Box Carr Loaded with Pumpkins
By Jeff Maisey
Three years ago, Crozet-based Starr Hill Brewing Company debuted its Boxcar Pumpkin Porter to rave reviews and booming sales. Virginia’s largest brewery also made a smashing impact on another level – the pumpkin market.
“The first time we did it we made the commodities price jump a dollar in the middle of summer because pumpkins weren’t available,” said Starr Hill’s Mike Andres. “They said, ‘Do you really want eight tons of pumpkins?’ and I think Mark (Thompson) said something funny like, ‘Dude, you know what, we’ll get ten tons of pumpkins.’”
Starr Hill began producing craft beer in Charlottesville in 1999 when founder/master brewer Mark Thompson returned home after spending several years in the king of craft beer states, Oregon. The original Starr Hill brewery was located on C-Ville’s Main Street.
As the popularity of Thompson’s beer quickly grew – Charlottesville is a college town after all – he moved the brewery, in 2005, to nearby Crozet in a former meat-packing plant. The enormous facility was easily converted into a manufacturing brewery and had ample room for future growth, which has been proceeding in 2013 with numerous capacity enhancements.
“We opened new markets this year,” said Andres. “We’re in Philadelphia, statewide in Delaware, New Jersey. We’re looking to move south into South Carolina and Georgia. We’re hoping to come close to 30,000 barrels of production this year.”
Starr Hill has won a plethora of medals, awards and accolades for its “All-Starr” brand of beers. The “Starr-ting” lineup includes Jomo Lager, The Love Wheat, Starr Pils, Northern Lights IPA, Dark Starr Stout, Double Platinum Imperial IPA, Festie Amber Lager and Amber Ale.
Starr Hill’s seasonal beers are big hits for the company. This year Grateful Pale Ale was launched as a spring/summer season and sales continue to impress Thompson and Andres, who say it rivals the company’s top selling seasonal – Boxcar Pumpkin Porter.
As a “branding thing,” and extra “r” has been added this year to the beer’s name. From here on out we’ll refer to it as Boxcarr.
Boxcarr is a delicious, full-of-flavor English brown, medium bodied porter with a nice nutmeg and cinnamon finish.
“It’s still our current number one selling seasonal, but Grateful made a big push this summer and might surpass it,” said Andres.
Like most Starr Hill products, Boxcarr has a musical reference. Think Johnny Cash, lyrics to the Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man, Grateful Dead – even Boxcar Willie. Secondly, there is a freight train line running next to Starr Hill’s brewery.
Given the vast number of pumpkin beers available from nearly every large scale craft brewery – New Belgium is introducing Pumpkick as we speak – it says something about the style and its growing popularity with consumers.
“The pumpkin category will crossover any non-beer drink because of the fanaticism of people just wanting to try pumpkin beers,” Andres explained. “Maybe it is the sweetness of it. I’ve seen everyone – women and men – just crazy about the new pumpkin beer. You’ll see way more craft breweries in Virginia start doing more pumpkin beers.”