South Street Brewery
The Steady Craftsmen
Of central Virginia’s young start-up brewing community, South Street Brewery stands out as the quiet, steady older brother. It is the oldest continuous brewing operation in Charlottesville, and its downtown location has fully established itself as a hub of both Charlottesville and University life. It takes a casually classy approach, and is known as a place to enjoy a cask-poured stout and lively conversation by the fireplace. This persona is appropriate to South Street’s age as well as it’s atmosphere, but is also traceable to the disposition of it’s master brewer, Jacque Landry.
Since Fred Greenwalte and Duffy Papis opened the brewery in 1998, South Street’s beer operations have been under the continuous direction and care of Jacque Landry. Landry came to Charlottesville from Colorado, where he had worked at the Oasis Brewery and The Great Divide Brewery, during which time he had enjoyed the camaraderie of a large and thriving community of brewers. He had caught a vision for just how different craft beer culture was from the typical american bar experience, and he was confident that Charlottesville would appreciate that difference. Coincidentally Mark Thompson, another brewer from the Colorado community, would move the following year to start Starr Hill Brewery. Together, they took on the task of enlightening a community that was hesitant to try anything outside of the Budweiser-Bud Light-Guinness-Bass regimen.
At first, the very idea that a bar would be handcrafting it’s own beer and serving it in house was a novelty. “It was unusual for us to only serve our own beer. We got questioned about that a lot when we opened,” says Landry. But Charlottesville had a similarly outdoorsy, artistic, college educated demographic to it’s Colorado counterpart, and Landry persisted. With Starr Hill across town introducing people to the idea of craft beer and “touting what beer could be,” South Street set about brewing from their simple four barrel system, and selling everything in house.
Papis, Greenwalte, and Landry all made great efforts to ensure that a visit to their brewery was an enlivening and enjoyable one. Housed in an old grain warehouse just south of the historic Downtown Mall, the building was renovated to expose old brick walls, hardwood floors, and timber beams, creating a warm rustic feel. To this they added a large two sided fireplace in the center of the room, a 100 feet long wood and copper topped bar, and cozy oversize booths. These efforts generated a space that values quality and craft as much as it does community and casual atmosphere.
Even before it had fully established itself, South Street was practicing that code of camaraderie among brewers which means mutual support rather than competition. For six years, Blue Mountain Brewery founder Taylor Smack worked alongside Landry in the South Street brewing space; laboring, innovating, and learning the craft. When Smack decided it was time to start his own place in 2007, the two breweries remained in close contact, and owner Fred Greenwalte invested in Smack’s venture himself.
A decade after it’s start, South Street’s goal of introducing people to fresh handcrafted beer and to new, rare styles has been met by the droves of new craft breweries opening their doors, and the ever increasing distribution of the more established ones. With each new brewery, boundaries of innovation and boldness are pushed further, with tastes and demand moving toward the intense bitterness of double, triple and imperial IPA’s. But in all this activity, South Street has continued to remain the quiet and steady older brother: encouraging and supporting the new ventures, while continuing in its practice of well-balanced, quality beers. Of the tendency toward extreme beers Landry says, “what I’ve found lately is people feel like they’ve seen that end of it, and now the more difficult task for a brewer is to produce more flavorful beers that are lighter….We work in that spectrum a lot.”
What began fifteen years ago with four fermenters fit snugly in the brick archways behind the bar remains exactly that today. When asked if South Street would ever expand its facility, Landry simply replied, “very unlikely.” It’s much more in their nature to spend their time supporting the ever growing scene, and remain on course with the good thing they’ve found.