Charlottesville: Beer City
Charlottesville residents, University students appreciate City’s rise to beer stardom
Throughout the years, the City of Charlottesville's main claim to fame has been the University. More recently, however, Charlottesville has been recognized as a great place to raise a family, to retire and to practise environmental sustainability. Now the City can add another selling point to its already impressive list - it is a great locale for beer and beer lovers.
Earlier this year, livability.com named Charlottesville number eight in its "Top 10 Beer Cities" list, citing Charlottesville's multiple locally owned microbreweries and their several award-winning brews among them.
The ranking mentioned Starr Hill Brewery prominently, which is a brand familiar to many 21-and-up University students. A cursory look at the company's website makes it clear this local microbrewery is serious about its craft beers.
Founder and master brewer Mark Thompson proudly discussed Starr Hill's award-winning brews, including the Dark Starr Stout, which won the gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 1999, the year Starr Hill opened. Most recently, its Jomo lager took home the gold in 2011.
"We're the largest and most award-winning craft brewery in the state of Virginia," Thompson said. "We've won nineteen awards."
Other breweries in the area include South Street Brewery, Blue Mountain Brewery, Devils Backbone Brewing Company and Wild Wolf Brewing Company. These four breweries, in addition to Starr Hill, make up what is known as the Brew Ridge Trail.
Promoted by the Nelson County Economic Development and Tourism board and the Virginia Tourism Corporation, the trail allows beer lovers to spend the day visiting each brewery. Since each brewing company has its own distinctive and critically acclaimed beers, the Brew Ridge Trail is a great way for microbrew enthusiasts to sample what the area has to offer.
Thompson said local culture has helped to support the breweries from the time they were fledgling enterprises all the way to their award-winning years.
"Charlottesville basically has the perfect storm of factors [for beer lovers]," Thompson said. "Some of it comes from the geographic location and from the University for having dedicated itself to higher learning and education... Charlottesville has a fiercely independent attitude, and the city has remained loyal to independent entrepreneurs."
Enthusiasm for craft beer and microbrews does not end with formal brewing companies. With increasing frequency, University students are independently brewing their own beer and mead.
Second-year Engineering student Andrew Heekin said his brewing experience has caused him to think more seriously about locally sourced foods and beverages.
"[Brewing] is a pastime that encourages you to get in tune with local food and honey," Heekin said. "It gets you thinking about your ingredients for your drinks, and what really goes into crafting a good tasting beverage."
Third-year Commerce student Arturo Esteve was also bitten by the brewing bug after coming to the University from Panama.
"There are the same kind of lagers [in Panama as there] are here, [but] when I came to the University I was drinking Bud Light and Natty," Esteve said. "Second year I started buying different beer with my roommates and I had this epiphany: There are so many beers, and I want to try them all. Between here and Panama I've brewed close to ten batches in a little less than a year."
Like Thompson, Esteve said Charlottesville's culture and economic opportunities are conducive to home brewing.
"Something that's really cool about brewing is that you can be really creative about what you put in [your beer], and getting raw materials is really easy,"
Esteve said. "I think brewing beer and being creative with it falls in line with Charlottesville culture."
A brewing CIO previously existed on Grounds, Esteve said, and he and his friends are trying to revive it by the beginning of next semester as an opportunity to bring together people of similar interests with different backgrounds.
"One of the cool things about brewing beer is that I can bring brewing back to Panama so people can have the same epiphany I did," Esteve said. "I'd like to open a small brewery in Panama."
The microbrewing trend appears to be here to stay, as Thompson noted smaller craft beers such as Starr Hill's are gaining nationwide exposure.
"From a global perspective, craft and microbrews are driving the growth of beer, and it's exciting to see the shift in market share," Thompson said. "The average 21-year-old is not drinking his dad's beer."
As with other national fads, it seems Charlottesville and the University are on their way to securing an enduring position as one of the nation's top cities for those who love beer.