437 Years of Beer History
In 1516, Germany passed the Reinheitsgebot Purity Laws, which set the standards for "traditional" European beer. Sixty Eight years later, in 1584 English style beer makes the voyage on board the five ships that left Plymouth, England on their way to establish the first English settlement on Roanoke Island, in present day Outer Banks, NC. At this point, English colonizers witnessed the Indigenous tradition of naturally fermenting berries, corn and other local ingredients to make a product a more closely related to wine. It was a good thing, because it took until 1607 on board the Virginia Company's Susan Constant, The Godspeed and The Discovery (seen above) for two English brewer's apprentices on board, to make their way to the colony of Jamestown. They were on board seeking their fortune, answering a job posting that requested brewers to come to America in hopes to manufacture potable drinking water. Thus began the American production of traditional beer.
Marking the beginning of American defiance of European preferences, most of the founding colonists preferred the Indigenous fermentation methods of using local, fresh ingredients to manufacture alcohol. No longer meeting the German Purity Law standards, but making for one hell of a truly American tradition of using ingredients available to make unique and interesting craft beer flavors. American history, is the history of craft beer and it all started here in Virginia.
George Washington's home, Mount Vernon opened in 1758. The property had a vineyard, distillery, brewery and hemp farm making it an agricultural and vice epicenter located right off the Potomac River in what is now Fairfax County. As American Soldiers traversed Virginia back and forth from Williamsburg, they would often pass through Dragon's Run in Shacklesford, VA. Dragon's Run Brewery is holding onto this tradition, replicating an 1700's English style recipe, that was given to soldiers in leu of water. It has a unique, spicy/peppery taste with a very low abv. Not for the novice beer drinker, but definitely a cool piece of history.
With a resurgence of large manufacturers like Pabst Blue Ribbon in the mid 1800s Virginia was entering into the domestic import market. However, it wasn't till 23 years ago with Legend Brewing in Richmond and the now relocated ChesBay Brewing in Hampton Roads, did Virginia enter into the craft beer explosion happening on the west coast and other states in the country. Since then, we have around 290 breweries. With Covid closing many breweries, we are still in a golden age as new breweries are taking their place, such as Death Ridge Brewing (Now Open, Jeffersonton), 1865 Brewing (Hampton), Brewhaha (Elkton), and Hidden Wit Brewing (Mosely). We are expanding, but residents don't have access to 75% of the breweries out of their regional markets. We are changing this one brewery at a time.
After 437 years, Virginia deserves more recognition for it's contribution to the craft beer community. Below I have listed several links that discuss Virginia's historic role in craft brewing.
- The Story Behind the Craft: Discovering Virginia's Beer History
- Virginia's Craft Beer Magazine: Norfolk's History with Beer
- An archeologist, a brewmaster, and an engineer walk into a bar..
- Virginia Beer Enthusiasts Create Centuries Old Beer Recipe
- Virginia Beer Museum - Front Royal Virginia
- Beer · George Washington's Mount Vernon
- A Jamestown Tavern Site - 1670s - Historic Jamestowne Part of Colonial National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
- Brewing in the Seventeenth Century - Historic Jamestowne Part of Colonial National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)