An oversized portrait titled “happy hunty” is one of the first things you notice when looking into the room containing the beer brewing system at The Peddler restaurant. It’s a likeness of Collis P. Huntington holding a mug of beer.
We’ve been waiting nearly two decades — since the late 1990s — for a craft brewery to open in Huntington. Finally, thanks to the leadership of restaurateurs Drew and Megan Hetzer, the Huntington region’s long horrendous local-beer drought is about to end.
The brewery, with the yet-to-be-announced name, will begin serving its beer at The Peddler restaurant later today. (They may not use the Peddler name because there’s already a Peddler Brewing Company in Seattle, Washington, with a trademark on the name, I’m told.)
For those who may have slept through their 8th grade West Virginia History class, Collis P. Huntington was the 19th century railroad tycoon who founded the eponymous city of Huntington in 1871.
“He was known as an old curmudgeon, who never seemed happy.” explained The Peddler restaurant’s brewer Jay Fox. “So in jest they nicknamed him Happy Hunty.”
The sarcastic nickname stuck and now is channeled to represent the happy, if a bit irreverent, spirit behind The Peddler restaurant’s brewery operation. Happy Hunty is also the name of the brewery’s Blonde Ale.
Six beers make up opening menu
The brewery announced the opening beers include the Blonde Ale, a Saison, a Hefeweizen, and a Chocolate Stout. Fox told me to also expect an IPA and a Brown Ale soon.
While Fox’s opening beer selections may seem pretty standard — a lot of things brewed to pair well with The Peddler food menu — don’t think that’s all he has up his sleeve.
“I’m going to stick initially with fairly traditional recipes, but then we’ll push the envelope once we get comfortable,” Fox says.
He’ll use their pilot brewing system for more the experimental brews. When asked what direction we might look forward to, he answered, “I’m a hop-head, so…. I’m probably going to push that envelope a little. I love saisons too. I’m all over the board on beer styles I like. When you come in here, there’ll always be something new on tap.”
Busy days ahead in the brewhouse
With Fox busy brewing and kegging his first commercial production beer over the past couple of weeks, he is excited to put the new brewing system through its paces.
The brewpub’s 10-barrel brewing system came from O’Neill’s Brewing & Equipment Company of Hamden, Connecticut, The brewhouse consists of a hot liquor tank on the left, a mash & lauter tun on the right, and the brew kettle and whirlpool in the middle. Once brewed, the beer will ferment in six 10-barrel fermenters and one 20-barrel fermenter, giving them the capacity to keep six or seven beers going at once.
Four of the fermenters sit high overhead on a balcony platform. You walk underneath them as you enter and exit the restaurant.
Following fermentation, the beer is pumped into a 10-barrel bright tank for final conditioning before kegging. Initially, at least, all Peddler beer will be kegged.
“With this being such a popular restaurant, it’s going to be a challenge,” he says about keeping up with kegging.
With only one bright tank in the system, it could be tough keeping all the varieties of beer in stock. Fox says it will present a bit of a scheduling bottleneck, but he’ll handle it, though he hopes to acquire a second bright tank soon.
Brewery to supply Peddler and Backyard Pizza
Fox’s beers will supply not only The Peddler, but also Backyard Pizza & Raw Bar next door. Both restaurants are owned and operated by Drew and Megan Hetzer.
Beer sales at The Peddler restaurant have been very strong since it opened last year. The same goes for Backyard Pizza. With the new line up of house beers coming, we can only expect the demand to be stronger than ever.
“We’re going to focus our beer on these two downtown restaurants,” he said, adding that you shouldn’t expect to see his beers at a bunch of other accounts right away.
Any Peddler tap that isn’t pouring its house beers will have some other West Virginia or close-by beer, like Country Boy, on tap. Backyard Pizza will add the in-house brews but retain it’s national tap focus.
Emphasis on quality assurance
One important thing that differentiates The Peddler from many other West Virginia breweries is its establishment of a laboratory program. This point of emphasis came from Fox’s professional brewery education. A brewery laboratory is a critical part of quality assurance and production efficiency.
We applaud Fox for his laboratory initiative and know it will pay for itself in positive outcomes down the road.
Brewer education program opens eyes
It took a while for Fox to transition from his former day job running a manufacturing facility to getting into the brewery full-time. Once Drew Hetzer made his decision to open a brewery, Jay was immediately interested in being the brewer. During the previous two decades, he had been an active home brewer but had no professional brewing experience. To strengthen his resume, he enrolled in a 23-week brewer training course offered by the American Brewers Guild of Middlebury, Vermont.
Before starting the Brewing Science & Engineering program, Fox said he thought he knew a lot about brewing from his homebrew background, but “I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.”
He said the training program really opened his eyes to a much broader need for knowledge and expertise. It was a great experience for him. Some of his instructors included people like Matt Brynaldson of Firestone-Walker Brewing and folks from Lost Abbey and other name craft breweries.
Fox joins scores of other graduates of the American Brewers Guild program who now work at top quality breweries and brewpubs across the country.
Plenty of Peddler food to pair with brews
It wouldn’t be a good write-up if we failed to mention The Peddler’s food. It’s known for its high quality, gourmet burgers and sandwiches. Oh, and the duck-fat french fries. They are good. The restaurant bakes its own hamburger buns and bread fresh every day.
They say, in coming days, the chef will pay attention to what’s brewing and you’ll likely see more coordination of cuisine to popular beer-food pairings.
A game arcade too
Head upstairs at The Peddler to find a game room full of old-fashioned arcade and vintage video games. Some are even free to play.
Shooting, racing, Skee-Ball, and classic video games are great for little family outings at The Peddler’s arcade. You could easily spend an hour o two here with family and friends.
Maybe good things just take a little longer
So, it’s been a long time in the works, getting local beer back to Huntington. Even The Peddler’s brewery operation, once announced, seemed to take forever to get going (a period of time surely exacerbated by the 20-year drought since the Brew Bakers/River & Rails closure). First there was the fire, which shut down Peddler for over two years until a new restaurant site could be secured and built out. When the primary brewery equipment was delivered to the new Peddler location back in the fall of 2015, we beer fans got all excited that we’d soon be sipping local Huntington brew. With each passing day that the place didn’t open, we grew more thirsty and more anxious. Then last fall, when The Peddler restaurant opened but the brewery didn’t, you heard a collective moan. Figuratively, we loaded two decades of frustration on Hetzer’s and Fox’s shoulders. Everyone wanted to know, when is the brewery going to open. But enough about the delays; let’s focus on the now.
Now, we have a sparkling new brewery, with a professionally educated brewer, a quality assurance laboratory, a super-good restaurant, wacky arcade games, and a Happy Hunty mascot. That’s not too shabby at all.
We told Jay Fox, that with this 20-year wait over, you’d have to expect that people will be lined up around the block just to get in here and drink the beer.
“I hope so,” he said, with a smile as broad as Happy Hunty’s beer mug. We hope so too.
Once the taps open, if you are anywhere around the area, get in there and welcome this new brewery to the West Virginia brewing community. We’d love to hear what you think of their beer too.
835 Third Avenue