Introducing Five Pillars Ale: A Beer to Help Those in Need

by Charlottesville29


Logo donated by Watermark Design.

Four friends won the chance to create their own collaboration beer with Champion Brewing Company. But, when COVID-19 prevented the beer’s public release, they decided to put it to a use true to its name: help others. Below is the story behind Five Pillars Ale, which celebrates the five life principles on which UVa Men’s Basketball coach Tony Bennett built his program. And, here is how you can be the first to own this exclusive beer, all while helping those in critical need during the COVID-19 crisis.

Five Pillars Ale: A Beer Built on Fellowship 

The tale of Five Pillars Ale begins with The 2019 Charlottesville 29 Restaurant Auctions, where Beer Run teamed with Champion Brewing Company to offer the chance to brew and release your own collaboration beer. After intense back-and-forth bidding, the winners were four friends who pooled their resources: Dr. Jeff Vergales, Todd Kennedy, JP O’Sullivan and Rob Strassheim.

The four friends have much in common. They are neighbors. Their wives are close friends. As are their children. And, of course, they love beer.

One more thing they share is local philanthropy. As four men to whom fate has been kind, they all feel a responsibility to give back to the less fortunate. “Charlottesville is a wonderful community, and my family loves to call it home, ” said Strassheim. “My wife and I share the belief that through local philanthropy, we can have an impact on making Charlottesville a better home for others in the community, too.”

This made Beer Run’s auction item a perfect fit. Every penny of the $4,000 winning bid went directly to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, enough to create 16,000 meals for our area’s hungry. Meanwhile, the team of winners would enjoy a full day of fellowship while creating a memory to endure a lifetime. And beer.

The Making of Five Pillars Ale

Without much brewing experience among their group, to design their beer the winning team leaned heavily on Champion Director of Brewing Operations Josh Skinner. They described the style of beer they had in mind, listed some of their favorite hops, and, under Skinner’s guidance, ultimately settled on an American pale ale generously hopped with Mosaic and German-grown Amarillo.

As for the beer’s name, the team tossed around a number of possibilities. But, as soon as someone suggested Five Pillars Ale, they knew they had found it. Five Pillars Ale is named after the five enduring life principles on which UVa Men’s Basketball Coach Tony Bennett stands his program.

While all four friends are big fans of UVa Men’s Basketball, just one of them was a UVa undergraduate. And so, their support of the team rests not on the blind passion of alumni, but on a deep and well-considered belief in the program that Tony Bennett has built and, more importantly, what it represents. “While winning basketball games is great,” said Dr. Vergales, “humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness extend outside of sports and make our community stronger. Those values that Coach Bennett teaches align well with our own and with the mission of the food bank.”

Fatherhood makes the five pillars only more meaningful to the winning group. “As a father, I’m so fortunate that my children are surrounded by UVa athletic teams that inspire both parents and children,” said Strassheim. “The Five Pillars provide ‘teachable moments’ for our children, and are core values that everyone should be inspired to embrace.”

As part of their auction prize, the four friends invited eight others to join them for a day of beer, brewing, and more beer. They began at Beer Run for a breakfast of egg tacos and, of course, beer. Then it was off to Champion, where they joined Skinner in making Five Pillars Ale. They also drank more beer. After the hard work of brewing was done, it was back to Beer Run for dinner. And more beer.


“Among the Five Pillars, the concept of Thankfulness resonates a lot,” said Kennedy. “I feel incredibly thankful to have had this experience, to share it with so many good friends, and to be able to give back to the community we love.”

Lemonade from Lemons: A Canceled Release Party

The beer’s release was to follow eight weeks later, on the first Friday of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. The team of brewers planned to spend the day watching basketball together, culminating with a party at Beer Run celebrating the public release of Five Pillars Ale.

Unfortunately, circumstances intervened. After COVID-19 canceled the release party, the winning group was left wondering what to do with the beer. For a beer honoring the Five Pillars, they thought, only one use made sense: help others. Turning lemons into lemonade, they decided to use the beer to raise money for those in acute need. “The five pillars embody the spirit of what makes Charlottesville such a special place,” said O’Sullivan. “In times like this, we are all in it together, and we couldn’t think of a better way to support the community we care so much about than supporting the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.”

And so, in the Five Pillars Ale Auction, you can be the first to own this exclusive beer, while helping the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. Skinner says that among Champion’s brewers who have sampled the beer, it has been a huge hit. The auction winner will win not only the beer, but also a package of Five Pillars Ale memorabilia, including coasters signed by UVa Men’s Basketball Coach Tony Bennett. Details and bidding HERE.



Five Pillars Ale 

A hoppy Virginia pale ale brewed in celebration of the life principles on which the UVa Men’s Basketball program stands

Hops: Mosaic, Amarillo
5.5% ABV
44 IBU
12.5 degrees Plato

Brewer’s’ notes:

Appearance:  golden in color with slight haze
Aroma:  blueberry, lime, white wine grapes, gooseberry, spicy piney resin
Flavor: Mosaic-forward, with abundant notes of musty tropical fruit and blueberry