Newer WV breweries shine; future outlook good

This report is a follow-up to the Cabin Fever Craft Beer Festival and focuses on several newer WV breweries that were at the festival. We already reported on the Morgantown brewery contingent. Later, will come a few updates from our more established breweries.

Today we put the spotlight on Brew Keepers (Wheeling), Parkersburg Brewing, Brewstel (Elkins), and Sophisticated Hound (Princeton). All made impressive debuts at the Cabin Fever Craft Beer Festival. All had received their brewing licenses within roughly the last six months.

If these newer WV breweries are any indicators, the future for West Virginia beer looks good.

Brew Keepers

newer wv breweries Cabin Fever Festival, Kevin and Carolyn Ayres.
Kevin and Carolyn Ayres, owners of Brew Keepers in Wheeling.

Brew Keepers, a small production brewery in Wheeling, made a big splash at the Cabin Fever Craft Beer Festival by taking home the Best of Show Award for its Irish Pirate Stout in the festival’s beer competition.

Owned by Kevin and Carolyn Ayres and another partner, it was Wheeling’s second brewery and the 17th in the state when it opened last summer. Everything since has been a whirlwind, the owner say.

Brewery off to strong start with a solid plan

“It’s been fantastic,” Kevin said of their first six months. “We’ve been well-received.

“We were lucky enough to be the People’s Choice award at the Mountaineer Brewfest a month after we opened. That was huge for us. We’ve broken sales records now every month that we’ve been open.

“We’ve been meticulous about our business plan because I worked in the financial industry for 20 years. I went into it with a plan and we’ve stuck to it.

Carolyn Ayres added that they ended up exceeding all the preliminary goals they had for 2016. She says they’re now focused on how to grow the business.

Down the road they hope to expand, maybe to a full-blown restaurant, or possibly buying out some other place, or possibly opening their own taproom or just expanding the production brewery and going with distributors instead of self-distributing.

Kevin thinks its been beneficial being in Wheeling only a block and a half from Wheeling Brewing Company. The co-operation between the two has helped both.

What’s selling

Recent snapshot of Brew Keepers beer board. From Brew Keepers Facebook page

The recipes for Brew Keepers’ brews are not just something the couple pulled out a hat last year. Kevin has been brewing for quite a while, starting about 20 years ago at a Cleveland microbrewery. He got away from it for some years, but then restarted homebrewing in 2010. He got involved with the Wheeling Alers Homebrew Club, which is now home-based at his brewery.

Their largest selling beer has been one they make for the Wheeling restaurant Ye Olde Alpha.

“We make a beer for them called Ye Olde Ale that’s our number one seller,” he says. “We’ve actually outsold Bud Light there.”

Ye Olde Ale is a riff on an German-American Wheat ale, sort of a couple of styles rolled into one. It has an orange-ish character totally derived from the hops and grains he uses.

Outside of that, his Flip Flop IPA is their best seller. Style-wise, it’s a very balanced West Coast IPA. Next, is the Suspension Pre-Prohibition Cream Ale, in which the predominant grain is corn.

“We want to make simple craft beer — beers that are really easy to drink but made locally and made fresh,” Kevin asserts. “All of our beers are really crisp. We don’t use any fining agents or additives.”

Carloyn said her favorite is the Deathwind Pale Ale.

“It started out as a homebrew challenge. I fell in love with the hop in the profile. We tweaked it a little. Now it’s my favorite.”

Brew Keepers is only a three-person operation, with Kevin leading the brewing. They operate primarily as a production brewery supplying restaurants. They self distribute, currently, to 13 accounts with over 30 taps in Wheeling and Morgantown. They do not have a taproom at the brewery, but do sell growlers and crowlers to go.

From the taste of their products and the professional management style of the owners, it’s not too much to contend that Brew Keepers is a rising star in the West Virginia brewing industry.

Parkersburg Brewing Company

Justin Logue, one of the co-owners of Parkersburg Brewing Company, didn’t hesitate when offered the chance to have their beer poured at the Cabin Fever Craft Beer Festival.

“We have a strong connection with Morgantown,” Logue said. “It’s a great beer city. Morgantown has a strong beer market right now, and we want to be a part of that growth.”

Two of the brewery’s owners are from Morgantown, and the first place the brewery distributed outside Parkersburg was in Morgantown. The festival  gave them a chance to connect with their customers and visit with some of their accounts and restaurants.

Brewing and running their own brewpub restaurant in downtown Parkersburg has kept the guys extremely busy since opening last September.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Justin said. “We had a crazy grand opening, and it’s been a crazy six months ever since. We just introduced burgers to the menu. and they’ve taken off. We’ve been packed the past couple of weekends.”

What’s selling

Citrus Tsunami IPA is especially selling well. It’s number one at their pub and in distribution. Next comes Palooka Pale Ale followed by Hip Hefe Wheat.

Citrus Tsunami is a very citrus heavy beer says Justin.

“When you taste it, you get punch of grapefruit. Also, it packs 97 IBUs. So it appeases both crowds, those that like IPAs super citrusy and those who like IPAs nice and bitter.”

A beer-fan favorite is their From Ash & Ember Cascadian Dark Ale. It’s a very dark and roasty brew with hints of coffee and caramel. The hops give it lots of citrus and floral flavors.

At a post Valentine’s tap takeover in Charleston, Parkersburg brought down the first cask ale to hit the city in about two years. Their A Study in Scarlet — a Porter made with cherry-wood-smoked-malt — was a big hit at Timothy’s Bar & Grill. Curt Tennant, part-owner and general jack of all trades at the brewery, said the beer also sneaks in a little vanilla bean that comes through in the finish. He said the beer has mellowed nicely since it was first casked .

Justin said to be on the lookout for some special releases coming up for the St. Patrick’s Day season. The brewery plans to continue with a series of first-time seasonal releases through the summer.

Outside the brewpub, look for Parkersburg’s beers in Morgantown and Charleston craft-beer oriented restaurants.

Brewstel

Alex Durand (left) and Tim Powell promoting Brewstel, an Elkins-based brewpub and hostel.

Brewstel’s appearance at the Cabin Fever Craft Beer Festival was its first appearance ever at a beer festival as a licensed brewery.

Brewstel started out several years ago as a hostel. Now it also has brewing supplies, barbecue and a brewery. Since opening the brewery portion last October, owner/brewer Tim Powell has been running full speed.

“It’s been non-stop,” Powell said. “It’s one of those things you’re constantly putting more pieces of the puzzle together.

“It’s been difficult predicting demand and figuring out things like how many kegs to buy.”

Since they have such a small system they really have the freedom to dabble in anything they please.

“The brewery’s only been going for about four months now, and we have 13 registered beers,” Powell said. “I have another four ready to go.”

While he loves trying new styles, he knows that focus is also important.

“One of my customers told me jokingly that rotating taps are wonderful as long as you like rotating customers,” Powell explained. “We really want to settle on a few flagships, like 5 to 8 house beers, and then use the other taps to do whatever we want.”

He gave a shout-out to Big Timber Brewing and especially brewer Alex Durand for all the help they have given him. Durand was assisting Powell at the Morgantown festival.

“We talk a lot, especially about ordering supplies, glassware, events,” he said about the Big Timber folks. “Everybody always thinks that it’s a competition, but really the only competition is more beer.”

What’s selling

“One of our new ones that we’ve got dialed in is our Downtown Brown Ale, and we tweaked it this time with some local West Virginia maple syrup,” Powell explained. “We took our Downtown Brown and changed it to Downtown Maple Brown. It’s got a solid finish; you can tell there’s maple syrup in there but it’s not too sweet.”

House G.P.A. is the first beer in Powell’s School Series. In Brewstel’s use, G.P.A. also stands for Golden Pale Ale. It started out strong in sales at the pub.

“We like to keep this G.P.A. at a 4 point ABV, so it’s solid for your grade point average as well, said Powell. “It’s a light, very easy drinking beer that’s very heavy on the floral and very low on the bitterness. We hope to keep it as one of our flagships.”

“We also have two sours coming out in the next couple of weeks.”

Your best bet for trying these beers is at Brewstel’s taproom in Elkins.

Barbecue too

“We’re pretty serious about it,” Powell said of his barbecue. “I don’t know which one I love more beer or barbecue. You need one to have the other.

“We’ve teamed up with a business from Virginia called Dizzy Pig that makes all the rubs and sauce. They’re as fresh as you can imagine.

“We’re really into the pairing. We love pushing our palate as far as we can, as far as knowing what goes well together. Pretty much every Friday, we have something coming out of the smoker.”

Sophisticated Hound Brewing Company

newer wv breweries

When we caught up with Matt Barnett at the festival, he was one busy guy. Barnett is the owner and brewer at Sophisticated Hound Brewing Company in Princeton. We asked him how it was going.

“Crazy, crazy,” he answered.

Crazy seems like the operative word we hear from all our new brewers when asked about their start-up experience. Barnett started commercial brewing in October 2016 with a one-barrel brewing system and quickly moved up to a 4-barrel  brewhouse. Now he’s brewing about 180 gallons of beer every two weeks.

Sophisticated Hound produced around 70  kegs in the first month and a half of 2017.

“We’re actually looking for a bigger building right now,” he said.

When that’s secured, he’ll also need to obtain additional fermentation space, and he’ll need a bunch more kegs to sell his beer in. It’s a challenge for Barnett, who is self-financing his operations.

Coming to the Cabin Fever festival was his first adventure in northern WV. Sophisticated Hound was pretty surely the one brewery that no one had tried before. His line was long all day. The long line amazed him.

He said you expect your friends to tell you the beer is good, but he was happy to hear so many compliments from people he didn’t know.

What’s in a name

Sophisticated Hound may seem like an unusual name for a brewery. but there’s a reason for it.

“The brewery logo is based on my dog,” he said. “He is a retired racing greyhound.”

Barnett donates a percentage of his sales to help fund greyhound rescue programs. You can tell by the way he talks about it that his commitment to greyhounds is not just something he does for marketing. He’s really committed to helping the hounds.

A self-taught brewer

He doesn’t have a long history in brewing, and he’s basically a self-taught guy.

“I went to all these Oktoberfests, and I began thinking this would be a good job to have,” he said. “So I just started buying the home brewing kits and then moved up to bigger equipment and got my brewing license. And the rest is history.”

He set up his brewery in an outbuilding on his home property near Princeton and pretty quickly navigated through the licensing process. It’s a great story and an inspiration for all the other homebrewers who aspire to commercial nano-breweries. (The last West Virginia guy we know of who started commercial brewing in his garage was Bill Rittenour — and that didn’t turn out too bad.)

What’s selling

Barnett’s Racer 8 American Stout is his largest selling beer. It’s based on a Guinness-style, but all its ingredients are American-sourced. It’s a little bit more bitter than a Guinness, because of the American hops as compared to English-variety hops.

His 1863 Pale Ale is a hoppy American Pale Ale, with a hazy wheat body, and with sweet orange peel and coriander added. Centennial hops give it a lemony aroma and plenty of bitterness.

Barnett used the festival to introduce his newest brand, RYEbellion Brown Ale. It’s a lightly-hopped American Brown brewed with a big dose of rye and honey.

Sophisticated Hound does not have a brewery taproom. All its production is distributed in kegs. Currently, you’ll find the beers in on-premse accounts around southern WV.

“We have six restaurants in Princeton, two in Bluefield, and we’re at the Pipestem Event Center,” Barnett said.

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