A Brewery with Groove, Man

CHarlottesville Brew Tours

In the modern era of craft brewing, Starr Hill Brewery might have claim to the deepest roots in Charlottesville. And yet, one might not think the haze of a sixties hippie rock band concert would be the most fruitful place for long lasting business plans, but that is exactly the setting Starr Hill owes to its existence. Starr Hill is the partnership between two friends who met following the Grateful Dead in the 1980s. After those early carefree tie-dyed days, these two friends set out separately to meld that adventurous and creative spirit with a more entrepreneurial pursuit. One member of this talented duo, Coran Capshaw, went on to manage a fresh faced musician named Dave Matthews and his talented young band and start Red Light Management. Respectively, Dave Matthews Band would go on to become one of the most financially successful bands in rock and roll history and Red Light Management owns nearly every music venue in town and is directly responsible for the many nationally known musical acts stopping in Charlottesville every year.  Capshaw’s influence on Charlottesville can be felt at nearly any live music venue in town, and the connection to Dave Matthews and his band’s free spirited music has undoubtedly played a role in the blossoming locavore scene, driven by a desire to enjoy “the best of what’s around” to borrow a lyric.

The other member of the two entrepreneurial friends, Mark Thompson, dove into the more “altered” side of business, travelling out to Portland, Oregon, and then to northern Colorado to immerse himself in the west coast craft brewery culture. As these friends stayed in touch over the years, ideas for a joint brewery and music hall began to percolate between them. In the late 1990s, Thompson and Capshaw began discussing a return to their mutual hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia and came across Virginia’s first brewpub, Blue Ridge Brewery which opened its doors and brewed its first beer in 1986, well ahead of the craft beer revolution. It turned out that the owners, William Faulkner’s grandsons by happenstance, were ready to move on to other things. Since this brewpub was located in the Starr Hill neighborhood of Charlottesville, Starr Hill Brewery and Music Hall simultaneously found its name and location, opening doors in the fall of 1999.

 Since then, Starr Hill has become one of Virginia’s largest and most award winning craft breweries, with distribution stretching from South Carolina to New Jersey, and out to Tennessee. The branding follows closely with those early musical experiences, and is conceived to be a “musical lifestyle” brand of beer. With beer names like Whiter Shade of Pale, Grateful Pale, Smoke Out, Dark Starr Stout, Northern Lights, and The Festy, that intention is certainly carried through. As that last beer name suggests, their beers are not only found in the various music halls of Charlottesville, but can also be found supplying the music festival circuit as well, of which Starr Hill is an enthusiastic supporter. As a result, Starr Hill beers can be enjoyed everywhere from Bonnaroo to Lollapalooza. And if you don’t know what those are, you might need to turn down the music, old man!  

 The close association between craft beer and independent music is an easy fit. Both are innovative and traditional parts of folk culture that have been at the center of communal life and celebration for the history of humanity. What Starr Hill has done is make that cross-pollination a conscious connection, thereby contributing to the growth of both the music and the craft beer community in central Virginia. In 2005, Starr Hill moved to its current location in the small town of Crozet, just west of Charlottesville proper. The move has allowed the brewery to expand to it’s current 28,000 barrels of beer a year production level, making it one of the most widely available and distributed craft beers on the East Coast.

 And just when you thought things were slowing down at Starr Hill, they heat up. In 2015, Mark Thompson decided to take a much-deserved break from the brewing business, leaving former brand and recipe development manager Robbie O’Cain to take over the reins as head brewmaster. Even with over 21 major beer festival medals, O’Cain isn’t resting on this significantly sized collection of laurels. Starr Hill has announced the opening of another brewery location in Norfolk, Virginia, ensuring that the reach of their suds empire will continue to expand. To fully experience the beginning of brew culture in Virginia however, no beer tour is complete without a stop at Starr Hill’s home base in Crozet. Come for the beer, but stay for the vibes, man!