DAVIS, WV — Blackwater Brewing Company owner/brewer Lincoln Wilkins is not content to simply operate a local brewpub in this popular West Virginia tourist area. He has firm designs on becoming a more regional player in craft beer.
“I have to expand now,” says Wilkins. “I have more accounts coming on line, and I’m maxing out my current brewing set up.”
Just last September, Blackwater began distributing beer outside it’s brewpub. Now there are accounts in Morgantown, across the Potomac Highlands, and in several other areas, and its 3-barrel brewhouse and fermenters are stretched.
Wilkins would like to expand to at least a 7.5- to 15-barrel brewhouse, fermenters and tankage. This would allow him to grow into more accounts in West Virginia and western Maryland.
Excelling at traditional European styles
Blackwater’s strength lies in traditional European-style ales and lagers. You will not find heavy American-hopped IPA here. His go-to styles are Kölsch, English Pale Ale, Märzen, Stout, Porter, and Alt.
“I brew European-stye session beers, ” says Wilkins.
He believes their popularity is in part because they are very approachable and easy drinking. And at Blackwater, they are also very well-made.
Wilkins keeps five or six beers on tap, one of which is a seasonal or guest beer. Canaan Valley Kölsch is his biggest seller. Also very popular with patrons are his Sweet Oatmeal Stout and Alt Bier.
His emphasis on traditional European session styles doesn’t mean Wilkins is afraid to experiment. In the past year his seasonals have included two excellent brews that emphasized local ingredients: a Vanilla Maple Baltic Porter made with local maple syrup, and a Goldenrod Gold Ale made with local goldenrod honey.
Wilkins in the kitchen too
Blackwater’s weekend pub is busy most of the year with the tourist trade and the rest of the time with locals. Fridays through Sundays, you can find Wilkins in the kitchen cooking up his specialties of brats, ribs, burgers, fish & chips, and grilled chicken. On weekdays, though, he is brewing.
Last fall, his passion for culinary arts led him to develop a Kölsch beer-infused bratwurst with partner A. F. Wendling’s meat company. This venture was featured in a past BrilliantStream article.
Changeover has taken time, energy
When Wilkins purchased the brewpub in 2012, the brewery had fallen on hard times with its previous owners. Beer quality had dropped; the physical facilities had gone downhill. Blackwater’s reputation in the market suffered.
The first thing Wilkins had to do was clean-up, repair, and improve the brewery and the pub. Once that was done he adapted his favorite brewing recipes to the brewing system and to the mountain water. Next, he went about repairing the brewery’s reputation.
“I decided to keep the Blackwater Brewing Company name because I liked it,” he says, even though he knew it came with baggage that would take time to fix.
Things didn’t happen overnight. With primarily he and wife Amanda doing the work, improvements took a lot of time. It also took time for people to give the brewery another chance. Now, in year three, he’s finally getting comfortable with the place.
“I’m finally beginning to feel like this place is mine,” he adds. “I didn’t feel that way the first two years.”
Now, business is growing and quality is solid. His book of brews is proving to fill a desired market niche. Things are beginning to fall his way.
From pharmaceuticals to zymurgy
Wilkins has a lot going for him. A scientist by training, he’s one of the most personable brewers you’d ever want to meet. Born and raised in nearby Keyser, WV, his career pursuits took him far away.
He became a specialist in clinical trials for the pharmaceutical industry in Louisiana. While living in there, Wilkins actually became an investor for a while in a small commercial brewery called Heiner Brau (now Covington Brewhouse). On his days off from his paying job, he would help out the brewery with clean up and the like. After he sold his interest in Heiner Brau, he began seriously thinking about doing his own brewery.
Having discovered homebrewing, he regularly took over the home kitchen for stovetop brew days. During this period, he was homebrewing with his friend Kevin McMahon, with whom he developed beer recipes in hopes that they would one day operate a craft brewery somewhere. But as fate would have it, things didn’t quite work out that way.
McMahon did become a pro brewer, but with Abita Brewing Company, and later moved to Illinois to brew for Two Brothers and then for Gino’s Pizza chain brewpub in Chicago. After the small pharmaceutical firm Wilkins worked for was bought out by a big-pharma company, he decided it was time to hang up his 25-year science career and move to Davis, WV. That was in 2011.
“I thought it was time to come home,” he explains.
As a child Wilkins had often visited the Canaan Valley area and loved it. He has ancestors from Thomas, WV, only about two miles distant from his current brewery location. He was happy to get back to his roots.
When Blackwater Brewing came up for sale in May 2012, he bought it. It’s been a work of passion ever since.
Blackwater Brewing is back, better than ever
When it was established back in 1990s, Blackwater Brewing brewed pretty good beer. Through the years, however, it evolved into primarily a pub with a brewery on the side. It existed on its full-service bar business.
Under Wilkins’ direction, it has been revamped to become primarily a brewery, with the pub as a sideline. While this change in business strategy has not always been an easy one to achieve, it is now working well.
High quality craft beer is being brewed, and the brewery is working hard to expand both its production capacity and markets. With Wilkins’ fervor and ability we think he will definitely make it happen.
Pub Hours: Fri. 5–10 pm; Sat. noon–10 pm; Sun. 1–8 pm
Growler fills are available at the pub.
To learn more about Blackwater Brewing Company, visit its website.