Virginia’s Craft Beer History
by Casey | Posted on August 22nd, 2013
In recent years Virginia’s craft beer industry has seen a major resurgence. August Virginia Craft Beer Month was born in 2012 with nearly 40 breweries. It’s now a year later and that number has jumped to over 60. Plus, we know of at least two more opening this fall. So when did this craft beer movement start in Virginia?
All the way back at the beginning of exploration …
According to BeerAdvocate.com, the History of American Beer begins in 1587 as “Virginia colonists brew ale using corn,” and then in 1607 the “first shipment of beer arrives in the Virginia colony from England.” Apparently the English beer didn’t last long, as the history goes on to reflect “American ‘Help Wanted’ advertisements appear in London seeking brewers for the Virginia Colony” in 1609.
Beer & Founding Fathers
Beer can be traced through Virginia’s history with asterisk moments like George Washington’s beer recipe and evidence that beer and ingredients to produce it were forms of payment to his Mount Vernon employees.
Or how about Thomas Jefferson? In 1812, a retired Jefferson successfully crafted his first home brew from local hops and malt. He had a fine teacher in his wife, Martha, a small-batch brewmaster during their early years of marriage. By 1814 Jefferson was malting his own grain in his own brewhouse at Monticello. Others, including James Madison, began to take notice and sent their staff to Monticello to learn the trade.
Today we’re all about buying and shopping locally. That’s not a new concept, as George Washington wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette on January 29, 1789, “I use no porter or cheese in my family, but such as is made in America; both these articles may now be purchased of an excellent quality.”
Handcrafted beer has been in Virginia since the beginning, though breweries have come and gone along the way. Virginia’s first modern day microbrewery was Chesbay – Chesapeake Bay Brewing Company – in Virginia Beach (no longer operational). Chesbay Double Bock won gold at the very first Great American Beer Festival in 1987. That’s quite an acclaim and a legacy for Virginia craft beer.
Though not old by my standards, Virginia’s oldest craft brewery is Legend Brewing Company in Richmond, which was established in 1994. If you’re quick on your math, you’ll note that 2014 will be Legend’s 20th anniversary. Mark that down and plan to pay a celebratory visit.
Suds on the Rise
Virginia is making frothy waves across the beer industry with acknowledgements from the likes of Travel Channel as one of the “Top 7 Beer Destinations.” Explore for yourself with our handy Beer Map, or check out our recent articles for inspiration:
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 Washington, George. “To Make Small Beer.” 1757.
 Thompson, Mary V. Research Historian, Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.
 Lucas, Ann. 1995. Adapted from an essay originally published in Spring Dinner at Monticello, April 12, 1995, in Memory of Thomas Jefferson (Charlottesville, Va.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1995). References added by Kristen Lochrie, May 2012.
 “George Washington to Marquis de LaFayette, 29 January 1789“ The Writings of George Washington Vol. 30:154.