Champion performance

Champion Brewing gives Richard Croasdale a classic taproom experience


Established in 2012 by founder Hunter Smith, Charlottesville’s Champion Brewing was one of the first breweries to open under the newly relaxed state laws on taprooms, and its original Charlottesville brewpub is still one of Virginia’s most beloved watering holes. Today, it also offers food, wine and cider, and hosts a whole range of popular community events. Even after a full day of beer, wine and cider talk, I can’t wait to swing by and share a pint with the brewery’s Sean Chandler.

The taproom is everything I hoped – homely and unpretentious, with years’ worth of weird mementos behind the bar and a small window through to the cramped brewery floor beyond. It’s half full at 6pm, and music mixes with laughter and stomach-rumbling smells emanating from the kitchen.

Since Champion’s production brewery and packaging line opened its doors a little way down the road, this place now mostly focuses on specials, seasonals and experimental brews, producing around 500 barrels per year. But it was here that Hunter brewed his gold-medal GABF-winning Shower Beer pilsner in 2015, which would prove to be so formative in the brewery’s development.

“Hunter always said he’d never make a lager,” says Sean. “He was very, very clear on that. But eventually he was persuaded that we needed one on the bar so he created Shower Beer… Now if you look at what’s on today, at least a third of them are lagers, and there are some really interesting styles in amongst those. We love all kinds of beer and want to have fun with it, so there’s always lots of variety, but it’s that lager that we’re probably best known for now.”

Aside from “making beers that don’t suck” Sean says the brewery’s main goal is to be as big a part of the community as possible. It’s freezing this afternoon, but apparently during the summer, the brewery’s outdoor space is packed with a full calendar of events. This includes the obligatory live music, but also more offbeat functions, like community ballet performances, and the annual championships of CLAW (Charlottesville Ladies’ Arm Wrestling). The latter attracts crowds of 400-500.

Champion also has a local restaurant, Brasserie Saison, which pairs its beers with classic Belgian (and general European) dishes. It even pours a best bitter and screens British football matches.

I’m just drinking up to head home, when the music dips and a booming voice announces that the trivia night will be starting in five minutes. Being pathologically incapable of turning down a pub quiz, I order another beer and ask a small group of kindly-looking strangers if I can join their team. My new pals are just here for a quiet night out, but – as is so often the case in the US – turn out to be a fountain of knowledge on the local breweries and craft beer in general.

I only hope this knowledge extends into other subjects, as the first round is on the history of American holidays, and the second requires us to count the US states ending in ‘A’ (go on, try it). Despite the fact that I am almost entirely useless, the Hopeless Romantics come in a very respectable second. By now of course, my body thinks it’s 4am and I am accidentally quite boozed, so it’s time to make a tactical retreat and prepare for an early start. It’s a big day tomorrow.

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