HUNTINGTON - If all goes according to plan, The Peddler will tap into some modern day history at their hip burgers and arcade restaurant on Third Avenue this month.
From the taps will flow the first Huntington-brewed commercial beer since River and Rail Brewery (formerly Brew Bakers) closed its doors back in 1998.
Its opening will make Huntington, once home to the massive block-long Fesenmeier Brewing Company on 14th Street West, the last of the larger cities along the Ohio River to have a hometown brewery.
Elsewhere in West Virginia, river cities Wheeling and Parkersburg both have two breweries. Lewisburg also has two breweries, including the Hawk and Knob Cidery; amazingly, the tiny side-by-side Canaan Valley towns of Davis and Thomas have three breweries, including the state's largest brewery - Mountain State - which is undergoing a massive expansion, and which has three locations. The Beckley/Fayetteville area has three breweries, and last but not least, Morgantown has added a new brewery, Pubstomper, along with the older Morgantown Brewing and Chestnut Brew Works. A fourth, Cheat Canyon Brewery, is now being planned near the Morgantown Mall.
As is a testament to the quick growth of the craft beer industry in West Virginia, The Peddler will be the 19th brewery opened in the state, which in 2015 only had a dozen craft breweries that were contributing $211 million to its economy. Kentucky has 24 craft breweries while Ohio, which is much more populous, had 143 in 2015, according to the American Brewers Association. Ohio's breweries created an economic impact of more than $2.1 billion.
Here's a look at some recent developments in the craft beer industry in Huntington.
Back brewing in
the Jewel City
If The Peddler brewmaster Jay Fox, and The Peddler's owner Drew Hetzer, who also owns the adjacent restaurant Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar, are a little excited and anxious, it is for good reason.
The two have been planning and were building the brewery prior to the July 2014 fire that destroyed The Peddler's original site in the Morris Building at 9th Street and Fourth Avenue. After the fire, the two partners said they used that delay to better plan and take their time installing the new brewery at The Peddler, which opened in September 2016 next door to Hetzer's sister restaurant, Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar, that was reopened in November 2015 at the 833 Vandalia Building.
Rather than try a mission impossible of starting two restaurants and a brewery at the same time, Hetzer said they've staggered the start-ups to make sure they were doing things right.
"Our city has so much potential and so much talent but also we got so much support from everyone and that has allowed us to grow," Hetzer said. "We didn't start brewing right off the bat because we just opened Backyard and we have this whole building (833 Vandalia) that we are trying to revitalize and redevelop. We did all new plumbing and wiring and the full she-bang from the ground up. By everyone coming in here and supporting us, they are funding the brewery. That was sort of the process from the beginning. We like taking baby steps when we go into something so that we can offer the best possible product. It has been real exciting and really nice to be able to do one thing at a time instead of throwing things together. I feel like we have a real solid set up in functionality and flow. It is sort of untraditional how it is set up right in front of the business."
If customers have been a bit antsy to try some of the Huntington-brewed beer it is for good reason too as they walk past the massive stainless steel mash tuns, fermenters and bright tank for the 10-barrel brewhouse when entering The Peddler.
"It a zoo brewery, that's what D.H. from Country Boy Brewing called it," Fox said laughing. "You are in a cage and people are watching you."
Fox said they plan to keep five or six beers on tap at The Peddler and hope to have beers ready for tasting soon.
Fox, who spent 20 years as a homebrewer before stepping up his game and graduating in 2015 from the American Brewers Guild School in Vermont, said they plan to keep the beer styles rotating with the seasons at The Peddler, and hope to be able to self-distribute to a few select craft beer pubs/restaurants in Huntington as well.
"I don't plan on getting pigeonholed into one thing so we will have about five or six different ones to start," Fox said. He's already done small test batches of a Hefeweizen, a brown ale, a rhubarb saison, a stout, a blonde and, of course, an IPA. Fox said they also plan to brew a sour or wild ale, a style that recently has become trendy in the U.S.
Fox said they also plan to utilize a Randall, a small infuser, and to keep one tap open to showcase a local award-winning home brewer's beer.
"Once we get going rolling we will showcase those too, it is all about doing those too, it is all about showcasing local talent," Fox said.
Hetzer said. "Also it helps show people from out of town how close knit our community is."
While West Virginia's economic impact may lag behind other states, it does make an impact and is attracting folks like Fox, who spent 21 years as an operations manager at a local manufacturing facility, and is now using those skills in production scheduling and raw materials ordering, combined with his brew experience, to create a new career in his hometown.
"On a super basic level I wanted to just enjoy what I was doing when I came to work every day," Fox said. "Doing this is one of the main reasons I started Rails and Ales too was that I was mad we had to always leave town to find good beer. There is definitely a need and a want for it here. To have this opportunity with Drew is very awesome. It is kind of surreal still, but it is really fun to want to come to work and enjoy what you do."
This Sheep is No Follower
Speaking of opportunity knocking, Huntington-based entrepreneur Patrick Guthrie and his Black Sheep Burrito and Brews stepped in back in January 2014 to take over the restaurant side of the Charleston Brewing Company, which had opened in April 2013.
This past September, CBC owner Ann Saville, a veteran home brewer who also owns Taylor Books, sold Guthrie and his partner Jess Bright the business, and on Dec. 1, Guthrie got the license for his re-branded Bad Shepherd Brewing Company, which has since been cranking out a series of brews that are on tap at the Black Sheep pubs, as well as The Peddler, Backyard Pizza and other locations as far away as Morgantown.
Guthrie said he wanted to re-brand the brewery to go along with the Black Sheep theme.
"We wanted to differentiate ourselves from Black Sheep but also stay with the same kind of branding," Guthrie said.
Guthrie said he was stoked to reel in West Virginia native brewer Ross Williams as the brewmaster. Williams had been working in South Carolina but came back to take over Bad Shepherd, which is located in the heart of Charleston on Quarrier Street.
Although Guthrie also bought the almost 100 different beer recipes left by CBC's head brewer Ryan Heastings, who took a job with the high-profile Fat Head's Brewery in Ohio, Bad Shepherd has been carving its own path.
Williams has already cranked out such brews as a sessions IPA, The EZ Tiger, the Loud IPA, a 6.8-ABV India Pale Ale and the Cloud Machine, a hazy New England style IPA.
"We are using some different yeasts than Charleston Brewing did so we are trying some different things and trying to get some different profiles," Guthrie said.
Williams, who is brewing on the Bad Shepherd's unique, 10-Hectoliter brewing system, said he couldn't pass up a chance to put his mark on the burgeoning Mountain State beer culture.
"I had just moved to South Carolina a few months before and had found work there and there are some nice breweries there but I didn't find a good brewing opportunity that I was happy with," Williams said. "I was just just itching to get back into brewing and back into making good brew. When Pat gave me a call I knew I had to to come and see him and see how he was going in a different creative direction and what styles we both enjoyed so it seemed like a really good fit. I could not resist."
Williams said while he knows that both Charleston and Huntington are big IPA towns, he said he knows that folks here too are up for trying different beers, like the Belgian Saisons (or Farmhouse ales) that he is brewing including one aged with black peppercorns to give it a crisp bite, as well as a rye saison, and even a German sour called a Nose.
Bad Shepherd will also be releasing from beers aged in barrels that Guthrie and the brewing company's distribution guy, Jeremy "Wood" Roberts, picked up on a trip out west.
Those will include a Belgian Quad as well as a Russian Imperial Stout aged in a bourbon barrel.
While Bad Shepherd will be keeping about seven or eight taps full at the Black Sheep locations, they are also going to be supplying at least some of the beer at Guthrie's traditional German beer house, Bahnhof that is set to open in mid-March.
Reaching for the Summit, and Bonded by Bottles
When it comes to the craft beer scene in West Virginia, few folks have helped graduate the Mountain State's beer tastes like Jeff McKay.
A former Marshall University professor, McKay is one of the founders of the Rails and Ales Festival, which is now in its fourth year, as well as the owner of The Summit Beer Station at Heritage Station, and the owner of Bonded by Bottles, 1456 Fourth Ave., where you can find more than 450 different beers.
McKay said in mid-February that Summit Beer Station, which has been at Heritage Station for three and a half years, will be moving into a bigger space by June at 321 9th St., the former Doddrill Jewelry location.
"The new spot will be able to accommodate about 35 to 50 people and that is comfortable seating and not packed in like sardines," McKay said. "It is not a massive space but we will triple our size and finally do what I originally wanted to do."
In addition to offering between 35 and 40 different beers, McKay will also be serving bourbon and American whiskeys as well as some trendy, non-alcoholic drinks such as kombucha, a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast, as well as shrubs, a sweetened vinegar-based syrup, from which the cocktail is made.
At both Summit and Bonded by Bottles, which opened this past year, McKay has helped introduce many people to new styles of beers from around the world.
McKay said one great thing that has happened since he opened up Summit, which has special cask ale nights, and special keg nights of seasonal and one-off beers from around the world, is that West Virginia recently has welcomed in many new breweries. What once was a trickle is now a flood.
"I can remember several years ago looking at the ABC licensing page and there was maybe 3 /4 of a page to active licensed breweries, and it is up to five pages now," McKay said. "Now there is so much stuff out there coming in, you can't even keep up, your head is spinning with all the new product that comes in."
In the last year, two of Michigan's most respected breweries, Founder's (makers of the All Day IPA) and Bell's (known for their Hopslam) have come in, as well as the Colorado-Based and North Carolina-brewed New Belgium Brewing Company, which McKay said is really active with the market and continue to set up events which is nice to see from a major brewery.
"There is a bunch of stuff coming down the pike too, all kinds of breweries are ready to enter West Virginia. Stone is on the way, and Ballast Point has been working for a long time, and Dogfish Head made an announcement, as has Brew Dog and Christian Moerlein out of Cincinnati. We need to support these brands so they will stay in West Virginia."
Revving up for
Rails and Ales
While McKay couldn't give too many details about the fourth annual Rails and Ales craft beer festival that is set for Saturday, Aug. 12, he did give some hints about a few changes at the Harris Riverfront Park festival which last year sold out at 5,000 capacity. McKay said this year they plan to expand the number of tickets they are going to sell, and they are going to break the festival into two sessions, which is what most beer festivals in larger cities do.
"It is by far the biggest beer festival in West Virginia and we are still under expansion," McKay said. "I don't know that we will expand the amount of beer too much but we will be more choosy."
McKay said that like last year he will push for more export/international beers as last year's bevy of Belgium beers were very popular. Also, McKay said they will be trying to work with the state to allow for a temporary license to allow brewers who are not in the state to come to the festival. He said that is something that the neighboring state of Kentucky allows.
"I have had two goals and the first being the most obvious one I want to expose people to beer that they don't normally get and that may be beer I don't even sell in my own bar," McKay said. "I pushed last year to bring in a bunch of international beer and I probably am going to have focus again this year since we have access to so much more. Then the second point that I am working on, is that I have wanted to get a temporary license for brewers to come to the festival. I think that is a no-brainer. It provides more funds to the ABC and the state, more sales tax, but not only that it would allow brewers to test the market and allow us to get beers that you couldn't get in West Virginia. You see this in surrounding states, they offer these types of licenses, a provisional license for a week, they sign a temporary franchise agreement with the wholesalers so the beer is still going through the three-tier system."
In addition to that push, McKay said he is working with local legislators to push for an end to the ABV cap of 12 percent, since many barleywines and imperial (or double-batched beers) can come in over that limit.
"That 12 percent ABV cap restricts not only what I can sell but also what a West Virginia brewer can create and sell," McKay said. "As it stands now, say you have a brewery in West Virginia that brews an imperial stout and it happens to be 12.2 percent, which is not uncommon, they cannot sell it. I would like to get that removed before breweries like Stone and Dogfish Head come into West Virginia. Ohio lifted their ABV cap in 2016, I think we should lift ours in 2017. I think they will increase it but it might be a pipe dream ... but still, there is no cap on liquor."