Meet The Appalachians Tapping Into The Craft Beer And Spirits Industry

Jun 5, 2020

People in our region have made spirits for hundreds of years. Some 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.

We originally aired this show last year, but we thought it would be a good one to listen to again. During the pandemic, with fewer of us going to restaurants and bars, the alcoholic beverage industry has taken a hit. On the other hand, in-home use has increased. Of course, that raises concerns for people who struggle with substance use disorder, including alcoholism.


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

Home Brewing

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

Craft Breweries

Many craft breweries started out with homebrewers perfecting their craft at home, experimenting 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.

Distilleries

Credit courtesy Still Hollow

Beer isn’t the only alcoholic drink that can use local ingredients. Roxy Todd visits a distillery in Randolph County, W.Va. that’s using an heirloom corn to make whiskey and gin. We reached back out to Still Hollow in light of the pandemic. Sales have gone down because they aren’t allowed to do tours or ship whiskey. They told us they are doing some pick-up sales on the weekends and they recently planted a new crop of heirloom corn to use in next year’s whiskey.

Whiskey Woes

While craft distilleries may be feeling the pinch during the pandemic, larger distilleries are coping with a twofold challenge. Sales dropped for American Whiskey companies last year, after new tariffs went into effect in 2018. 

These increased tariffs in Europe, China, Mexico and Canada, are hurting Kentucky in particular, because bourbon is one of Kentucky's most internationally well-known products.

The Ohio Valley ReSource’s Becca Schimel went to Kentucky to learn how whiskey makers were feeling in 2018 with the trade wars looming.

wvpublicnews · Meet The Appalachians Tapping Into The Craft Beer And Spirits Industry

Coopers

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 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.

Local Ingredients

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

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 is 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.

Mead

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.

This story recently won an award from the Associated Press of the Virginias for Best Multimedia/Online Journalism for the work Brittany did with Larry Dowling, our director of production, and Chuck Kleine, video producer.

Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse

During the past several months, as people have been spending more time stuck at home and alone, some people have been drinking alcohol to pass the time. Despite closed bars, alcohol sales skyrocketed in March, as bars closed and people were drinking more at home -- that’s according to the Nielsen company.

But this puts extra strain on people who are in recovery from alcohol abuse. 

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 are some resources:

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: 1-800-662-HELP.  

National Drug Rehab Hotline: (24/7 crisis intervention) 1-888-459-5511

HELP4WV - http://www.help4WV.com (844) 435-7498)

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.

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Music in 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 Glynis Board.  Dave Mistich edited our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens.

You can find us online on Twitter @InAppalachia.