Friday, April 12, 2024

Paving the Way For Craft Beer: St. George Brewing Company

St. George Brewing’s Retired Master Brewer Andy Rathmann (right) along with the brewery’s President Bill Spence (left) and Business Manager Heather Gauthier. (WYDaily/Ben Mackin)

HAMPTON — Saying that the St. George Brewing Company is an institution would be an oversimplification.

As one of the oldest craft breweries in the Commonwealth and the oldest in Hampton Roads, St. George, located at 204 Challenger Way in Hampton near the border York County and Poquoson, has helped to bring about a renaissance in beer making during the last 24-years.

One of the architects of that renaissance is St. George’s retired Brew Master Andy Rathmann.

Starting in the late 1990s, Andy, along with St. George’s president, Bill Spence, built the brewery from what started as a “brew on premise” beer store in Virginia Beach into the regional powerhouse that it is today.

Together they helped change the American public’s perception of beer. They also helped push the Virginia General Assembly to pass legislation that made it easier for breweries to sell beer for consumption on premise.

Before Andy started changing the beer world, he was a guy who liked beer and got into it as a second career.

“In a previous life I was an electrical engineer doing defense work,” Andy says of his pre-brewer days. “When the Berlin Wall fell and peace came I thought I would offer up my job as a peace dividend.”

He said he was looking to get into an industry that he could still make a product, something tangible that he could point to as a job well done. While trying to figure out what that product was, he read a magazine article about people opening up microbreweries on the west coast. Bingo.

Fortuitously, at the time that he was having this beer epiphany, he happened to living in Germany, considered by most one of the great beer producing cultures in the world. Before long he found himself apprenticing at Weihenstephaner, a brewery that has been around since 1040.

In that time, Andy cut his teeth learning the ins and outs of brewing, from the harvesting of the hops to drawing the finished product out of the brite tank.

With the desire to talk about beer in his native tongue (English) he moved back to the United State and earned a masters certificate in brewing from University of California at Davis.

In 1999, Andy linked up with Bill and, together, they set about the business of brewing beer for local restaurants from a facility off of Kecoughtan Road in Hampton.

On Christmas Eve in 2000, a fire at that facility forced them to build the current facility directly across the street from Nasa Langley Hydro Impact Pool.

After a disaster that would have left a lesser business permanently closed, Bill, Andy and their team started turning a core line of English and German style beers such as porters, pilsners and English IPAs.

Soon, St. George’s reputation for brewing high quality beer grew to every corner of Virginia and beyond.

Andy maintains that as a brewer, he brews beer that he likes to drink, never mind what anyone else thinks. While there probably is some truth to that, it also has not kept St. George from pushing the envelope with innovative take on beer recipes.

Take for example the Honey Meade Lager which uses honey from the brewery’s on-sight apiary for a unique blend of classic flavors.

Outside of selling beer, the St. George crew has garnered a lot of fanfare by making their taproom a welcoming community destination. One where beer drinkers can bring their families and get to know their neighbors.

“We treat people like family,” says Heather Gauthier, St. George’s business manager. “Bill and Andy, they know people’s names. They sit down and drink beer with them. They remember people’s kids’ names. It grows over time and you are creating a family at the end of the day.”

After two decades of helping to build an empire, Andy decided to hang up his brewer’s apron and retire. To help fill the massive void left by Andy, St. George has started the #wheresAndySTG campaign for 2022.

The campaign consists of life size cutouts of Andy at beer festivals and events around the area. St. George fans are encouraged to take selfies with “Andy” and post the pictures to social media in hopes of winning prizes.

Andy says he is looking forward to his emeritus status at the brewery and getting out and enjoying the beer scene he helped to create.

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