Two years ago, it would have been impossible to predict that the state’s first true farmhouse brewery would rise from a bucolic hilltop in Cool Ridge, West Virginia. But it’s almost here. Weathered Ground Brewery will open its taproom August 5. It’s a place no craft beer fan will want to miss.
I’ve been anxiously awaiting the opening of Weathered Ground Brewery ever since I discovered the project last summer. Now, the brewery owners are busy putting the finishing touches on both their building and their beer.
Visiting recently with Sam Fonda, head brewer and co-owner at the Raleigh County facility, I could feel his excitement growing as he talked about his brewing philosophy and the beer he will offer.
Having brewed for several years at Triple C Brewing Company in Charlotte, Fonda brings a solid block of experience to his new southern West Virginia operation. This Mississippi native, who married a West Virginia gal, now sinks his roots deep in mountain soil to raise both a family and a brewery here.
Lured to the area by his wife Aryn’s family, who live in nearby Daniels, Weathered Ground is surely West Virginia’s gain. It’s a true family operation, with Sam and Aryn owning equal shares in the brewery, Aryn’s father being the brewery’s major investor, and her brother helping out with farm upkeep and maintenance. In the brewery, Sam will lead the brewing operations and Aryn, an attorney by trade, will head the business side.
And then there is the couple’s 18-month-old daughter who gets to take in all the sights and sounds of the developing brewery and farm. How cool it would be to grow up in that environment.
The road to Cool Ridge
A year and a half ago, Sam and Aryn were living in Charlotte and just starting a family. He was brewing for Triple C, but like many successful brewers, he had the desire to have his own place.
“Aryn and I knew we wanted to start a brewery back closer to her family,” Sam explained. “We knew we wanted to be close to them but we weren’t 100% sure where. We started looking around southern West Virginia for a good spot for a brewery. We were looking at all these buildings around Lewisburg and other areas. But every building we looked at needed a lot of construction work.”
With no existing building really catching their eye, they were open to other ideas. Then, a friend of the family who was a realtor told them about this house and acreage in Cool Ridge, which just happened to be right down the road from where Aryn grew up.
“We gave the lady a call and the rest is history,” he said. “We really fell in love with this place.”
Build it and they will come
In total, they now have about 30 acres of beautiful country property with a long frontage on US 19. You’ll find relaxing vistas for viewing sunsets, fields and forests. Since it will be developed and maintained as a working farm, the property also has a vegetable garden, nut trees, and grape vines. More agricultural uses are being planned.
Turning off the highway into their long driveway, you see the brewery structure out in the distance surrounded by acres of fields and woods. The setting makes the building appear smaller than it is, however, the closer you get, it’s true size hits you.
The large barn-like building houses the brewery, taproom, and event space. Wooden siding covers its exterior, giving it a rustic feel.
A large adjacent parking area provides convenient access to the brewery taproom’s front door. Parking space shortage should never be a problem here.
Upon entering the building, the cavernous size of the main taproom impresses. A large room with a high ceiling, it will have its furnishings divided into several groupings to break up the space. A mix of large and small tables and other seating options will offer many choices for relaxation. A 22-seat bar anchors the rear of the room.
This is the place to get your pints, flights, and growler fills.
Through large interior picture windows, the brewery equipment room is visible. Visiting on brew days, you can watch all the action from the your taproom vantage point.
Another highlight is a spacious covered porch seating area, complete with tables and ceiling fans. Watching nature from the back porch is something you’ll be drawn to do.
The interior fit and finish are bright and modern, with all the comfort and conveniences one needs to enjoy a pint or two of hand-crafted beer any time of year. Sure to be appreciated are the spacious, well-equipped bathrooms, which are larger and nicer than most facilities found at brewery taprooms.
Food service will initially be limited to things like sandwiches, small plates, and bar snacks. The Fondas hope to attract food trucks on weekends and will continue to assess the food service situation as business develops.
In the future they plan to hold monthly beer pairing dinners. These would be ticketed events with five course meals prepared by guest chefs, restaurants or caterers.
Inspired by farmhouse breweries
While his past brewing experience has been at urban breweries, Sam was always drawn to other places, rural places.
“I was always seeing online these awesome breweries that were out in the middle of nowhere, like Hill Farmstead and Jester King. They always appealed to me, though I haven’t visited very many of them.”
He was always thinking: “One day that’s what we should have. We should do something like that.”
It’s not just their rural locations that attracted him. It was also the farmhouse styles of beer they made.
“My favorite kind of beer is using local terrior and making farmhouse ales. I love beer like that. So that’s how we came up with the concept to build a big barn-like structure to host these sort of farmhouse-themed beers.”
While he says he is not trying to compare his beer to those of the famous farmhouse breweries, he is going to try very hard to make beer that’s in the same universe.
A broad interest in beer styles
Farmhouse ale may be his favorite style, but Fonda’s beer universe extends well beyond that. At Triple C in 2015, he helped brew the 3C IPA that took bronze at the Great American Beer Festival. He developed Triple C’s recipe for the popular The Dude Imbibes Imperial Milk Stout. He’s also a big fan of lagers. The man can brew.
“We’re going to make beer that we like, and then try to turn people onto that,” he says. “That includes German-style lagers and India Pale Ale. We’re not just going to make farmhouse ales. We love making lagers and IPAs and stouts. We can make that citrusy IPA just as well as anybody else.”
His brewery equipment includes a 7-barrel Specific Mechanical brewhouse with four 7-barrel jacketed fermenters and six 7-barrel serving tanks.
Opening day beers on tap
Although having just recently obtained his state permit to begin brewing beer, Fonda wanted to get the taproom open for business as soon as possible. To accomplish this, he needed to brew up some beers that didn’t take quite as long to ferment and mature as do many farmhouse and sour ale styles. Those are coming later.
Starting out, he will have six beers ready for August 5.
Haggard India Pale Ale, a well-rounded IPA featuring the El Dorado hop. Very fruity and tropical, a hazy golden appearance. “We love good hops, and we just hop the heck out of it,” Sam said. 6.5% ABV
Cool Ridge Lager is a new American-style pale lager. Hoppier than your usual lager, it contains mix of noble and American hops. 5% ABV.
Enniskillen Dry Irish Stout is dark and roasty, yet really light and crisp. On a hot summer day you can still enjoy it. 4.5% ABV
Barn Kritter Farmhouse Ale, brewed with barley and rye from Riverbend Malt House near Asheville, NC. Also some corn included, and Brettanomyces added in small batch fermentation. About Riverbend, Fonda says, “I’ve worked with these guys before, and they’re just great people. They’re artisans at what they do. You can’t find that flavor in any other barley. It’s a distinct flavor that we love.” 5.7% ABV.
Scrappy Pale is a rye pale ale, featuring Carolina Rye from Riverbend Malt House, and mosaic and azacca hops. 5.5% ABV
R.K. Double IPA, this citrus-forward Double IPA is named after Aryn’s brother Ryan, “who has effortlessly helped us maintain the grounds.” 8.5% ABV
Coming up in September: Oktoberfest Lager, a traditional noble-hopped, Bavarian-style fest beer.
Distribution coming soon
Years back, Fonda worked in beer sales for a Charlotte brewery. He’s hauled kegs, cleaned beer lines, and well-understands the work required to distribute beer.
He has some pallets of kegs and a commercial keg washer on order. He’ll soon be filling those kegs with the intent of self-distributing to key craft beer accounts across the state. Weathered Ground will package its beer in one-sixth barrel and one-half barrel kegs.
Every brewer needs a great assistant
After more than a decade working in the pleasure boat industry, Daniels resident Anthony Meador was looking for a career change.
Sam says it was a match made in Cool Ridge.
“Anthony was the first person I met from this area who had the same passion for craft beer that I had. When we moved here, he started coming over and learning to brew beer with me in my garage.
“He had a great feel for it. He came up with his own recipes, executed them, and did a lot of research. It made it easy to hire him as an assistant.
Meador has quickly taken to his new occupation.
“I’m really enjoying it,” Meador said of the assistant brewer job. “I’m a big, big, big fan of craft beer.”
More than just a brewery
“We want to take advantage of this place,” said Sam. “It’s got so much to offer.”
With the landscape there being so beautiful, it’s a no-brainer that they should host events. In the future, look for for them to hold outdoor live music and beer functions.
“More and more people are wanting to get married at places like this,” he said. “We’re totally willing to host that for them.”
Fonda also wants to keep the brewery property attractive for whole-family visits. It won’t be a roadhouse atmosphere.
“We have a young daughter and we love being family-friendly. We want people to come out here with their kids and enjoy the atmosphere.”
Getting to Weathered Ground
Google Maps gets you real close. Just enter 2027 Flat Top Road, Cool Ridge, WV. Other GPS may vary a little. The brewery is on the east side of the highway and sits back a distance from the road.
From North or South – The brewery sits along US 19 approximately 2.9 miles north of the Ghent exit (Exit 28) of I-77. The brewery driveway entrance will be on your right. The West Virginia Turnpike (I-77) is the best route to the brewery for visitors coming from the north or south.
From the East – If coming from the east on I-64, it can be a bit quicker to use Exit 129 and then go south on Rt. 307 to US 19, and then south to Cool Ridge. Heading south on US 19, the brewery driveway entrance will be on the left side of the highway, 0.2 miles south of the Cool Ridge Post Office.
For reference, Weathered Ground is around 7 miles south of the Glade Springs Resort at Daniels, about 20 miles south of downtown Beckley, and 24 miles north of Princeton. It is about an hour’s drive from Lewisburg, and an hour and fifteen minutes from Charleston.
August 5 Grand Opening Hours: 12 noon to 10 PM
Weathered Ground Brewery
2027 Flat Top Road
Cool Ridge, WV
Phone: (304) 716-6230
Brewery Website Link
After Aug 5: open from 4-9 on Thursday & Friday. Saturday & Sunday afternoons and evenings