Roanoke Railhouse Brewery Fresh Option For Beer Aficionados

The Roanoke Railhouse brew crew gets the job done.

by Melvin E. Matthews, Jr.

Some time ago Steve Davidson, a realtor with Remax Allpoints, worked with a gentleman in Roanoke who dreamed of starting a brewery. Davidson kept a lookout for a building that included all the necessary facilities for such an operation:  high ceilings, industrial gas, industrial electric capability, loading dock and drains on the floor to help collect water from processing

Later on, an old high school friend of Davidson’s, Mark Hall, (owner of Wimmer Tire Company) moved his business to the McClanahan Street site where the old Dr. Pepper bottling plant was located near Roanoke Memorial Hospital. Wimmer asked Davidson to see if he could find a tenant to occupy some of the building at his businesses’ new location.

“I looked in the back,” says Davidson, “saw the high ceilings and the loading dock and the drains on the floor and the industrial gas and electric, and then he pointed out to me that this building had its own [water] well”—an extremely significant component of a brewery as it would provide a continuous water  source from a known location.

This “perfect find” and his own interest in micro-brewed beers got Davidson fired up. The gentleman who had originally dreamed of a brewery was now out of the picture, so Davidson became a man with a mission: to convince someone to open a brewery at the McClanahan Street location.  “After a year-and-a-half of making that pitch and extolling the virtues of micro-brewed beers … I finally sold someone on the idea—and that individual was me.”

In January 2009 the Roanoke Railhouse Brewing Company opened for business.  Today, over two years later, the brewery has just announced its latest Summer Seasonal Beer:  a Blonde Ale described as “lighter, crisper,” with “a hint of citrus,” a brew the brewery expects “to deliver even more refreshment in the heat of the summer season.”

At present, the brewery produces what it calls “three distinctly different styles of craft brews,” with its product available in a wide variety of locations—Roanoke City and County, Salem, Vinton, Lynchburg, Danville, Rocky Mount, Charlottesville, the New River Valley—as well as stores in the Raleigh-Durham and Cary, North Carolina, region.

Davidson said, “We are currently available in Virginia, either in bottle, or on draft, at approximately 100 different locations. We made our first shipment of beer into the Raleigh-Durham area [on] March the 17th, St. Patrick’s Day—what a lot of people think is the official start of beer season.”

In the short-term Davidson hopes his company’s product can be distributed throughout all of Virginia and North Carolina.  Long-term, “We would like to be in the District of Columbia and possibly Maryland, parts of West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and probably South Carolina as well.  Beyond that, there are really no dreams or plans at this point because they would also entail either building another facility or moving from our current physical plant.”

Davidson describes the micro-brewed industry as more of a hands-on business, making a far superior product that caters to “a discriminating individual who wants a lot of flavor in his beer vs. the mass marketers that want to make a product, spend a lot of money advertising it and making it glamorous and having it out there, with a goal of having as little flavor and, therefore, appeal to as many people as possible by not offending anyone with having some character and flavor.”

That’s not what Davidson believes beer should be all about. “I like to think of the people who [enjoy] ‘craft’ beers as being gourmets. Throughout the country at this point we are seeing, in the larger restaurants, the fancy restaurants, the gourmet restaurants, the chefs doing pairings with different beers just like they’ve been doing with wines for years.”

In reaching his clientele, Davidson is relying on the Internet as “the place where the people in this country are truly creating the desire for micro-brewed beer”—that target market is often the 25-to-30-year-old professional. “You cannot communicate with these people in the traditional manner.”  Toward that end, the Roanoke Railhouse Brewery has its own Facebook page and publishes a monthly electronic newsletter—“The Platform.”

As to why the company has the railroad imagery as part of its name, Davidson feels that, owing to his age, “there is no finer symbol of quality than ‘R. R.’”

“We really wanted to keep the railroad nomenclature because, if you look at our label on the Track 1 – our flagship beer – I think it [describes] the core of Roanoke,” noted Davidson. “You have a depiction of a J-class engine, Mill Mountain and the Star in the background, and I think nothing says Roanoke more than those two unique properties.” Davidson likes to think that Roanoke Railhouse Brewery is another thing that says “Roanoke” these days.


For more information, call the brewery at 540.293.2423, visit, find them on Facebook  or e-mail Matthew J Machtay at [email protected].


Latest Articles

- Advertisement -

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -

Related Articles