Craft Beer Boom Hits Southern WV— Hard

by Amanda Ashley

Where to find craft beer in Southern WV:

The Craft Beer revolution has taken Southern West Virginia by storm, and in the last few years we’ve seen a huge boost in craft breweries popping up.

Craft beer’s boom is being driven by small-scale entrepreneurs who love West Virginia and crafting unique artisan beers. It’s hard to define or describe craft beer, because each craft brewery has a unique and individual approach. Each brewer can add any number of ingredients to the basic styles to make a truly one-of-a-kind beer.

“Craft beer is a niche market, and craft beer drinkers always want something they can’t get. For us, it’s exciting to create new recipes and think outside of the box.”

“Craft beer goes hand in hand with tourism, especially outdoor tourism,” said Steve Redden, brewmaster at Dobra Zupas. “Folks want a great tasting beer at the end of the day, and craft beer made in West Virginia is just as unique as the adventures we offer here in Southern West Virginia.”

Brew Artistry

Southern West Virginia Craft beer not only provides jobs and creativity for brewers, it is also really good beer. Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company and Bridge Brew Works breweries have both received awards for their beers, and thrive on bring new styles of beer to consumers.

Nate Harrold, a co-owner of Fayetteville-based Bridge Brew Works, said making new styles of beer is what craft brewing is all about.

“Craft beer is a niche market, and craft beer drinkers always want something they can’t get,” he said. “It’s tough to say, but our customers aren’t the most loyal. But that’s what makes it fun. It’s not like we are just going to make 1 beer and keep craft beer enthusiasts happy. For us, it’s exciting to create new recipes and think outside of the box.”

Craft breweries are small outfits with only a few employees, usually just the owners. So they get to be the driving force behind each release.

“We don’t put anything out that we aren’t proud of,” Nate said. “If anything goes wrong, it’s only Ken and I, and we can’t blame anyone else. We enjoy being hands-on from start to finish. We didn’t get into the industry to let someone else do it.”

Their penchant for original flavor was the springboard for their business. Their first seasonal was a black lager, which they crafted to catch attention. It is now on their seasonal rotation.

“We never wanted to be the biggest brewer, we wanted to be the best,” Nate said. “We’re proud of our consistency and our products. We’re looking forward to what’s on the horizon, not only in the legislature but also in our own company. Consumers are going to have more varieties.”

“We want to focus on selling beer out of state, and let them know we have great beer here in West Virginia.”

Ken Lynch, co-owner and the other half of Bridge Brew Works’ team, agreed.

“West Virginia is catching up to the craft beer scene,” said Ken. “There is a lot of room for growth and it’s pretty exciting to be a part of that.”

But even  as the industry changes, he said keeping it local will remain part of their commitment to quality.

“We are really proud of our Moxxee Coffee Stout,” Ken said. “We use coffee from Moxxee Coffee in Charleston. We like collaborating with other independent business in the area. We want to produce something of interest and keep it small, but we do want folks to be able to try our beer, so we do small bottle releases.”

Bridge Brew Works isn’t the only craft brewery excited by the opportunity to brew craft beer in Southern West Virginia. In 2014, Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company got into the game. Owned by David Kucera & Will Laska with 20-year brewmaster Brian Reymieller at the helm, this 4-person brewery is also working to carve out a niche with unique tastes.

“We have a big brew system,” David said. “We brew our beers using a mash filter, which is a different type of brewing system than the majority of breweries in the country use. We use pelletized hops, and our grains are pounded to flour, which exposes all the flavor.”

The Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company team has named all of their beers after West Virginia legends, and has some locally focused aspirations. But they’re also working on statewide distribution, as well as out-of-state sales.

“We’re in talks with West Virginia growers and in the future we aspire to use grains, hops and yeasts from West Virginia,” David said. “We want to focus on selling beer out of state, and let them know we have great beer here in West Virginia.”

Brew Industry

When Sharon Rynard opened Studio B in 2004 there was hardly any craft beer available for sale in West Virginia. Craft beer sales still only account for 3% of all beer sales in the state.

Once Studio B started offering craft beer, they saw tremendous growth.

“‘We  all are foodies and craft beer enthusiasts. We want to be on the leading edge of craft beer."

“We sell single bottles so customers can mix and match a 6-pack,” Sharon said. “It’s a good way to try a new beer without buying a whole 6-pack. Customers started coming in and asking for beers I had never heard of. Today our shelves tell a different story, and we offer a large variety of craft beer. The West Virginia craft beer we sell really complements the handcrafted art and jewelry in the shop, too.”

Sharon also believes that having micro-brewery Bridge Brew Works  in the backyard has helped her business and customers learn about craft beer.

“Nate and Ken share their knowledge and talk beer all the time,” she said. “They are true micro-brew guys, and we are proud to sell their beer to folks who take it home as a way to remember West Virginia.”

Brewing craft beer isn’t just for breweries, either. Popular restaurant Dobra Zupras in Beckley, owned by Rebecca and Joseph Zupanick, opened in March of 2014 and is just finishing up construction on their brew pub.

“Having a brew pub and a restaurant has always been a part of the business plan, it just took us a little bit longer to make the brewpub a reality,” Rebecca said. “Joseph travels a lot for work, and we always knew that West Virginia would be part of the craft beer explosion, so we wanted craft beer to be part of our restaurant.”

The locally focused seasonal menu at Dobra Zupas lends itself well to pairings, and they hope it will create a unique and personal experience for customers.

“‘We  all are foodies and craft beer enthusiasts,” Rebecca said. “We want to be on the leading edge of craft beer. We are a family-owned business and our whole family has been involved in the process of opening this brewpub.”

They’ve already been building a craft brew culture. Dobra Zupas brewmaster Steve Redden said educating guests about craft beer and letting them taste different styles is key.

“When we first opened, we offered 30 beers, and only 2 were domestic: Mich Lite and Bud,” he said. “When customers ordered a ‘regular’ beer that we didn’t have, we offered them a taste of a craft beer in a similar style, the response has been amazing. Now we serve 48 beers, mostly craft beers, keep 11 on tap and feature as many West Virginia craft beers as we can. We know what our regulars like, and we bring in new products because craft beer aficionados always want to try something new.”

Changing Legal Landscape

“When customers ordered a ‘regular’ beer that we didn’t have, we offered them a taste of a craft beer in a similar style, the response has been amazing."

Craft beer has become so popular that the state of West Virginia recently passed legislation that makes it possible for consumers to purchase craft beer in growlers from retailers.

The law keeps our state up with the times and what surrounding states are doing.

The law allows retailers, restaurants and brewers the license to sell draft products to customers, so customers can try beers that weren’t available before. The new law isn’t only good for retailers, it’s good for craft brewers, too. Now the consumer can buy anything in the state that’s on tap if the retailer chooses to sell it.

Nate said the law gives brewers more creativity to offer more styles of beer.

“When we started in 2010 we wanted to operate like a winery and offer tastings and sell growlers to go,” he said. “Originally, we weren’t allowed to do that, but now with the new law being passed, we can. It will bring more awareness to what we are doing and we’re excited to be able to offer limited small batch beer styles to our customers.”

Bridge Brew Works will begin offering tours this summer. Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company offers tours at 1 p.m. on Saturdays or by appointment for groups. They also host a First Saturday Concert Series with live music, food trucks and beer specials.

Lewis Rhinehart of Secret Sandwich Society in Fayetteville said he knows his guests want craft beer, so they’ve been quick to adapt to the changes. They started selling growlers in June.

“We offer a unique stainless steel growler,” he said. “The beer can last for 2 weeks, and our guests can take the growlers home and share West Virginia craft beer with their friends.”

They have already had to reorder them.

“You can tell who the beer folks are, because they stare down the taps on the way in,” he said. “We have 6 taps, and always keep at least one Bridge Brew on tap, and as many West Virginia craft beers as we can get. Craft beer is still a small percentage of the total beer sales in West Virginia, but we know our guests want craft beer. We are selling the growlers like crazy. With us being a tourist town, our customers want local beer.”

David said that tourism helps boost Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company sales, too.

Our slogan is, ‘Get out, explore and bring beer.’ We embrace an outdoor lifestyle, so West Virginia is really the perfect place for us to live and brew beer.”

“We are popular with tourists,” he said. “We are a high-end tourist state, and that has helped us build a customer base. Our slogan is, ‘Get out, explore and bring beer.’ We embrace an outdoor lifestyle, so West Virginia is really the perfect place for us to live and brew beer.”

But the biggest surprise, he admitted, is how popular their beers are with the locals.

Not that there wasn’t any interest in the industry before the recent craft beer boom. The historic town of Bramwell has been hosting an Oktoberfest for 20 years with a homebrewing and craft beer competition. Bridge Brew Works and Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company have both taken home honors.

“I’ve been going to Bramwell since I was the assistant brewer up in Morgantown,” Nate said. “It’s so much fun to talk to people that enjoy your product. We’re so small, we have to be really selective about what festivals we attend. Recently we went to Boston for the invite-only American Craft Beer Festival. Being invited was a feather in our cap. They require an owner or brewer to be there to answer questions, and we got an opportunity to see and speak to the brewers we talk to on the phone or through email.

“Festivals get us out of the brewery, and gets the creative juices going by exchanging ideas with other brewers.”

Which we hope means new craft tastes from Bridge Brew are on the horizon.

Either way, craft beer is here to stay.

“A lot of West Coast breweries have jumped to the East, and it makes sense for a lot of reasons,” Nate said. “No matter what, we are always advocates of great beer and we welcome the competition. It makes everyone up their game, and it gives the consumer more varieties and styles of beer to choose from. We have to make a quality product that we are proud of and that others are proud of. We don’t want anyone supporting us just because we are local

“… but while the growth is explosive and exponential, there is only so much tap space and shelf space, so it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.”