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APR/MAY 2005 | REGIONAL | EAST COAST

Virginia Beer Cup
By Gregg Wiggins

The Virginia Beer Cup is back. Bigger and better, say the organizers, with a new venue — the state’s largest beer festival — hosting the competition to find Virginia’s best beers.

“The time has come for our industry to stand united to promote our craft,” wrote the competition’s creator, Mark Thompson, of Charlottesville’s Starr Hill Restaurant & Brewery. The Cup's revival will be part of the annual festival held on the last weekend in June by the Old Dominion Brewing Company.

Held once, in 2002, the Virginia Beer Cup competition lay dormant in 2003 and 2004. But the idea never died, according to Thompson. “What’s different this year,” he explained about the revival, “is we’re actually teaming up with an established beer festival, and we’re just going to be an added attraction to what is already being done.”

The idea of the award, as with the Governor’s Cup competition in the state’s wine industry, is to raise the visibility of Virginia brewing in general by highlighting the state’s best beers. “Virginia has a long history of beer,” observed the competition’s chief judge, Fredericksburg beer writer Lyle Brown, “and is, today, producing some world-class, outstanding beers of various styles.”

“Virginia has a long history of beer and is, today, producing some world-class, outstanding beers of various styles.”

One of the first construction projects at the Jamestown colony founded in 1607 was the building of a brewery. “As early as 1609,” noted Bly Straube, curator of the Jamestown archeological effort, “the Virginia Company of London was advertising for brewers.” Captain John Smith of Pocahontas fame wrote in 1625 that “some malt the Indian corne, others barley, of which they make good Ale, both strong and small, and such plenty thereof few of the upper Planters drinke any water.” Today, the state has more than 30 breweries and brewpubs, many of which have received honors in national and international beer competitions.

Beers entered will be judged using the style guidelines of the Great American Beer Festival. “Gold, silver and bronze medals will be awarded,” Thompson explained, “and a Virginia Beer Cup champion will be selected from among the gold medal winners.” The winning brewer will be presented with the Virginia Beer Cup trophy on Saturday afternoon, June 25, during the Old Dominion Beer Festival. Thompson also hopes to combine the event with a “Virginia Brewers Gathering” that would be the largest-ever conclave of the state’s professional brewers.

An informal poll of the state’s brewers found them overwhelmingly enthusiastic. “Awesome,” said Eric Plowman at Virginia’s westernmost outpost of craft beer, Harrisonburg’s Calhoun’s Restaurant & Brewery, in a typical reply. “I’ll definitely be there.”

At the other end of the state, the Tidewater, Brewmaster Andy Rathmann of Hampton’s St. George Brewing Company would “absolutely” be interested in attending and competing. “Although there are some very fine beers out there in Virginia,” Rathmann said, “we’re real proud of our beers, and we’d easily put them up against anybody else’s.”

“That sounds wonderful,” said Bill Madden, the multiple-medal-winning brewer and owner of Alexandria’s Founders Restaurant & Brewery in northern Virginia. “A great pairing of a couple of events.”

A “psyched” head brewer, Taylor Smack, of Charlottesville’s South Street Brewery, the previous winner of the Virginia Beer Cup, agreed: “It was real smart to do it in conjunction with the Old Dominion Beer Festival, because everybody goes to that.”

Gregg Wiggins works in public radio, contributes regularly to Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and has too many G’s in his name. He can be reached at greggwiggins@hotmail.com.

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