The Eastern Shore of Virginia — a day trip away from the Peninsula — is where farm and small-town living meets the beach and fun tourist activities.
And this summer, the towns of Chincoteague at the northern end and Cape Charles at the southern end are offering new attractions for craft beverage lovers.
Walking distance from the Chincoteague tourist strip with nearby food vendors and restaurants, the family-run Black Narrows Brewing Co. opened in a former oyster shucking house at 4522 Chicken City Road this past New Year’s Eve, said operator Josh Chapman, who founded the craft brewery with wife Jenna. The brewery is the first to open on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in the modern craft beer movement.
“We feel we represent the town, the history and the culture of Chincoteague in a new way, a new medium,” Chapman said.
The brewery’s logo references the old swing span bridge in Chincoteague and the name Black Narrows refers to a water channel at the gateway to Chincoteague Island, Chapman said.
Black Narrows Brewing’s tasting room has 12 taps with plenty of seating inside, on the deck and out in the yard. Black Narrows sources as many local or Virginia ingredients as possible, including malted grain from Charlottesville.
Hops from Seaside Hops near Machipongo on the Eastern Shore is used in the Cockle Creek Scottish ale, he said. The brine from Chincoteague oysters can be tasted in the Salts beer. It’s a reference to locals calling oysters “salts,” he said.
Folks can bring food from nearby food establishments or can get oysters on the half shell, steamed blue crabs, clams, shrimp or other seafood from Little Bay Seafood Market, which shares a parking lot with the brewery.
And what goes better with beer than tacos? The popular Pico Taqueria at 6382 Maddox Blvd. is a quarter mile from the brewery and typically has a line, but folks can hang out and play cornhole out back. Menu items include tacos with fried local oysters, seared shrimp, carne asada or an all-veggie crispy cauliflower. Pico also sells street corn, dessert nachos and fresh lemonade.
Down the street at 6243 Maddox Blvd., the Island Creamery is another Chincoteague favorite that also boasts a line during the busy summer season. The establishment sells homemade ice cream made daily in small batches.
After crossing through town going down Maddox Boulevard, visitors can enter the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge to climb atop the Assateague Lighthouse for gorgeous views. Visitors may also be able to spot some wild ponies along Beach Access Road before making their way to the beach to relax or bodyboard in the Atlantic waves.
Horse lovers may also want to attend the 93rd annual Pony Swim on July 25, where the ponies are guided to swim across the channel from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island. The main public viewing area is Veterans Memorial Park at 7427 Memorial Park Drive.
On the way back to the Peninsula, folks can also visit a free public beach along Bay Avenue that’s great for families with shallow and calmer waters on the bay side.
About a third of a mile down the street from the beach, Bill Duncan said he opened the Cape Charles Distillery tasting room at 12 Strawberry St. the last weekend in May. The spirits aren’t distilled on-site, but in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Duncan said.
Visitors at least 21 years old can try or buy a bourbon, three whiskies — a rye, wheat and maple — apple pie moonshine or vodka. The tasting room also concocts signature cocktails using local ingredients, such as peaches from Pickett’s Harbor Farms in Cape Charles. Other cocktails ingredients, such as tinctures and simple syrups, are made fresh on-site.
The plan is to host food-pairing events, like a fried chicken waffle and whiskey tasting, Duncan said. Duncan fell in love with Cape Charles and has been living there the past three years. Folks can either walk or golf cart to the local businesses, he said.
“That’s the beauty of this town,” Duncan said. “We pay homage to the local community and the history here.”
Visitor Pepper Yount from Richmond has been coming with her family to visit Cape Charles for the past six years. She also loves the beach, local food and shopping. She was surprised to see a brewery and distillery tasting room new this year.
“We come every year and it just keeps getting a little bigger and bigger,” Yount said.
On the way out of town toward Route 13, brothers Chris and Mark Marshall opened Cape Charles Brewing Co. at 2198 Stone Road in a former hardware store on June 13. A grand opening is planned for July 27, they said. Mother Deborah Marshall is also a partner.
“We’re more than a brewery, but that’s our roots,” Mark Marshall said.
Some visitors may remember Mark Marshall as the former longtime police chief in Smithfield and the Isle of Wight County sheriff who retired at the end of February after 32 years in law enforcement.
The large facility hosts a separate 15-barrel brew system area that folks can see from the tasting room, which is also a dining area for the on-site restaurant. Like Black Narrows Brewing, patrons can take home beers in 32-ounce growlers — fillable, sealable cans. Folks also can fill 64-ounce growlers at Cape Charles Brewing.
The chef uses local ingredients, including oysters, clams and coffee from Eastern Shore Coastal Roasting Co. The brothers said they plan to use Eastern Shore hops, too. The restaurant is already becoming known for its burgers and handcut fries.
Cape Charles Brewing is scaled enough to produce beer for distribution to restaurants across the Eastern Shore and into Hampton Roads, but the plan is to grow slow and carefully, said Mark Marshall. The goal is to produce a range of beers for every palate but also experimenting, they said.
“I think there’s a big movement out there right now agriculturally,” Chris Marshall said. “It really is grain to glass.”
The tap handles in the brewery’s tasting room are replicas of the Cape Charles Lighthouse on Smith Island. The wood on the facade and throughout the facility — including the handcrafted tables and bar — came from a local sawmill down the street, Chris Marshall said.
Plans are also in the works to add a special events and live music venue in a former lumber building that would be called The Yard, Mark Marshall said. With 3 acres of road frontage, the brothers are also working to build out the yard with games. A path and parking lot for golf carts coming from town has already been installed for the locals, they said.
“We’re in a really unique area compared with other areas. This is a rural area. That’s what makes it so unique,” Chris Marshall said. “You’ve got both farmland and the beach together. That’s where I really fell in love with it.”
Where to go on the Eastern Shore
Black Narrows Brewing Co.
4522 Chicken City Road in Chincoteague.
For more information, visit blacknarrowsbrewing.com.
6382 Maddox Blvd. on Chincoteague Island.
Hours 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. For more info, visit picotaqueria.com.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
8231 Beach Road on Chincoteague Island.
Entry is $20 for a pass valid for seven days or $40 for a year.
The refuge has more than 14,000 acres of beach, dunes, marsh and maritime forest. Hours are 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. May through September. For more information, call 757-336-6122.
Assateague Lighthouse is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (closed between noon and 12:30 p.m.) daily from April through November. Admission is free to the lighthouse, but donations are accepted.
Cape Charles Distillery
12 Strawberry St in Cape Charles.
For more info, call 757-291-8016 or visit capecharlesdistillery.com.
Cape Charles Brewing Co.
2198 Stone Road in Cape Charles.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
For more info, call 757-695-3909 or visit capecharlesbrewing.com.