HAMPTON — To say 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 on Hampton Roads, St. George, located at 204 Challenger Way in Hampton, near the York County/Poquoson border, has helped revitalize of beer making over the past 24 years. -years.
One of the architects of this renaissance is retired St. George’s brewmaster Andy Rathmann.
Beginning in the late 1990s, Andy, along with St. George’s President Bill Spence, built the brewery from what began as a “brew-on-site” beer store in Virginia Beach to become the powerhouse regional electricity company 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 the premises.
Before Andy started changing the beer world, he was a guy who loved beer and went into it as a second career.
“In a past life, I was a defense electrical engineer,” Andy says of his pre-brew days. “When the Berlin Wall fell and peace returned, I thought I would offer my work as a peace dividend.”
He said he was looking to get into an industry where he could still make a product, something tangible that he could call a job well done. While trying to figure out what this product was, he read a magazine article about people opening microbreweries on the west coast. Bingo.
Coincidentally, at the time he had this beer epiphany, he happened to be living in Germany, considered by most to be one of the great beer-producing cultures in the world. Shortly after, he finds himself apprenticed at Weihenstephaner, a brewery that has existed since 1040.
Around this time, Andy cut his teeth learning the ins and outs of brewing, from harvesting the hops to extracting the finished product from the brite tank.
With a desire to talk about beer in his native language (English), he returned to the United States and earned a master’s certificate in brewing from the University of California, Davis.
In 1999 Andy partnered with Bill and together they started brewing beer for local restaurants from a facility off Kecoughtan Road in Hampton.
On Christmas Eve 2000, a fire at this facility forced them to build the current facility directly across from the Nasa Langley Hydro Impact Pool.
After a disaster that would have left a small business permanently closed, Bill, Andy and their team began brewing a baseline of English and German style beers such as porters, pilsners and English IPAs.
Soon, St. George’s reputation for brewing high quality beer spread to every corner of Virginia and beyond.
Andy maintains that as a brewer, he brews the beer he likes to drink, no matter what other people think. While there’s probably some truth to that, it hasn’t stopped St. George from pushing the envelope with innovative beer recipes either.
Take for example the Honey Meade Lager which uses honey from the brewery’s sight apiary for a unique blend of classic flavors.
In addition to selling beer, the St. George team has caused a stir by making their tavern a welcoming community destination. A place where beer drinkers can bring their family and get to know their neighbors.
“We treat people like family,” says Heather Gauthier, St. George’s Commercial Director. “Bill and Andy, they know people’s names. They sit and drink beer with them. They remember the names of people’s children. It grows over time and you create a family at the end of the day.
After two decades of helping build an empire, Andy has decided to hang up his brewing apron and retire. To help fill the massive void left by Andy, St. George launched the #wheresAndySTG campaign for 2022.
The campaign consists of life-size cut-outs of Andy at beer festivals and events around the region. St. George fans are encouraged to take selfies with “Andy” and post the photos on social media in the hope of winning prizes.
Andy says he looks forward to his emeritus status at the brewery and to getting out and enjoying the beer scene he helped create.