A lot of people ask us about our name. We chose Random Row Brewing Company for several reasons. First, and foremost, it pays homage to the neighborhood roughly contained between West Main, 5th Street, Preston Ave, and 4th Street, about one block away from us. This neighborhood has a fascinating, but sad history, and is familiar to families who have lived in Charlottesville for more than one generation. Rather than try and paraphrase (and inadvertently distort the truth, which is worth re-telling accurately), we’d rather send you directly to some worthwhile source(s). The most complete accounts of the history of the Random Row, which would eventually become Vinegar Hill before it was essentially bulldozed to make way for the Downtown Mall, can be found at the Vinegar Hill Project website, on this UVA Website and also at UVA’s Visual Eyes Project. For an even more complete account, talk to people who’ve lived here a while – it wasn’t that long ago this happened.
Aerial Map of Random Row / Vinegar Hill from 1954. Notice that virtually all of this has been destroyed.
Four houses, long gone, located about three blocks from where our brewery is now located.
Aerial Map of Random Row / Vinegar Hill with Jefferson School visible. You can still see the Lewis & Clark and Sacagawea Statue, but that’s about all that is the same. Houses and/or small businesses occupied most of what would go on to become the Federal Courthouse, the Omni, the new Marriott Residence Inn on West Main, the Staples Parking Lot, McDonalds, etc.
There are a couple of other things we like about Random Row. One is the alliteration. Everyone loves alliteration (and assonance). We think the name Random Row will make our high school English teachers proud. Another is the allusion to numbers and randomness. As mentioned previously, the majority of our founders have some sort of scientific background. We love numbers. We also love the concept of randomness – one of our founders is bordering on obsessed with randomness (and highly recommends you read Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicolas Taleb, to learn more read the author, see his personal website here). And, as much as we hate to admit it, life sometimes feels random (especially when you are starting your own business), and without a doubt, there is an element of randomness to the production of beer, although the goal in brewing is to reduce as much of that randomness as possible.
While we work very hard to control absolutely every element of the brewing process, at the end of the day, the old adage is true – brewers make wort, yeast make beer. Beer is made by yeast, which are living organisms. They cannot be controlled the way you control your microwave, your garage door opener, or your air conditioner. They have to be cared for, and fed, and allowed to reproduce, but ultimately, they do what they want, and complete understanding of yeast behavior is not possible. Thus, the most important element to the production of beer, is in many ways out of our control (ok, maybe not random – we still haven’t figured out how yeast make decisions yet, or if they even think it all; preliminary data suggests that they think mostly about how they can screw us over on our next batch of beer, but we are still figuring them out).
And this is why, when you come to our brewery and ask for a “Random Row,” we will pour you four random beers, in a random order, and we won’t tell you what they are.