a giant Jenga set and Lego table.
Hours and Events: Tasting room is open year-round on Monday–Thursday 5–9 p.m.; Friday 3–10 p.m.; Saturday noon–10 p.m.; and Sunday noon–7 p.m. Check out the monthly trivia night, frequent release parties and game watching gatherings, and a variety of other events such as a CrossFit Sunday workout and plenty more. Check the Facebook calendar for a full schedule of hoppy happenings.
1129 Boissevain Ave., Norfolk, 757-321-9482, BenchtopBrewing.com