CANAAN VALLEY, W. Va. – Over a thousand people gathered at Canaan Valley Resort on Friday and Saturday to celebrate the craft beer industry in West Virginia.
The third Brew Skies Festival, presented by Mountain State Brewing Company, featured both local and national music acts, children’s activities and products made locally, which included craft beers from nine of the 12 breweries in the state.
“The breweries are all very enthused to be involved,” Kate Lane, Festival Director and Brewer at Mountain State Brewing Company said. “I think everyone is really excited to get the word out on their breweries, especially the new guys. Everybody’s beer is great.”
The selections allowed the brewers to show off the creativity which lends itself to the industry, from an India Pale Ale from Morgantown Brewing Company named after Morgantown Founder Zackquill Morgan, to a concoction from the new Wheeling Brewing Company combining the flavors of banana, peanut butter and bacon which is named after the untimely demise of Elvis.
“We’re all experimenting, stretching the boundaries” Lincoln Wilkins, Owner and Brewer at Blackwater Brewing Company in Davis said.
Currently, Blackwater Brewing is producing a Goldenrod Gold Ale which uses a goldenrod honey produced locally at Healthberry Farm in Dryfork. Wilkins said utilizing the agriculture withing the state can help the industry stand apart from those in other states.
“One of the most exciting things here in the state is, not just natural resource acquisition as a driver for our economy, but the agricultural heritage here and the opportunity to facilitate a small farmer by actually interfacing with them and utilizing locally sourced products in the beers is a great opportunity.”
Craft brewing has been on the rise throughout the nation over the past few years and in West Virginia, the number of breweries has been on the rise as well. The first year of the Brew Skies festival only featured roughly four breweries in the state as opposed to the nine at this year’s event.
As more breweries pop up, the level of excitement for those already operating increases.
“A lot of other states have had this boom of small breweries years ago,” Ross Williams, Physical Plant Manager and Assistant Brewer at Morgantown Brewing said. “So to be a part of it, part of the brewing industry in West Virginia right now is to be part of something that is just getting started.”
The increase of breweries in West Virginia can be partially attributed to a bill passed in 2009 which was given the nickname in some circles as “The Craft Beer Bill.”
Prior to 2009, state code dictated beer could not have a higher alcohol content than six percent, which inhibited many breweries in the state from making the quality of products they felt would be successful. The new law changed this portion of the code to increase the limit to twelve percent.
Enthusiasts claim this lead to an increase in the quality of product made in West Virginia which competes with those from surrounding states and more breweries in the state.
One new brewery, at least partially created as a result of the bill, Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company in Lewisburg, plans to take full advantage.
“We’re actually going to have a series of beers we’re calling the ‘Bunker Series’ and they’ll be eight, nine, ten, eleven percent alcohol beers that you can put in your bunker for when the zombie apocalypse or whatever comes,” David Kucera, President and Co-Owner of Greenbrier Valley said with a smile. “You can go down to your bunker and if it’s sat there for 15 years, it’s still a good beer. It’s kind of a nod to the Greenbrier bunker which is right around the corner from us.”
While the law in 2009 helped, the small companies still face challenges. They claim other legislation pertaining to taxes and distributor agreements are not as supportive to their business as they are in other states such as North Carolina and Virginia.
The companies have banded together in an attempt to address their issues.
“We’ve all organized the West Virginia Craft Brewers Guild,” Lane said. “We get together to discuss laws and changes that need to be made. The only way we’re going to get any changes made is if we work together.”
The guild hopes its efforts will lead to the further growth of the industry which could possibly lead to more breweries showcased at next year’s Brew Skies Festival which, as Lane said, is already in the planning stage.