The State of American Craft Beer – West Virginia

With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.

We’re in the final stretch of the series alphabetically and with over two-and-a-half years in the books, we’ve made it to #49 on the list, The Mountain State, West Virginia.  As you may have guessed, the state’s nickname comes from the Appalachian Mountains dominating the eastern portion of the state. The only state formed to separate itself from another as a result of the rise of the confederacy during the Civil War, West Virginia literally straddles the division of North from South, with the Census Bureau and geographers technically considering it a Southern state.

West Virginia ranks 38th in total population (roughly 1.8 million residents), is ranked 29th in population density and houses 15 craft breweries as of 2016 (an increase of 10 since 2011) who are represented by the West Virginia Craft Brewers Guild.. The state ranks 45th in total breweries (including D.C.) and 44th in breweries per capita as of 2016, according to the Brewers Association.


History

While the early history of brewing in the state is a bit cloudy, with the exact details of who was open and when being tough to come by, it’s not much of a surprise considering the state was formed amidst the greatest internal strife in our nation’s history. The largest and earliest forerunners in the state appear to have been primarily located in the state’s first capital, Wheeling. Brewing was happening in the early 1830’s before the state was even born and Wheeling was an ideal location considering it’s location on the Ohio River, transportation routes and the sturdy, deep caves for cellaring that inhabit the region.

One of the largest and most successful breweries in the state prior to Prohibition was the Reymann Brewing Company in Wheeling. It began as the P.P. Beck Brewery in 1847, later partnering with George Reymann in 1849, then his son Anton took over complete ownership following the retirement of his elders in 1863. By 1904, the brewery was producing in excess of 150,000 barrels annually.

The other dominant brewery in the state resided in South Wheeling, the Schmulbach Brewery, which originally opened in 1855 as the Frederick Ziegler Brewery, then became Nail City Brewing and eventually bought by Schmulbach in 1881. Ideally situated next to the state’s largest ice plant, Schmulbach quickly grew from 50,000 barrels annually to over 200,000.

The most exciting thing about the early history of brewing in Wheeling was how both Reymann and Schmulbach invested heavily back into the community, with the former modernizing local railroads and turning a local park into a popular regional amusement park, and the latter developing a community beer garden (today Mozart Park) and building the state’s first skyscraper in the early days of the new century.

Of course all the success the industry saw quickly came to a halt as the state prematurely entered Prohibition in 1914. Neither of those large brewers would open again and while others were able to start again or create new breweries, most died within 10 years of the 21st Amendment’s ratification. The last independent brewery in the state prior to the craft beer movement was Little Switzerland Brewing, closing in 1971, in only it’s third year of existence. Today Wheeling is home to only a few small breweries, indicative of the city’s transformation away from industry.

The first craft breweries in the state began opening once the state ratified a law allowing the operation of brewpubs to sell beer on-site. A number of brewpubs opened and just as quickly shuttered in the early 90’s, yet the oldest existing in the state is the North End Tavern & Brewery in Parkersburg, which opened as a tavern in 1899, then added a brewery in 1997. The largest brewery in the state is currently Mountain State Brewing which opened in 2005 in Morgantown.

No brewery in West Virginia has brought home a GABF medal. Though the BA’s stats of 15 breweries in the state at the end of 2016 sounds skewed being that most accounts had them at 21 to close 2016 and the state guild accounts for 26 of the 28 now said to be in operation – quite a bit of growth over two years!


3 West Virginia Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out

Bridge Brew Works (Fayetteville) – The oldest of this secondary list, Bridge Brew Works opened their doors to the public in the spring of 2010. Co-founded by Nate Harrold and Ken Linch with the goal of bringing quality craft beer to a small town of 2,000 residents, they’ve effectively bridged that gap. Seven years later they’re one of the best regarded brewers in the state, featuring favorites such as their Coffee Stout, Black Diamond Lager and The Dun Glen Dubbel. They’ve created over 32 registered styles and don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

Chestnut Brew Works (Morgantown) – Now open for over 4 years now, this big city brewery has already become the best rated brewer in the state, as well as possessing the top rated beer brand in their Halleck Pale Ale. Starting as a rural operation, about 10 miles south of Morgantown, they’ve since opened a brewery taproom in the Greenmont neighborhood of the city. Head Brewer and manager Bill Rittenour’s passion for the American Chestnut tree is the inspiration for the brewery’s name and the straight ahead options they provide a town thirsty for more.

Greenbrier Valley Brewing (Maxwelton) – The youngest brewery featured here, Greenbrier Valley has been in operation for just over 3 years and have already become one of the top rated brewers in the state behind the success of their Devil Anse IPA and Mothman Black IPA. Opening up their canning line in 2015, they were the first in the state to begin canning in 44 years, with West Virginia being the last state to offer a canned craft beer. They’ve now begun to expand their seasonal offerings and are now distributing into Virginia, all indications that they’re setting quite the course for continued success in the region.

Learn more about all the craft brewery options in the state via WV Craft Beer Trail.

 

About Warren Wills

Warren is the former Assistant Editor & Portland Correspondent for American Craft Beer. Creator of "The State of American Craft Beer" series, he now maintains his own site at craftbeerscribe.com.
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