Virginia craft beer pioneer focuses on the people

Gina and Mark Thompson want the Brewing Tree Company to be an inviting spot for locals looking for good beer. Photo by Jeffery Gleason. Gina and Mark Thompson want the Brewing Tree Company to be an inviting spot for locals looking for good beer. Photo by Jeffery Gleason.

By Jenny Gardiner and Sashank Sankar

It seems that thinking small is the key for Charlottesville native Mark Thompson and his wife, Gina, who recently opened Brewing Tree Beer Company on the Brew Ridge Trail, in Nelson County.

Thompson, who co-founded Starr Hill Brewery (the second-oldest craft brewery in the state) nearly 20 years ago and has since sold his equity in that business, enjoyed growing that brewery, but has no interest in replicating any such expansion this time around.

“There is no canning, no kegging, no distribution,” he says. “We’re going to keep it very small and very artisanal and very across-the-bar.”

The Thompsons’ plan to keep it personal and local starts with a nod to the property’s former owners, Phil and Linda D’Ambola of D’Ambola’s Italian restaurant. They’ve named a Vienna lager PhilLinda, in honor of the couple.

“We want to be the locals’ home here in Nelson County,” Mark says. “It’s a more intimate experience at Brewing Tree. Even the names of the beers are personal—for instance, Sunshine is named after my father’s nickname for my mom. Chapter Two refers to our marriage.”

And they want to keep the food simple and easy.

“Lots of breweries have snacks like chips, which is fine, but we wanted a different quality of snack level,” he says.

For instance, Gina, a trained chef, is whipping up homemade sweet Bavarian mustard to accompany Bavarian beer pretzels baked by MarieBette Café & Bakery. She also created a few flavorful nut combinations for enjoying with their beers, including maple-bacon peanuts made with local Virginia peanuts and rosemary-garlic mixed nuts with freshly picked rosemary.

They also offer several non-alcoholic beverages, including Gigi’s lemonade, Bubbie’s Brew, a housemade root beer, and Blue Ridge Bucha.

The name Brewing Tree comes from a sports analogy for a “coaching tree,” Gina says.

“Mark has worked with and trained so many people in the craft beer industry. One of Brewing Tree’s missions is to always have a guest tap and a collaboration tap from a brewer Mark has trained or worked with.”

And the Thompsons are interested in collaborating on many levels.

“It’s our intent to give back to the community,” Gina says. “We’re not in this to make a ton of money; we’re just in it because Mark can brew good beer, and to have a place that is warm and family-friendly. We want to get to know everybody who comes in here and we think we’ve done that so far, building a small family.”

For this reason, they’ve implemented a Pints with a Purpose program: With the purchase of each pint, patrons drop a wooden slug into one of four rotating jars denoting a charity. Ten percent of each purchase goes to the charity of a customer’s choice.

The five-acre property includes a cheerful and spacious tasting room as well as ample outdoor space, including a wraparound deck overlooking the Rockfish River, a pebbled area for playing cornhole and other outdoor games, and a fire pit for when cooler weather returns.

The Brewing Tree is open 3-8pm Tuesday-Thursday, 11am-8pm Friday-Saturday and 11am–6pm Sunday.

Eat up!

The biannual C-VILLE Restaurant Week is back, and with it great deals from your favorite eateries around town. From Friday, July 13, to Sunday, July 22, 39 restaurants will offer three-course menus with prices fixed at either $25 or $35. Among those joining the mix for the first time this year are Restoration in Crozet, Farm Bell Kitchen and Renewal, both on West Main Street, and Maru on the Downtown Mall. One dollar from each meal will benefit the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which helps to combat hunger in central Virginia. For more details on restaurants, menus and reservations, visit (or turn to p. 73). Bon appétit!   

Food motivated

Rod Jackson says he started the Charlottesville Dog Barkery in 2012 because “[my wife and I] wanted to feed our dogs healthy and tasty treats, but we just didn’t see any places that accessibly offered that service.” A financial analyst prior to starting the bakery, Jackson says opening the shop was an easy decision: “It just made sense.”

The Barkery, located on Old Lynchburg Road, offers a variety of treats, from ice cream to more typical bones. The most popular item? Pupcakes, which are baked daily.

In addition to selling dog treats, Jackson partners with businesses around town, such as Pampered Pets and, come this fall, UVA.

But the best part of owning a dog bakery for Jackson is the people. “You’d be surprised how many people come from outside Charlottesville,” he says. “I’ve met people from across the world who just want to give their dogs a great treat. It’s much more fulfilling than my previous job.”

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