Insightful Guide to Charlottesville Beer

By Annie Tobey | February 27th, 2017

A new book from Richmond’s Beer Guy


Many Richmonders know Lee Graves as “The Beer Guy.” Besides writing a beer column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and occasional BOOMER articles on the subject, he penned Richmond Beer: A History of Brewing in the River City (The History Press, 2014).

Expanding his geographical coverage, Graves’ latest endeavor sheds light on ales and lagers brewed by our neighbors just to the west. Charlottesville Beer: Brewing in Jefferson’s Shadow sets the popular fermented beverage in a rich historical context while providing a guide for contemporary visitors.

The book begins with a 1746 surveying party that included Col. Peter Jefferson (father of founding father Thomas Jefferson), continues in Colonial days, moves to mid-nineteenth-century German influence and proceeds up through contemporary breweries and beer-related businesses.

Graves’ historical insights provide intrigue – not so much detail to weigh down the presentation but enough to whet the appetite for more. The familiarity of Charlottesville’s best-known historical figures can make the Richmond reader feel at home. His careful research and his passion for history have uncovered some surprising information, fascinating tidbits that are of interest not only to beer fans but also to those who appreciate a fuller context of history. For example, though much has been made of Thomas Jefferson’s affection for wine and his attempts at viticulture, little has been said of the intellect’s attention to making beer. Graves remedies this, including Jefferson’s connections with a London brewer, Capt. Joseph Miller, whom he brought to Monticello. Graves also covers and credits Colonial women and slaves: “the ones who actually did the hands-on brewing.”

Graves’ research also turned up new information on African-Americans in Jefferson’s time, such as Peter Hemings, brewer at Monticello; enslaved hop farmers; and Hemings’ nephew, a free black man who grew and sold hops and who ultimately bought his uncle’s freedom.

The book’s present-day pages afford useful information for visitors to C’ville and the surrounding counties as well as stories behind familiar names and brands in Virginia beer.

In contemporary beer parlance, Charlottesville Beer is approachable, in Graves’ easy-to-follow style. It’s light-bodied yet complex, offering more-than-solid insight into 270 years of beer culture.

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