HAMPTON—The 1865 Brewing Company, which was finally able to hold its ribbon cutting ceremony on July 30, has added a missing piece to the puzzle of what makes Phoebus a destination. Sure, Oozlefinch is right down the road on the grounds of Fort Monroe, but what makes 1865 special is that people can walk around Phoebus, have a nice meal at a number of different restaurants, take in a show at the American Theatre, and stop off for a cider or glass of wine to complete the day. Now they also have a craft brewery option to add to the list that’s also in walking distance.
The name of the brewery comes from the newest national holiday recognized in the United States. Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was delivered on January 1, 1863, but news that slaves were free didn’t reach Texas until June 19, 1865—a day now celebrated as Juneteenth. It’s a nod to not only their brand positioning statement: “Freedom starts here,” it’s also in recognition that 1865 Brewing Company is the first Black-owned brewery in Hampton Roads and in Virginia.
“I’m not a risk taker, but being an entrepreneur, I sit back and gauge the opportunities and risks,” said William Comer, who co-owns the business with Rodney Malone.
“With any business, there is risk you have to evaluate, and sometimes you just need to pull the trigger. For me, the opportunity really peaked, knowing the background of Fort Monroe and also knowing that if I embark on this, I would be the first Black-owned brewery in the region, as well as being so engulfed in the rich heritage of Phoebus. I didn’t pick Phoebus. Phoebus picked me.”
The brewery, which is located at 9 South Mallory Street in the Phoebus section of Hampton, offers a variety of craft beers, some with historical significance. The “1865 Freedom Ale” is pretty self-explanatory. The “William H. Trusty Brown Ale” is named for a successful businessman and one of the first African Americans elected to the Phoebus Town Council in 1901. The “Caged Gorilla Double Stout” pays homage to the building the brewery occupies. At one point, it was a drugstore/pharmacy that apparently had a caged gorilla in the back as a way to draw in customers.
Beer is not the only thing the new brewing company is known for. They also offer a variety of coffees, chai latte, teas, hot chocolate, hot cider, and smoothies. Visitors can also choose from a menu of “Sharables,” flatbread pizzas, sandwiches, and sweets such as cookies and Key Lime Pie. There are also fresh pastries available.
“It’s not just about being the first Black anything,” said Comer. “For me, it’s the community and the climate going on right now—what’s going on around the world. We need a change. We need a breath of fresh air. So, 1865 is not just a brewery, it’s a meeting hub. It’s a community hub. It’s like a modern-day ‘Cheers’ where you can put your feet up, sit back, and relax. You might be here today for an hour, or you might be here until closing. But that’s how I look at it. I think we’re going to make Phoebus proud.”
Comer alluded to the fact that they will be bringing in entertainment in the near future, but he’s keeping it under wraps right now, “so I can give people something to look forward to.” He does promise that the events calendar on their website is going to be “flooded.” He also mentioned there will soon be a meeting space upstairs at the brewery as well as a cigar lounge.
“We just enjoy making great craft beers and seltzers, and our brewer Randy Jones is doing a fantastic job of giving people what they want,” said Comer. “We’ve got something for everybody, so we’re not getting caught up in the hype. We just make good beers and seltzers. That’s our hype. That’s our thing.”
1865 Brewing Company is open Wednesday–Friday from 9am to 10pm, and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 10pm. They are closed on Monday and Tuesday. For additional information, visit their website at https://www.1865brewingcompany.com/home.