New faces of West Virginia beer

Now that Weathered Ground Brewery is through its grand opening grace period, it’s time to take a closer look at the beer program. What I’m finding are the new faces of West Virginia beer. 

new faces weathered ground brewery
Sam and Aryn Fonda with daughter Willa.

Proprietors Aryn and Sam Fonda said they have been pleasantly surprised by the large crowds that showed at Weathered Ground Brewery for opening day and each weekend since. “We’ve been overwhelmed by how well it’s been accepted,” Sam said.

With beers as popular as theirs out of the gate, the Fondas are challenged to stay a few steps ahead. Careful production planning and scheduling is so important at small breweries with fast-selling brews. Production planning is doubly important when your signature styles are barrel-aged, farmhouse styles, sours and imperial stouts, which take much longer to mature or age than do standard ales, such as IPAs.

“We’ve got a lot of people asking about sour beer,” says Fonda. “We’ve promoted that we’re going to make a lot of sour beers, and we are. We’re going to do it a lot of different ways.”

new faces

The brewers at Weathered Ground have been busy and some new beers will be on tap this weekend. While we’ll have to wait a while on the barrel-aged specialties, you’ll see an interesting line up of quicker-maturing ales. Several other beers, in various stages of production, provide a clue about what you can expect in the future from this up and coming brewery. Taken it total, one can begin to see a brewery signature developing.

Lost Ridge Wet-Hopped Pale Ale

new faces weathered ground
J.R. Ward, left, of Lost Ridge Farms and Sam Fonda with glasses full of Lost Ridge Wet-Hopped Pale Ale.

Lost Ridge Pale Ale  is a collaboration with Lost Ridge Farms in Faidale, WV. They supplied all the hops in this light bodied, toasty pale/amber hybrid ale. Call it a nice transition beer into the cooler weather.

“It was kind of a last minute decision to make it a little bit darker,” said Fonda.  He thinks the richer color and malt will better match the beer with the harvest season.

He says Lost Ridge Farms owners, J.R. and Tiffany Ward, have become friends with Fondas. He feels lucky that there is a hop farm right there in the same county as the brewery and he wants to support that..

“We were really pumped to brew this beer with hops that were picked the day before we brewed it,” he said.  The beer is bittered with Lost Ridge Farms Zeus and late-hopped with their Cascade.

“When you have these freshly picked wet hops they put off a totally different flavor than dried hops,” he said. “It’s a true regional Appalachian beer. It’s brewed with 100% River Bend Malt from Asheville, NC. and 100% Lost Ridge Farm hops.”

On tap now. Tea flavors and touch of lemon from hops. Wheat bread toast from malt. 5.2% ABV.

A new kid in town

Folks stopping in the brewery the past two weeks have been enjoying the brewery’s first sour beer. Called Sour Kid, the beer was the first kettle sour Fonda ever made. It’s light and refreshing.

While Sour Kid is a kettle sour, it was handled differently from the typical kettle sour today. With Sour Kid, the beer was kettle soured by adding a commercial lactobacillus culture to the wort, but the beer was not boiled after souring (boiling is the normal process). This kept the microbes alive in the beer during the regular yeast fermentation step and into the serving tanks. My first thought was that this imparted a great probiotic effect to a glass of the beer, but Fonda said the reason he kept the bacteria culture alive was because he wanted to use it again to sour future beers.

“We think the more we brew with that culture the more complex it will become, and pretty soon we’ll brew a 100 percent barrel-fermented beer with that culture,” Fonda says.

On tap now. Tart, light and refreshing. 4.5% ABV

new faces weathered ground brewery
That big backyard would be the perfect place to enjoy a glass of Oktoberfest Lager this weekend. Weathered Ground Brewery.

Oktoberfest Lager release

Oktoberfest/Märzen is a favorite beer style of brewery proprietor Aryn Jane Fonda. While she normally works in the brewery office and taproom, she helped mash-in and brew this beer.

In her honor, the beer was named AJs Festbier. An Oktoberfest-style brew, it is a rich amber, traditional lager brewed in July and lagered until its release on September 9. It contains a lot of premium Weyermann malt from Germany and has a subtle noble hop profile. You’ll find it an easy-drinking festbier made for good times at the farmhouse brewery.

On tap Sept. 9.  6.0% ABV.

Goodness Gracious, it’s an IPA

Fonda’s well-received RK Double IPA is now gone but will be coming back sometime later in the fall. Before it does, another IPA will take it’s place in the line-up.

“We want to rotate all our beers with other fun beers,” Fonda says.

The new double IPA named Goodness Gracious Double IPA is a true beauty. Compared to RK, it will be lighter bodied with way more of that very tropical, juicy hop flavor profile that is so popular today. (We sampled it from the fermenter and it was impressive.)

“I named it Goodness Gracious because that’s what I said after I tasted it when it had been fermenting for a couple of days.” says Fonda.

On tap now.  A big citrus fruit aroma followed by a soft mouthfeel and piney flavor that leads to a pineapple/peach/mango aftertaste. 8.3% ABV

new faces weathered ground brewery

Other beers currently at the brewery include the Tallahatchie IPA (West Coast style), Barn Kritter Farmhouse Ale, Scrappy Rye Pale Ale, and Enniskillen Dry Irish Stout. And something that will put smiles on many faces: the Cool Ridge Lager is back on tap.

Radishes and hay

What does Weathered Ground have in store for the barrel-aged farmhouse ale hounds and sour beer fans? I think you’ll be pleased.

On the rustic ale front, get ready for Rad Roots. In this farmhouse ale, Fonda added to his mash new mown hay from the brewery fields and radishes from the brewery garden. More radishes went into the fermenter as well. After the wort was fermented with saison yeast, he inoculated the beer with brettanomyces and put it into Hawk Knob cider (née Smooth Ambler bourbon) barrels. The brett took off and is working diligently on the beer, as can be seen in the Instagram screen-grab below.

Hopefully we will see this beer on tap in the within the next month of so.

weathered ground
Rad Radish Farmhouse Ale with brett in the barrel

Cider barrel source discovered at festival

Back in August, while attending the Rails & Ales Festival in Huntington, Fonda met the guys from Hawk Knob Cidery, whose festival tent was next to his.

He got a chance to talk to them pretty much all day, and he learned that they just happened to be emptying some barrels that week and bottling their cider. Hawk Knob’s Josh Bennett asked Fonda if he’d be interested in the used bourbon barrels that had been filled with cider for several months. Fonda jumped on it.

“We drove over to Lewisburg and scooped them up, had some fun and drank some cider,” he said. “Now we have our farmhouse ale sitting in those barrels.”

Sister likes her ale hot

weathered ground
Sister & Brother. Laura Anne Archer and Sam Fonda in the brewery. (Photo by Archer)

There’s no better way to commemorate the occasion of family members visiting your brewery than to brew a new beer. That’s what happened recently when Sam recruited his sister Laura Anne Archer, who was visiting from Greenwood, Mississippi, to help him brew a local-produce-inspired farmhouse ale. It’s ingredients included a big pile of jalapeño peppers, fresh ginger, and raw Sourwood honey.

“She loves the hot stuff,” said Fonda of his sister’s love for picante spice.

wills honeyArcher who assisted with the preparation and mashing insisted that, “All I did was stir.” The peppers came from a brewery bartender’s garden. The raw Sourwood honey was sourced from just down the road at Wills Honey Supply in Shady Spring.

The combination of jalepenos with ginger’s zip  and flavorful forest honey should make a nice complement to the bready beer and spicy yeast.

Expect to see this rustic ale in a few week at the brewery taproom.

A big ol’ stout

Fonda is also trying his hand at making a big, robust imperial stout. This beer will be ready for a mid-winter release. He wants to take the beer toward the bold end of the spectrum and then mellow it in bourbon barrels for at least several months. For this endeavor he recently purchased some freshly-emptied bourbon barrels from Breckenridge Distillery in Colorado.

“We want this to be a really nice bold stout,” he said. “We’ll incorporate some oats and some locally roasted coffee beans.”

Barrel fermenting, Fonda style

A row of wine barrels in front of a the cider barrels.

When Fonda talks about barrel fermenting he means, that instead of fermenting the wort in stainless steel tanks, which is the way most all beer is made today, he will ferment the beer in wooden barrels and let the beer age there for a period of months. Don’t confuse barrel fermenting with simple barrel aging, in which a beer, that was already fermented in a stainless steel tank, is transferred to a barrel for aging. Barrel fermenting has many more variables than does steel tank fermenting. You don’t control the temperature so much and you typically use somewhat unpredictable wild yeasts and bacteria instead of the more-predictable brewer’s yeasts. Fonda says to expect that his barrel-fermented beers, after primary fermentation is complete, will often be moved back to a tank or put into a different barrel to undergo a secondary fermentation with added fruits or other fermentables and natural flavoring ingredients.

The barrel fermentation process leans more toward art than science. When fermenting beer like this in small-batch barrels (used wine and spirit barrels) with wild yeasts, brettanomyces, and bacteria, each individual barrel can take on its own character. After aging is completed, the magic lies in blending the barrels together in a way that makes a great finished product.

“If there’s anything that we don’t agree with or is off-putting, that won’t get packaged in the beer,” says Fonda.

That typically means there will be some quantity of beer that does not make it into the final blend. This beer may be fine, but have a taste profile undesired in the blend or only needed in small quantities. Sometimes this extra beer gets blended into other mixes or is possibly served as a special limited-release in a brewpub. Barreled beer that has gone way off the reservation gets dumped. That’s part of the fun in barrel-aged farmhouse beers. You never know exactly what you’ll get in each barrel.

weathered ground
Weathered Ground Brewery brewhouse and fermentation tanks

Fonda’s brewhouse produces seven-barrel batches (217 gallons), which are enough to fill roughly four whiskey barrels or 3.5 wine barrels at a time. As he gets more barrels, he will brew more of the rustic-style ales. That will take some time, but down the road, it should be fun attending beer release events at the brewery.

A coolship would be so cool

To add even more variables to the mix, Fonda plans to build a classic wild yeast fermentation program sometime in the future.

“Eventually, we want to have a coolship here where we can capture our own microbes,” he says.

A coolship is a large, shallow flat tank, which is filled with hot wort from the kettle. After the wort cools, it is exposed for a few hours or overnight to the open air where it picks up ambient microbes and wild yeasts are present at the brewery locale. The wort is then pumped into a fermentation tank or wooden barrels where the wild microbes ferment the beer. A coolship is an important piece of equipment in true open or wild fermentation. It would be great to see one in southern West Virginia.

Anthony’s small batches

To get even more variety in the brewery taproom, Fonda has given assistant brewer Anthony Meador pretty much free rein to brew whatever he wants on the little pilot brewing system and put those small batches on tap.

Some examples of Anthony’s brews includes an English-style Bitter,  a Dry-hopped Wheat Ale, a Double Black IPA, and a Belgian Dubbel. So far, it’s been a lot of fun.

At the end of the day, you have to admire Fonda’s goals for the brewery. It certainly makes Weathered Ground a brewery to keep on your watch list.

Weathered Ground BreweryWeathered Ground logo
2027 Flat Top Road
Cool Ridge, WV

Link to brewery grand opening article

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