Virginia Brewery Snapshot: Charlottesville’s Champion Brewing

Champion BrewingRestless and buzzing with tense, anxious energy, bordering on desperation, the characters written into the song lines of the Bruce Springsteen’s classic album release Born To Run cannot wait to break free from their lot in life and uncover new possibilities. So it’s not a stretch to understand why Hunter Smith, Owner and Head Brewer of one of Charlottesville’s newest craft breweries – and a lifelong Springsteen fan – could relate to their stories. During the earliest of Champion Brewing’s start-up days in early 2012, he repeatedly turned to those songs for inspiration, or for at least for a chance to commiserate, as he weaved through the endless hours and stress of starting up a new business, let alone a brewery. “Born to Run is my favorite record and kept me going when I thought this thing was going to kill me”, Smith says. Chances are good the record continues to get plenty of air time today. As anyone in brewing will tell you, it is a business which is tireless work, but is one rich with rewards. Hunter continues, “[Champion] is/was my idea, and is a labor of love.”

While Springsteen story songs might have kept Smith going as the brewery began, a different inspiration played into its creation. A home brewer and fan of American craft beer for certain, Smith also has an affinity for many “old world” beer styles, and began Champion in response to a perceived lack of those styles among breweries within the state. “One thing that inspired me to start Champion was a little bit of a lack in more experimental styles in the Virginia beer scene. I took a bet on coming out with some weird stuff and being unapologetic about sour beer and salty beer and whatever else, and people have been willing to play ball with us.” Among the beers currently listed on Champion’s website, there is plenty of evidence of these more fringe styles. A Berliner Weiss, a refreshingly tart, German style beer, as well as a Gose, a similar type of beer notable for the traditional inclusion of salt, are among the offerings, and were some of the first beers Champion produced. But Smith’s interest in beer styles hardly stops here, so hop devotees and the perhaps more mainstream craft fans need not worry. He is quick to mention that he is “probably most inspired by the stylistic boundary-pushing of west coast American craft brewing”, and one result is Champion’s Missile IPA, “our flagship and #1 seller and we’re very proud of it”. Current reviews on internet discussion boards note Missile’s wonderfully citrusy aroma and matching taste. Among many others, the brewery also offers “ICBM”, an Imperial IPA, as well as an Imperial Stout called Red Scare, both of which Smith refers to as fan favorites. Other beers which have made seasonally based or temporary appearances at the brewery have ranged from an oyster stout to pale wheat type ales, but regardless of the beer, the recipes and quality of the brews remain at the forefront of Smith’s mind. “We work hard to make standout examples of styles and I tweak and tweak and constantly lose sleep trying to make the best beer we can. That is all that matters to me.”

Champion Brewing Missile IPAIn the seemingly ever growing Charlottesville area craft beer scene, Champion is fitting in nicely. A collaboration with a friend of Smith’s, none other than Devils Backbone’s Head Brewer Jason Oliver, resulted in one Champion beer so far, and Smith has also worked with several local restaurants and suppliers in order “to make truly Virginia- inspired beers.” Distribution currently reaches Richmond and the Virginia Beach area, and plans are in the works for a larger production facility. “We want to cover Virginia and grow from there”, Smith mentions. As he continues to look into the future, his primary concerns remain focused on the Virginia craft beer scene in whole, and not just in terms of how his own brewery fits in. As a matter of fact, Smith is less worried about quality beers being produced by other in state breweries that might serve as competition to Champion than with the exact opposite. “My biggest concern is the growing scene and the potential ability for folks to make beer that doesn’t meet quality standards. My fear is not of competition but of folks making less than standard quality beer and hurting the Virginia or [overall] craft reputation.” It’s a concern that likely will serve Smith and his brewery well in the coming months and years. In keeping such things in mind, as well as with producing beers such as its Missile IPA and the selection of more varied, lesser known styles, Champion could very well be the next nationally known ambassador of Virginia craft beer.

For the moment, Smith and his crew at Champion are continuing to turn out more delicious beer, and within the walls at the brewery, I’m betting they’re turning up the music too. I asked Smith which Champion beer paired best with which Springsteen song. “I would choose an ICBM Double IPA and crank ‘Jungleland’ to describe our mentality right now, and wouldn’t trade it for anything!” Check out Champion’s website HERE

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~ by thebeerroad on July 9, 2013.

One Response to “Virginia Brewery Snapshot: Charlottesville’s Champion Brewing”

  1. Don’t forget Bedford COunty Chamber of Commerce Kegs & Corks festival on July 20 in Forest VA.  Held on the grounds of Apocalypse Ale Works (who just won the gold!)  http://business.bedfordareachamber.com/events/details/2013-kegs-corks-beer-and-wine-festival-1177

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