If you're in Virginia and want to get a taste of some craft beer that proudly serves up the flavors of the region, stop by Benchtop Brewing Company in Norfolk. President and head brewer Eric Tennant, is whipping up concoctions that pay homage to the tidewater region that they call home. The real head-turner—their Mermaid's Scorn Tidewater Gose—takes full advantage of the Virginia ocean, using seawater and local oysters to create a brew that is sour and salty.
Benchtop held its grand opening earlier this month, rolling out a full line of beers, including an IPA, blonde, and grissette, all of which take advantage of Virginia-grown rye, wheat, and malt.
MUNCHIES recently spoke to Tennant, a food scientist with 15 years' experience and training from the the American Brewer's Guild, about Virginia's craft brewing scene, and why some people absolutely hate gose.
MUNCHIES: Your Mermaid's Scorn Tidewater uses some unique ingredients, like ocean water and oysters. Why did you decide to use them in beer? Eric Tennant: I really wanted to capture the essence of the Tidewater region. Oysters are very popular here and also delicious. Making dark beers such as stouts with oysters is not terribly uncommon. However, a lighter beer [with oysters] such as a gose is very rare, as far as I know. It just seemed like a perfect fit for the tart and salty profile of the gose. The ocean water was just a way to get sea salt locally and really add some a local flavor unique to this area.
How is the craft beer scene in Virginia? It is really starting to take off. It has been growing rapidly since 2012, when Virginia passed bill SB 604, allowing breweries to have retail tasting rooms. There are some incredible beers being made by a lot of the smaller microbreweries—the additions of Stone in Richmond and Green Flash in Virginia are incredible.
What is it about the local flavors of Virginia that make your beer so distinct? The hand-crafted malts from Copper Fox Distillery have some unique flavors that create a nice foundation, adding nice bready and spicy flavors. I think anytime you can incorporate local flavors in a creative way, you are making distinct beers that can't really be replicated in other regions.
Are there any other distinct Virginia flavors you'd like to experiment with in the future? Oh yes, but I can't give away all of my secrets.
Ideally, what kind of food would you like to pair with your gose? I think pairing the gose with a pungent bleu cheese would be fantastic. It would obviously also be great in some kind of oyster shooter.
And your other beers? I like pairing our hoppy beers with some rich smoked meats and some spicy dishes, if you really want to bring out some of the hidden complexities of the peppers being used.
Do you have anything to say to the writer who proclaimed last year that gose killed the craft brewing scene? All I can say is that not everyone likes everything. We don't want to be everything to everyone either. However, I would also say that kettle sours such as gose certainly have their place in the craft beer scene.
That being said, all goses are not created equally and the flavors need to be balanced. I challenge you to taste our take on the style, and I seriously doubt you will go away saying it tastes like sweat.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.