In the early 1990s, Charlottesville native Mark Thompson took his biology degree from James Madison University and moved to Portland, Oregon, ground zero for craft beer’s growth in America. The natural blend of art and science poured into the brewing scene inspired him to take up the craft. Working alongside brewers in Oregon and Colorado, Mark honed his own artisanal beer recipes.
An old friend looking to start a brewpub and music hall back in Charlottesville eventually lured Mark back to Virginia. In September 1999, they partnered to found Starr Hill Brewery out of a passion for great beer and live music. Named after the local neighborhood, the brewery shared its original space with the Starr Hill Music Hall. The historic storefront on Main Street was once home to the state of Virginia’s first craft brewing operation, Blue Ridge Brewing Company.
As the second oldest craft brewery in Virginia, Starr Hill has led the way as a pioneer in the industry, helping to lay the groundwork for the growing craft beer community in the region. Starting out with only a handful of regular employees, kegs of Starr Hill were delivered and sold by hand out of a van, including the milestone first account where C&O Restaurant tapped Amber Ale. We have been pouring our beers and sharing the love at live music festivals since the first Bonnaroo and FloydFest in 2002.
Starr Hill beers began to receive attention beyond Virginia, including some big awards at the Great American Beer Festival, World Beer Cup and Great British Beer Festival. In response to the growing demand, Starr Hill moved in the summer of 2005 from our small downtown storefront to a larger facility, once home to a ConAgra Foods plant, located several miles west in the town of Crozet. It was here where Starr Hill became the first production craft brewery in Virginia, focused on bottling and packaging beer to ship to around Virginia and beyond. The brewery and Tap Room are still based there today, nestled in the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Starr Hill now brews 28,000 barrels of beer each year and its growing selection of beers can be found across the Southeast region. After years of brewing, creative development and promoting on the road, Mark Thompson decided to retire in early 2015 to explore new and exciting opportunities. Brand and recipe development leader, Robbie O’Cain, was soon tapped as the brewery’s new Brewmaster. That year saw several other changes at the brewery with updates to flagship brands, including Northern Lights IPA, and a redesign of the Starr Hill logo and packaging artwork.
Starr Hill Brewery still remains independent and locally owned, proud of our accomplishments while striving to make creative and world-class beer every day. The Pilot Brewery & Side Stage in Roanoke is the latest expansion into brewing new beers and showcasing new music. We raise a glass to our fans who empower us to do what we love and to the next chapter in this story of bringing people together through great beer. See you on tour!