Superlatives and brewery news flow at Rails & Ales festival

Rails & Ales Craft Beer Festival, 2016
It would be hard to find a better spot for a beer festival than a park along the beautiful Ohio River. Rails & Ales Craft Beer Festival, August 13, 2016. Jonna Starks, of Huntington, and Wayne Palumbo, of Ashland, found it a great place to spend an afternoon.

Another Rails & Ales Craft Beer Festival is in the record books and with it came lots of news from West Virginia and regional breweries. In this Summer Olympic Games season, Rails & Ales surely took the gold.

First, the records.

  1. The largest gathering ever in WV to celebrate craft beer. Total  attendance was right around right 5,000. The spacious location along the Ohio River never seemed overcrowded.
  2. The best craft beer selection ever put together at a WV beer event. The Belgian line-up was unbelievable.  About 230 craft beers in total.

A few other notable festival firsts

  • Wild Wolf Brewery out of Nelson County, Virginia made its West Virginia major festival debut at Rails & Ales.
  • Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling’s poured beer at its first WV event. Welcome Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale.
  • Introduced new Brasserie Silly beers to WV, including Abbaye de Forest, La Divine Tripel, and Titje Blanche.
  • Introduced the excellent Brasserie d’Achouffe draft beer to WV, including La Chouffe and Houblon Chouffe.
  • Introduced beer from Southhampton Publick House.
  • Introduced Steiglbrauerei from Austria by pouring their Radler.
  • Introduced Hofbräuhaus Oktoberfest beer to WV.
  • Debuted several superb Belgians from Brouwerij Van Steenberge, including Ertvelds Wit, Oude Zuipers, and Gentse Tripel.
  • Introduced West Virginia to more Brouwerij De Brabandere Belgian drafts, including Kwaremont and Petrus 50/50.

I’m sure I’m missing some other firsts, but I think you get the picture: Beer. Selection. Matters.

Having the festival at the lovely Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington certainly increased the enjoyability quotient too. With its spacious layout, grass, shade trees, and plenty of food, live bands, and specialty product vendors, this could easily be the highlight of Huntington’s festival season. It would be hard to top.

Kudos to festival organizer The Better Beer Coalition and all its volunteers and workers. It was a podium performance. Put your hand over your heart and sing along with the national anthem.

Link to Rails & Ales Photo Gallery

#BeerWorthMeltingFor

Jeff McKay at Rails & Ales
Jeff McKay, beer procurer for the Better Beer Coalition that runs the Rails & Ales festival.

So what if it was a scorching hot day. Jeff McKay, who directs beer procurement for Rails & Ales, said you saw a number of kegs at the festival that you may not see again in WV.  One which may not return for a while was the Alpine Nelson IPA.

“That’s probably the rarest keg that West Virginia has ever seen.,” he said about Nelson. “A lot of this stuff is so limited we were only able to bring in one keg of it.”

McKay complimented the West Virginia breweries that really stepped up and brought a lot of different beers to pour. He also gave credit to local beer distributors Eagle, North Central, Atomic, Galaxy, and Mountain State for helping boost the selection of both imported and American craft beer.

“I think the breweries realized they have 5,000 people in front of them, and that they need to showcase some of their stuff,” he said.

Brewery news from Rails & Ales

Talking with brewery reps around the festival grounds, it was evident that a lot of new things are in store at breweries in our region.

Morgantown Brewing
Morgan Stemple of Morgantown Brewing
Morgan Stemple (at left) leads the Morgantown Brewing crew.

Morgan Stemple, marketing director for Morgantown Brewing Company, says that their Oktoberfest beer is being released for distribution this week. The brewery’s annual Oktoberfest (the actual festival, not the beer) is coming up October 8 and everyone is invited to go and have fun at the brewpub. “It’s our best day of the year,” Stemple says. More releases are on the horizon. “We’re bringing the Brown back,” she says, while describing Morgantown’s Pumpkin Brown ale which will be out in October, then followed a month of so later by their Kettle Bottom Brown. She says that the brewery added distribution to the Pittsburgh market about two months ago. That means they are now in three states, WV, MD, and PA.

Big Timber Brewing
Sam Mauzy of Big Timber Brewing.
Sam Mauzy of Big Timber Brewing

Sam Mauzy, partner and sales manager for Big Timber Brewing in Elikins, is a very busy man, but he found time to bring about a dozen beers to Rails & Ales, including some taproom-only releases. He announced that their Forest Fest Ale is being released this week for WV Craft Beer Week, He has a very busy schedule of tap takeovers and other beer events all week. Sam said they brewed their West Virginia Wet Hopped Ale on Monday, August 8,  from fresh-picked Marion County Cascade hops that they received the day before. It should hit the market in about three weeks. He also said that  construction work is progressing at their new brewery location, which they hope to have operational by early 2017.

Mountain State Brewing
Rails & Ales
Stephen Dilettoso of Mountain State Brewing Company

Stephen Dilettoso, marketing director of Mountain State Brewing Company, wants folks to know they are moving from a seven-barrel brewhouse to a 30-barrel that should be fully operational by mid-fall. They’ll transition their original brewhouse to brew seasonals and one-offs. Right now, brewery production is dedicated to filling demand for six packs of their four core brands. Once the new system is online, we will start seeing seasonals and one-offs—something they can’t do now due to capacity limitations.

Portsmouth Brewing
Tom Brown (at left) of Portsmouth Brewing Company
Tom Brown (at left) leads the crew for Portsmouth Brewing Company at Rails & Ales.

Tom Brown, who heads sales and marketing for Portsmouth Brewing Company, reminds us that they are the oldest brewery in the state of Ohio, having begun operation in 1842. He invited folks over to their taproom in Portsmouth to find some seasonal beers that are not available in WV distribution. He also says look for their fall seasonal Pumpkin Ale at WV retailers. This beer is the official beer of the world’s largest pumpkin festival in Circleville, Ohio.

Dobra Zupas Restaurant & Brewery
Steve Redden of Dobra Zupas.
Steve Redden (at left) brews the beer at Dobra Zupas.

Steve Redden, brewmaster at Dobra Zupas in Beckley has been up to his waist in wort recently brewing a lot of small batches, which he will use to fill all 11 taps at their pub. For WV Craft Beer Week he’s added a Habanero Pale Ale, a Belgian Citra IPA, a Mountaineer Mule ginger-flavored beer, and more. Also coming up in a few weeks will be a Belgian Blonde and more pepper-flavored beers. He currently has three sours aging. The first one released will be a Whiskey Sour Ale. Redden describes it as kettle soured ale, fermented in a Smooth Ambler barrel with Belgian abbey yeast, then topped off with his Wyco Wheat Ale that was inoculated with brett, and rested with an addition of lemon and lime zest and juice. He is hoping to hand-bottle the beer and release it in bombers. This will be a very limited quantity release, so watch for it.

Chestnut Brew Works
Josh Taylor of Chestnut Brew Works with Ash Keane of Mountain People's Coop
Josh Taylor (right) of Chestnut Brew Works with Ash Keane of Mountain People’s Coop

Josh Taylor, assistant brewer at Chestnut Brew Works in Morgantown, tells that the brewery just released High Water Roselle, for which 10% of the proceeds from sales will go to flood relief. The beer is a blonde ale with hibiscus and lemon. Roselle is the name of the specific type of hibiscus flower they used. The hibiscus was sourced from Mountain People’s Coop in Morgantown. Taylor seemed most excited about his brewery’s addition of an automated keg cleaner, which will increase production and efficiency by greatly speeding up the time it takes to prepare kegs for filling. He reports they still maintain about 50 retail draft accounts mostly in the Morgantown area. It’s all they can do to keep up with the demand for Halleck Pale Ale. They are pretty much maxed out with their current brewery equipment.

Bridge Brew Works
Nate and Adam Herrold of Bridge Brew Works
Brewers Nate (left) and Adam Herrold of Bridge Brew Works

Adam Herrold, partner and brewer at Bridge Brew Works in Fayetteville, showed off the latest addition to their line-up: Seldom Seen Saison. The name comes from a certain 25-foot wave feature on the New River, which he says is seldom seen. Herrold says the beer was made with a French-style saison yeast, which is slow working but produces a very dry beer with great peppery notes. It was hopped with Sorachi Ace that gives it a bit of lemony aroma. It should be out in the retail market this week. Toward the end of the year, Herrold says to look for the release of their bourbon-barrel-aged coffee stout and porter, which will be available in both bottles and draft. “It’s fun to do different styles,” he says.

North End Tavern Brewery
Chip Roedersheimer of North End Tavern & Brewery
Chip Roedersheimer of North End Tavern & Brewery

Chip Roedersheimer, of North End Tavern and Brewery, says there is a lot going on at the brewery in Parkersburg. He says if you haven’t been to the brewery recently, it’s time for a visit to their expanded downstairs pub space. “It has five 7-barrel serving tanks located in the seating area,” Roedersheimer says. It’s a quieter, more beer-appreciation focused space than the busy tavern above. New releases coming up soon will include a dark Hefeweizen and their annual Harvest beer, which is flavored with their own Cascade hops that grow beside the brewery.

Greenbrier Valley Brewing
Dave Kucera of Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company
Dave Kucera of Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company

Dave Kucera, co-owner of Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company in Lewisburg, said they are releasing their first-ever Oktoberfest beer. GVBC Ozktoberfest is a a true Märzen-style lager. Kucera also invited everyone to their brewery concert series on the first Saturday of each month “We have good music playing and always have a food truck,” he says. “We also have a lot of small-batch beers at the brewery you can’t get other places.”

Country Boy Brewing
Sinkhorn at Rails & Ales
Daniel Sinkhorn of Country Boy Brewing in Lexington, KY

Daniel Sinkhorn of Country Boy Brewing says they have been “really working on our sour program and our barrel-aged funky-wild series called Living Proof.” The WV market can expect to see more of these once the new Country Boy production brewery is online. Speaking of the new brewery in Georgetown, KY, he says the boys are super busy right now in the middle of the build out. It is scheduled to be operational in mid-January.

North Central Distributors
Michale Folio of North Central Distributors
Michael Folio of North Central Distributors

Michael Folio of North Central Distributors brought 55 beers to the Rails & Ales. The distributor has been busy adding new lines and brands. For instance, Folio says, “Last week, we just brought in Wild Wolf  Brewing from Virginia.” He said they are getting more variety of super nice Belgian specialties from importers Total Beverage Solution and Duvel Moorgat. Several of these beers made their WV debut at the festival.

Alltech Lexington Brewing
Steve Legrand of Alltech at Rails & Ales
Blake Legrand of Alltech

Blake Legrand, national on-premise account manager for Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distillery Company, was happy to be selling beer in WV. “These are the first Alltech kegs to be poured in West Virginia,” he said. “We’re excited to launch this state.”  He said they are rolling out draft the rest of this month, and in September we will start seeing packaged beer. First to hit the shelves will be Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, Kentucky Ale, and Kolsch. A couple of months down the road, Honey Barrel Brown Ale will be the first Alltech seasonal to hit retailers here.

New Belgium Brewing
New Belgium Brewing at Rails & Ales
Ron Stenger of New Belgium Brewing, Asheville.

Ron Stenger, WV sales and market manager for New Belgium Brewing Company-Asheville, says West Virgnia will continue to see more of its first round of New Belgium seasonals. Coming up are Pumkick (a slightly tart ale featuring pumpkin, cranberry, and spices); and this year’s Ben & Jerry’s collaboration, which is a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Golden Ale. WV will also get more Lips of Faith series releases, including Flowering Citrus Ale, a collaboration with De Koninck; Le Terrior, a dry-hopped sour ale, Fruit Fly, a passionfruit & Citra hop sour ale; and Clutch, a sour stout. This is getting real good.

Can’t wait until next year

With this year’s success, Rails & Ales has set the festival bar high. Other beer festivals in our region take note. If you want to sell out your tickets and raise lots of money for your charities, follow the Rails & Ales lead and work real hard to offer the best possible beer selection you can. I can hear WV beer geeks rejoicing.

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