The longest-running beer festival in West Virginia did not let a little rain dampen the celebration. Bramwell Oktoberfest turned 20 last Saturday with a large crowd of around 1,000 craft beer fans in attendance, many of whom have attended more than a few Bramwells.
“We’re having a great day in spite of the crowd being a little wet and soggy,” said festival co-founder and director George Sitler. “Everybody’s in terrific spirits. There’s wonderful beer. I’m just thrilled that everybody’s having a good time.
“This is our 20th year. The first time we did it was in 1995. It feels like we’ve done something special. It feels like we’ve done something significant for the people, and they come back again and again. It’s really a great thing to be part of.”
Of all the activities at Bramwell each year, one thing the breweries like being part of is the annual beer judging. It selects the best brews in seven categories and caps it off with a best of show award. (A complete list of medal-winning beers is found toward the end of this article.)
Greenbrier Valley Brewing takes Bramwell Cup
The wet weather certainly did not stop Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company (GVBC) from making hay at Bramwell this year. In only its second year in the competition, the Lewisburg, WV, brewery’s Devil Anse IPA was judged the best beer of the day, taking home the Bramwell Cup.
Following the announcement of their win, the GVBC Facebook page lit up with this statement :
We want to say a Big THANK YOU to all the Brewers attending the event that showed so much support for us, George Sitler and all the festival workers for putting such a great event on, and to you our loyal followers.
Not only did its Devil Anse take gold in the IPA category, but GVBC’s Mothman Black IPA won the IPA category silver medal. These two medals show that GVCB brewer Brian Reymiller is the certainly master of hops this year.
Bridge Brew Works tops the medal count
The owners of Bridge Brew Works (BBW) in Fayetteville, WV, have been coming to Bramwell yearly since they opened the brewery in 2010. They’ve won plenty of medals through those years, but their success in 2015 shows that this brewery has really reached a nice place.
Of the eight Bridge Brew beers they brought to the festival, five medaled. Most notable among them, BBW won gold for its Barrel-Aged Peregrine Porter and gold for Dun Glen Dubbel.
“This is one of the few festivals where we showcase most of the styles we brew,” said BBW co-owner/brewer Nate Herrold. “Today, we’ve got eight different styles. Typically, for most festivals we’ll bring four.”
Two of the beers they brought are normally available only at the brewery tasting room.
The BBW owners like Bramwell because it gives them face-time with their customers.
“Just being a two person staff, we just don’t get the opportunity to get out in the field that much,” explained Herrold. “At a festival like this, you’re seeing two to three thousand people.”
BBW co-owner Ken Linch added, “It’s a great time to interact with people who enjoy your product.”
Last year’s champ did well again
Last year, he won best of show with his First Shift Coffee Porter, but this year Morgantown Brewing Company’s Brian Anderson changed things up a bit.
“We brought some different varieties this year to keep mixing it up, to let people try some new things,” said Anderson.
He must have known what he was doing because his Oktoberfest beer nailed the gold medal in the coveted Fest Beer category. Morgantown’s Alpha Blonde took gold in the Blond Ale/Pale Lager category and its Pumpkin Ale also medaled.
Of note, the Alpha Blonde Ale was brewed at the company’s brand spanking new production brewery in Westover.
With Morgantown’s new production facility taking the load brewing the core brands, Anderson has the opportunity to brew more specialties on the brewpub system.
“We brought a special pumpkin ale this year,” Anderson said, as he described his bronze-medal-winner in the specialty beer category. “It’s an American brown ale made with Cinderella pumpkins, Madagascar vanilla bean, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg.”
Antietam’s Maerzluft has Bramwell love affair
Antietam Brewery’s head brewer, Daniel Maerzluft, said he attends Bramwell for two reasons. One, to get exposure for his brews; and two, because he absolutely loves Bramwell Oktoberfest.
“I’ve been to tons of festivals. I’ve been to the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup, but I’ve always felt this was my favorite festival,” said Maerzluft. “This is the best festival for true beer people.”
Starting with his days as head brewer at Mountaineer Brewing in Martinsburg back in the mid-1990s, Maerzluft has been a regular at Bramwell, sometimes as a competitor and sometimes as a guest.
Winning three medals this year certainly made Dan’s and Antietam’s trip to southern West Virginia worthwhile. The Hagerstown, Maryland brewery currently distributes in five counties of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.
Sunken City rises to the occasion with 3 medals
In its first year distributing in West Virginia, Sunken City Brewing Company, of Smith Mountain Lake, Va., found plenty of Bramwell success. It won three medals: a gold, a silver and a bronze.
Jeremy Kirby, Sunken City Brewing’s head brewer, says he enjoys attending festivals like Bramwell.
Festivals are a chance to get in touch with people,” Kirby said. “Having to work through distributors, there’s a disconnect between your customers and yourself. It’s a great time to get out in front of people who may have not tried your beer before, people who are leery of buying a six-pack of something they have never tried.”
Wheeling’s Josh Clark couldn’t wait to get back
At last year’s festival, Wheeling Brewing Company was just getting up and running. Wheeling’s brewer Josh Clarke says he was lucky to have been able to have even the two beers he brought there. Now, a year later, the brewery is in full production and Clarke has many more options.
“I’ve been eagerly awaiting this for months,” he said. “I had a better idea of what to bring this time, so I sorta busted out the special stuff. You’re seeing stuff at this festival that you won’t see anywhere else but at the brewpub.”
Clarke says that out of all the beer festivals in West Virginia, he thinks Bramwell is probably his favorite. Could that be because his beer has taken home a medal each year? This year his Wheat Ale knocked out the Wheat Beer category competition and took the gold.
Clarke also brought some interesting beers using local ingredients. His Picken’s Maple Ale is a small batch pub-only release that includes five pounds of maple syrup from Pickens, WV. All the hops in a special version of his Wheelunker Session IPA were a blend of eight different fresh hops he grew on his own property in Monongalia County, WV.
Big Timber loves to promote craft beer
With Big Timber Brewing Company’s co-founders tied up attending a good friend’s wedding, the brewery’s second team did a great job filling in. Amber Kwasniewski, sister of brewer Matt Kwasniewski and Chris Newsome, the company’s assistant brewer, both got their first exposure to the fun and hospitality of Bramwell Oktoberfest.
“Big Timber loves to do festivals,” said Newsome.
He said the Elkins, WV, brewery just wants to get out there and promote craft beer in the state.
This was the brewery’s second year at Bramwell. They did not go home empty handed. Their ForestFest Beer claimed a silver medal and their Porter took a bronze. The brewery also poured its Logger Lager Pilsner and its WV Wethop Ale. Big Timber is a rapidly-growing brewery with a bright future.
Chestnut Brew Works still growing fast
Josh Taylor, assistant brewer for Chestnut Brew Works, came a long way from the brewery in Morgantown to the southern end of the state but says it was well worth it.
“The people down here are amazing,” he said. “They’ve done everything to accommodate us. It’s been great time.”
Taylor brought with him the brewery’s very popular Halleck Pale Ale and their South Park Porter. Both walked away with medals.
“It’s great to meet people who are into craft brew and be able to let everyone try what we do,” Taylor said.
In a mantra often heard from Bramwell’s participating brewers, Taylor agrees that Bramwell is popular with brewers because of the opportunity it provides to meet and get to know each other.
“We get to meet the other brewers,” he said. “We get to hang out with the other people who make the beer and get to talk shop.”
Dobra Zupas does its first Bramwell
The brewery at Dobra Zupas Restaurant in Beckley, WV, only began brewing back in mid-summer. They got their feet wet by attending their first beer festival in August, even before serving their beer at the restaurant. It was quite a whirlwind. At Bramwell Oktoberfest, they were better prepared.
“We’ve been brewing around the clock,” said Dobra Zupas’ brewer Steve Redden, explaining how he’s been spending his time.
Like all good brewers, he has been tweaking his recipes to make incremental improvements in his beers. Since his original batch of Hopped Up IPA, he’s added additional Cascade and Columbus hops to increase the IBUs by 30. The difference shows.
“So it’s now where I want it to be,” said Redden.
His Java Jive Coffee Porter has even more balance now, while still using coffee beans from a local roaster. Redden brought a different twist on a seasonal with his Pumpkin beer, one that emphasized cloves over nutmeg or cinnamon. He also poured his smooth-drinking WyCo Wheat Ale, which is named after his hometown.
If he can get just a little ahead of the demand from Dobra Zupas’ own restaurant, he hopes to make a couple of beers available to a few other on-premise accounts in southern WV.
Mulling over medals takes time
Scores of entries from breweries in three states make judging a time-consuming activity. The Bramwell Oktoberfest judging team, led by Rob Absten of Charleston, WV, are the kind of volunteers that beer festivals need to be successful.
List of Winners — Bramwell Oktoberfest 2015
Bramwell Cup – Best of Show
Devil Anse IPA – Greenbrier Valley Brewing Co., Lewisburg, WV
Pale Lager/Blond Ale
- Alpha Blonde – Morgantown Brewing Co., Morgantown, WV
- Long Point Lager – Bridge Brew Works, Fayetteville, WV
- (304) – Charleston Brewing Company, Charleston, WV
Brown Ale & Amber Ale
- Steemboat Beer – Sunken City Brewing Company, Smith Mountain Lake, Va.
- Maibock – Antietam Brewery, Hagerstown, Md.
- Lil’ Ben’s Milk Stout – Antietam Brewery
- McCulloch’s Wheat – Wheeling Brewing Co., Wheeling, WV
- Surfside Wheat – Sunken City Brewing Co.
- HagerWeisse Hefeweizen – Antietam Brewery
- Oktoberfest – Morgantown Brewing Company
- ForestFest – Big Timber Brewing Co., Elkins, WV
- Oktoberfest – Bridge Brew Works
Pale Ale & IPA
- Devil Anse IPA – Greenbrier Valley Brewing Co., Lewisburg, WV
- Mothman Black IPA – Greenbrier Valley Brewing
- Halleck Pale Ale – Chestnut Brew Works, Morgantown, WV
(tie) Red Clay IPA – Sunken City Brewing
Porters & Stouts
- Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Peregrine Porter – Bridge Brew Works
- South Park Porter – Chestnut Brew Works
- Porter – Big Timber Brewing Co.
Belgian-Styles & Specialty Beer
- Dun Glen Dubbel – Bridge Brew Works
- 3 Rivers Tripel – Bridge Brew Works
- Pumpkin Ale – Morgantown Brewing
Bramwell Oktoberfest 2015 Photo Gallery
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