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Farmers Across Appalachia Get New Customers Through Craft Beer Craze

Caitlin Tan
Appalachian Brew Club members cheer to 10 years since the club formed. They meet every month to talk and taste beer.

People in Appalachia have made spirits for hundreds of years. Some people even say Appalachians are among the best at making whiskey and moonshine. But this history is sometimes coupled with negative stereotypes. Outsiders have long portrayed Appalachians as dangerous, lawless moonshiners.

Craft beer is a growing industry in the country, with more than 7,000 commercial breweries. According to the Brewers Association, small and independent craft brewers contributed more than $76 billion to the U.S. economy in 2017 and accounted for more than 500,000 total jobs.

Craft beer and craft spirits generally refers to alcohol that is made in a non-mechanized way, so no big factories. There are cities in our region where these industries have gotten huge; places like Asheville, North Carolina, where today there are more than 50 breweries. According to the city’s chamber of commerce, as of 2015, the craft beer industry in Asheville employs nearly 900 people.

Craft beers and spirits often pop up in communities where there’s a vibrant young workforce. So if more towns in Appalachia tap into this trend, could it bring more people here to visit, or even work?

Home Brewing

Meet some of the lesser known distillers and brewers -- people who operate off the beaten trail. Caitlin Tan introduced us to several home brewers who really get into the science of beer. 

Craft Breweries

Credit Janet Kunicki / WVPB
Sam Fonda, from Weathered Ground Brewery, pours his birch-flavored beer.

Many craft breweries started out with homebrewers perfecting their craft at home. That leads to experimentation with flavors and beer styles that traditional breweries might never do.

Most of these breweries make smaller batches and that gives them the flexibility to make truly unique offerings. Eric Douglas has the story of a West Virginia brewery that's using traces of coffee, berries -- even tree branches in their beer.


Beer isn’t the only alcoholic drink that can use local ingredients. Roxy Todd visited a distillery in Randolph County, West Virginia that’s using an heirloom corn to make whiskey and gin.

Speaking of whiskey, new tariffs are putting an extra strain on American whiskey exports. These increased tariffs went into effect last year in Europe, China, Mexico and Canada. They are hurting Kentucky in particular, because bourbon is one of Kentucky's most internationally well known products.


To make whiskey, distillers need barrels - but there is a shortage of barrel makers in the United States. Back in 2014, NPR's Noah Adams discovered that these bourbon barrels are becoming more precious than the bourbon itself. And we travel to Cooper's Rock, a natural landmark that gets its name from folklore about one of its early inhabitants.

We’re looking to talk with people who are making whiskey barrels in Appalachia. If you know of a cooper, give us a shout. Send an email to insideappalachia@wvpublic.org.

Local Ingredients

Credit Janet Kunicki / WVPB
Bags of malted grains from North Carolina.

With so many types of beer and spirits -- and so many different ingredients that could possibly be used, some people in the region are creating businesses with a very specific focus.

For example, malted grains are the main ingredients used to make beer. Most often it’s barley. Some other grains like wheat are used in specialty beers. Small businesses in the region are trying their hand at supplying craft brewers.

Sandy Hausman, of WVTF - Radio IQ in Virginia introduces us to a craft maltster in Charlottesville who quit his corporate job and decided to pursue the art of making malt.


One of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages is now making a modern day comeback. Mead is often associated with vikings and medieval feasts. In the 1960s, it made a brief resurgence thanks to renaissance festivals. In the last couple of years, there’s been a new revival in mead. According to the American Mead Makers Association, it’s the fastest-growing alcoholic beverage in the country. Brittany Patterson spent some time with some West Virginia mead makers and learned how the Mountain State’s unique charm is influencing their craft.

Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Not everyone looks at the increased availability of alcoholic beverages quite the same way. Some people struggle with it. Alcohol is, after all, a socially acceptable, legal drug.

Guest host Liz Mccormick sat down with two professionals from West Virginia University who run a program that helps students cope with alcohol. Cathy Yura is the Director of the West Virginia University Collegiate Recovery Program and Andrew Caryl, her co-worker, who is himself in recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, including alcoholism, or if you have a question about recovery, here’s some resources:

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from WVTF - Radio IQ, NPR’s All Things Considered And the Ohio Valley ReSource, which is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Music this episode was provided by Dinosaur Burps, Spencer Elliot, and Ben Townsend.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer.  Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. Dave Mistich edited our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens.

You can find us online on Twitter @InAppalachia.



Jessica can be heard on Inside Appalachia and West Virginia Morning the station’s daily radio news program. You can reach her at jlilly@wvpublic.org
Roxy Todd joined West Virginia Public Broadcasting in 2014 and works as the producer for Inside Appalachia. She's the recipient of a National Edward R. Murrow Award for "Excellence in Video," for a story about the demands small farmers face in West Virginia. She also won a National PMJA Award For "Best Feature" for her story about the history of John Denver's song "Country Roads." You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.
Eric is a native of Kanawha County who graduated from Marshall University with a degree in journalism. He has written for newspapers and magazines throughout his career. He is an author, writing both nonfiction and fiction, including a series of thriller novels set in locations around the world. You can reach Eric at edouglas@wvpublic.org
Liz McCormick is WVPB's Eastern Panhandle and Education reporter/producer. Liz is a native of Charleston, West Virginia and received her Bachelor of Arts in Communication and New Media from Shepherd University in 2014. You can connect with Liz via email at emccormick@wvpublic.org or on Twitter @LizMcCormickWV