The State of American Craft Beer – Virginia

With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only made sense for us to create a series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.

We’ve been on this journey for over two-and-a-half years now and have managed to alphabetically drink our way to the 46th state on our list, Old Dominion, Virginia. The state’s nickname comes from it’s establishment as the first English colony in North America. Virginia is also known as the “Mother of Presidents,” having had 8 presidents born within it’s borders, more than any other state.

Virginia ranks 12th in total population (roughly 8.4 million residents), ranks 14th in population density, and houses 164 craft breweries as of 2016 (an increase of 124 since 2011) who are represented by the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild. The state ranks 13th in total breweries (including D.C.) and 20th in breweries per capita as of 2016, according to the Brewers Association.


History

It should be no surprise that the first settlers in the New World were the first to brew in Virginia. As early as 1587, beer was brewed with corn by early colonists, not only as a means of levity, but also as safe alternative to water consumption. Twenty years later, the first shipments of beer arrived in Virginia from England, the same year the first colony was established at Jamestown.

While it’s no secret that George Washington had his own recipe for beer, lesser known is that beer and the ingredients for making it were used as a means of paying his employees at Mount Vernon. Taught by his wife Martha, Thomas Jefferson concocted his own brew at Monticello in 1812, and within two years he was even malting his own grain.

The state’s first “dedicated brewery,” Westham Foundry, resided on the banks of the James River in Richmond, until 1781 when it was destroyed during the American Revolution. The city would foster a golden age of brewing until 1880, likely ending as a result of the Panic of 1873. The most dominant brewery in the state before prohibition was the Robert Portner Brewery (aka Tivoli Brewery) of Alexandria, founded in 1869. Not only was Portner elected the first president of the United States Brewing Association in 1879, his brewery was the largest in the Southeastern states during it’s time. Closing 3 years prior to Prohibition, his great-great granddaughters last year revived the family tradition, opening the Portner Brewhouse.

The next local and independent brewery to open in the state would be Chesapeake Bay Brewing (Chesbay for short) in Virginia Beach, winning the state’s first GABF medal in 1987. The original brewery ultimately shut down, making the oldest brewery and brewpub in the state Legend Brewery, opening in Richmond in 1994. As of 2015, Starr Hill Brewery (Crozet, VA) was the largest brewer in the state, but may have already been surpassed by AB-InBev’s Devil’s Backbone or soon surpassed by the recently opened Ballast Point satellite or that of Deschutes who will begin brewing in Roanoke a few years from now.

Virginia brewers have captured 126 GABF medals through the years.


6 Virginia Breweries We Recommend and You Should Check Out

AleWerks Brewing (Williamsburg) – Opened in 2006 by Chuck Hayes, he brought on Geoff Logan as his head-brewer who has since taken over operations as of 2015. The thirteen beers available in their taproom, which can be found on the north end of Williamsburg, feature their popular Coffeehouse Stout and flagships Chesapeake Pale, Paycheck Porter and Tavern Brown. If you can get your hands on one of their Milk Stouts or Double IPAs, you’ll be in for a treat.

Aslin Beer (Herndon) – Only in existence since 2015, owners Andrew, Kai, and Richard have in short order turned Aslin into one of the best rated brewers in the state. During that time they’ve created over 130 distinct beers and are known best for their single and double IPAs such as Master of Karate and Orange Starfish. Aslin is so focused on small batch beers, they don’t can or bottle their creations, only selling them on draft or via growler/crowler from their taproom. They’re definitely worth the visit.

Hardywood Park Craft Brewery (Richmond, Charlottesville) – One of the most established brewers on this young list and a 2 time GABF medalist to boot, Hardywood has been turning heads in RVA since 2011. Founded by lifelong friends Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh, they’ve just recently expanded into a “Pilot Brewery & Taproom” in Charlottesville. Over the past 6 years they’ve created over 160 unique brews, including a variety of big Belgian ales, their top rated Trickery Milk Stout and popular flagships like their Singel Belgian Pale.

Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery (Goochland) – Named after the creek that runs through their 290 acre farmland, a place where “wildlife stopped to drink from it’s nourishing waters,” Lickinghole Creek has prided itself in being a water-conscious and philanthropic entity since 2013. Since their opening they’ve created over 90 different brands and are known for their seasonal selection of imperial stouts and Belgian specialties. Found throughout Virginia in 750ml bottles, LCC is worth seeking out.

The Answer Brewpub (Richmond) – Opening their doors not quite 3 years ago, The Answer has quickly become one of the most prolific and top-rated brewers in the state. Known best for their IPA/DIPAs, Imperial Stouts and German kettle sours, they’ve already created over 230 unique brews. Founder An Bui, already established in town with his family’s popular Vietnamese restaurant Mekong, has set up this brewpub with 56 taps and a stage for live performances. Not to be missed when visiting RVA.

The Veil Brewing (Richmond) – Located in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood of Richmond, they’ve only been in existence since the summer of 2015 and just opened their taproom a little over a year ago. Founded by Matt Tarpey, Dustin Durrance and Dave Michelow, they have quickly become one of the most in-demand brewers on the East Coast. Best known for their hop-forward hazy IPAs, Pales and DIPAs, you will always find their offerings, over 170 to date, in 16 oz four-packs of cans. Definitely seek them out, early and often.


If you’re looking for more brewers in Virginia, check out this Map of Virginia Breweries.

About Warren Wills

Warren is the former Assistant Editor & Portland Correspondent for American Craft Beer. Creator of "The State of American Craft Beer" series, he now maintains his own site at craftbeerscribe.com.
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