Beer: Big business in the Mountain State

By Leah Deitz

The craft brewing movement has made its way to West Virginia, and the Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company is looking forward to being a part of it.

The brewery, located in Maxwelton, currently offers two signature ales, Mothman Black IPA and Wild Trail Pale Ale, which is crafted at their state-of-the-art brewery, housed in an old upholstery factory. They are also launching the Wild and Wonderful series of seasonal beer available throughout the year.

“People like to try new things; they want new flavors,” one of the owners of Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company, Wil Laska said. “The craft brewing movement missed West Virginia initially. But it is hitting now.” Laska and business partner David Kucera teamed up in 2012 to utilize their love of craft beer as a business, and according to Laska, they are not alone. He is referring to the upsurgence of craft brewing in the United States that began about a decade ago.

According to USA Today, the craft brewing industry is gaining in momentum. “There is a craft beer movement afoot, one that cultivates a culture of independence and – at least for now – a spirit of bearded idealism.”

This movement offers more than your simple run-of-the-mill Mr. Beer machine making, basement brew. This is a serious business.

“It’s big business that is getting bigger.” USA Today reported. “The industry this year crowned its first craft beer billionaire.” USA Today is referring to Jim Koch, the 64-year-old co-founder of Boston Beer Company, behind the trademark brand Samuel Adams Boston Lager, who was named the first Craft Brew billionaire in 2013. “People are casting aside their day jobs in traditional, office-space careers and betting their futures – and in some cases millions of dollars – on the promise that the industry holds.”

Just like any big business there have been setbacks. “There have been challenges and expenses that we did not anticipate,” Laska said.

In West Virginia, the beer crafters have had many obstacles to overcome, including a variety of licensing requirements and alcohol content regulations. The State Journal reported that the WV tax structure and licensing process makes it tough for the small business crafter.

“A West Virginia brewer’s license costs $1,200 each year with a $5,000 bond,” the article states. “A brew pub in West Virginia requires a second license for $1,500 each year and another $5,000 bond. The federal government requires one license with no charge and a $1,000 bond.”

In addition to the cost of gaining licensing in West Virginia, there has been a relatively low cap on alcohol content. The state has bumped up the cap from 10 percent to 12 percent. However, Laska said that the previous caps may have dissuaded would-be crafters.

“You may see an influx of crafters in 2015 because of the increase in alcohol content,” Crystal Bishop, director of Marketing for Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company said.

Raising the cap for alcohol content is just the beginning of the movement here in West Virginia. According to The State Journal, a 2011 analysis of overnight visitors to the state prepared by Longwood Travel USA and presented to the division of tourism showed that brewery visits in the state were ranked in frequency with skiing and snowboarding, hunting and spa visits, and the number of visits were also aligned with the country’s average.

This means there is a huge opportunity here in the 304. According to Laska, there are only 10 other breweries in the state. From tourism to bars and restaurants catering toward craft beer enthusiasts, we are a new and viable market.

Signs of growth and expansion include the increase in “taps” in West Virginia. This means that more restaurants are featuring these beers on tap or on their menus. There is also a growing festival phenomenon in West Virginia. “There are a number of beer festivals in the state,” Laska said. “We go and represent the company. We are generally sold out in just a few hours.” Beer festivals allow the craft brewers to bring their product to the masses but they also bring tourism to the local communities. For example, Laska mentioned the 2014 Mountaineer Brewfest in Wheeling. “It was incredible,” he said. “It brought life to the community.”

There are at least four other beer festivals in West Virginia including the Brew Skies Festival in Canaan Valley; the Bramwell Oktoberfest event in Mercer County; Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival in Charleston and the Rails and Ales Craft Beer Festival in Huntington.

Lewisburg does not have a beer festival, yet. However, Laska hopes to see that become the next big event for America’s Coolest Small Town.

 

Where to find Greenbrier
Brewing Co.
Beers locally:
• Irish Pub on
Washington Street
• Del Sol
• Greenbrier
Valley Baking Company
• Stardust Café
• The Livery
• 50 East
• The Greenbrier / Summit and JJ’s
• Ruby Tuesday
• Brier Patch Inn
• The Asylum

 

Introducing Cans - Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company will be introducing cans of their two signature ales, Mothman Black IPA and Wild Trail Pale Ale in 2015. (Photo by Leah Deitz)
Introducing Cans – Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company will be introducing cans of their two signature ales, Mothman Black IPA and Wild Trail Pale Ale in 2015. (Photo by Leah Deitz)
From Bourbon to Beer - Barrels used by Smooth Ambler Spirits get repurposed at Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company for crafting the breweries new Anniversary sour beer. The beer will be available in October of 2015. (Photo by Leah Deitz)
From Bourbon to Beer – Barrels used by Smooth Ambler Spirits get repurposed at Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company for crafting the breweries new Anniversary sour beer. The beer will be available in October of 2015. (Photo by Leah Deitz)

more recommended stories