Several breweries across the state are hosting events as part of West Virginia Craft Beer Week, which kicked off this past weekend, June 15-16. Some in the craft beer industry are celebrating new regulations that the state legislature passed earlier this spring.
This week — to coincide with West Virginia Day — breweries and restaurants across the state are celebrating the state's steadily growing craft beer industry.
In 2016, there were 15 breweries in the state. That number has nearly doubled in just three years, despite regulatory challenges and the state's dispersed population.
Even though West Virginia doesn’t have big cities to draw crowds, brewers have found a small but loyal customer base here, said West Virginia Brewers Guild President Aaron Rote.
"There’s a lot of cultural centers like Fayetteville, Thomas, Davis, Morgantown, and I really think the breweries you see in those areas really tie into their local culture really well,” Rote said.
Some craft brewers brand their beers with names and logos that reference local folklore — like Zona’s Revenge, made by Greenbrier Valley Brewing in Lewisburg. That witbier is named after Zona Heaster who was murdered in the late 19th century and ultimately became the basis for a popular ghost story in the area.
There’s also Big Timber Brewing Company in Elkins, and Stumptown Ales in Davis, which both feature imagery that celebrate timber, a major economic driver in the region.
Across West Virginia, many craft breweries are closely tied with their local, host communities. The regional nature of the state's craft brewers required event planners for the first state-wide craft beer week to think creatively.
Some breweries will be releasing special beers, some will give tours, and others are featured in tap takeovers, events in which a restaurant only serves a specific brewery’s beer for a night.
This week’s events are also helping to kick off the summer season, said Kevin Ayers, the owner of the Wheeling-based brewery Brew Keepers.
“Think of it like the Memorial Day of craft beer," he said. "Memorial Day kicks off the summer, even though it isn’t summer yet. Summertime is the most popular time to drink."
Ayers said a lot of breweries in the state are located in towns with tourist destinations or are near entrances to the state, and that’s no accident. He said craft breweries could play a role in boosting tourism.
“The more things we can bring into this state to do the more people are going to stop, and they’re going to hunt craft breweries down," Ayers said.
Rote, with the West Virginia Brewers Guild, said to cap West Virginia Craft Beer Week, beer drinkers across the state are encouraged to participate in a "beer toast" on Friday, June 21 at 5:00 p.m.
“Whether you’re at a restaurant or you’re on your back porch drinking a beer at 5 o’clock there’ll be kind of like a beer toast,” he said.
According to Rote, craft beer fans in West Virginia do have something to toast about this year. Earlier this spring, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 529, which increased the cap on alcohol by volume — from 12 to 15 percent. The new law also removes a limit on growler sales.
Rote said he’s hoping these new regulations will help lead to even more growth in the craft beer industry.
“This is just a nice way to cheers maybe a nice turning point for us," he said.
While both Ayers and Rote both say they feel like West Virginia craft beer started a little behind the curve, they both believe the state is catching up, with no signs of slowing down yet.
To learn more about West Virginia Craft Beer Week or to find a local event, go to wvcbw.com and click on their events tab.