Cheers to a new chapter in WV craft drinks

The art of crafting Mountain State wine, spirits and beer has changed a lot in recent years.

Only a decade or so ago, most restaurants and pubs only served big, national brands of beers (You know, Budweiser, Coors, Miller…), all of which are light, American lagers. Nowadays, you are likely to go into even the smallest local watering hole, and have the option of ordering a stout, IPA, wheat beer, or brown ale, brewed by a local craft and microbrewers. Even more recently, we’ve seen this “micro”-trend extend into other types of adult beverages– microdistilleries, micromeaderies, and local cider and wine makers.

It’s an exciting time for enthusiasts of these locally produced beverages, and West Virginia’s own craft drink industry is taking off. In spring of 2015, our legislature overhauled state laws concerning microbreweries, making it easier for more to open, and even allowing restaurants like Fayetteville’s Secret Sandwich Society to fill growler bottles for customers to enjoy brews at home.

Whether you want beer, cider, wine, or something a little harder, there’s sure to be something to wet your whistle in the Mountain State.

Microbrews: A WV Tradition

West Virginia’s first microbrewery, the Morgantown Brewing Company, started in the early 1990s as the West Virginia Brewing company. Since then, they’ve expanded into a full-service brewpub in the hip college town of Morgantown, complete with live music, growler fill-ups, a restaurant and even “how-to” seminars for home brewers.  

Today, there are about a dozen other microbreweries across the state. Mountain State Brewing, based out of the tiny town of Thomas, has recently become the state’s largest craft brewer, with additional brewpub restaurants operating in Morgantown and even Deep Creek, MD.

Nathan Herrold, one of the owners of Bridge Brew Works, a Fayetteville microbrewery, has seen the quick evolution of the craft beer renaissance across West Virginia firsthand. When he started Bridge Brew in 2010, it was the state’s first microbrewery not associated with a “brewpub”-styled restaurant. Because of this, Bridge Brew was bound by fairly restrictive laws: they could not brew beer stronger than 6% alcohol, and could not sell beer directly to consumers. Today, they can do both of these things.

Herrold speaks enthusiastically about the state of American beer returning to more diversity, like it was before the big-name lagers dominated the market. Bridge Brew has also started offering tastings at their headquarters, and will fill customers’ growlers directly— before their beer has even gone into kegs or taps, which Herrold said greatly enhances the flavors of delicate brews such as IPAs and lagers.

At the rate that West Virginia craft brewers are moving, expect to see more bustling brewpubs across the state soon.

Wine: Vineyards of Appalachia

In the early 1600s, promoters of Virginia colony raved about how fertile the soil of eastern America would be for grapes and viniculture. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both tried to establish vineyards for fine wine on their Piedmont plantations.

But despite this long history, wine culture in America has thrived more in California, not to mention Argentina, Australia, Spain, and France, which have more Mediterranean climates. But the East is still rising up to its expectations: we’ve got some great wineries in Appalachia; especially for those who enjoy sweeter “dessert” wines.

Vintners such as Lambert’s Winery in Weston and Vu Ja De in Spencer offer excellent sustainable, small-batch vintages, which you sample at public tours and tastings. And vintners such as Kirkwood Winery in Summersville go beyond just grapes, fermenting local berries, apples, and even dandelions into unique wines.

The Sweet Stuff: Meads and Ciders

Although many wineries also offer meads, and some craft brewers also do ciders, these unique drinks are really just taking off in West Virginia, and have certainly not reached the momentum that craft beers have just yet. But given that the Mountain State has plenty of local and sustainable orchards and apiaries, it it only a matter of time before our ciders and meads take off.

At the vanguard of this is Mountain Dragon Mazery, which uses local honey, some from its own apiary. Their small-batch meads use flavorings from wildflowers, teas, herbs and fruits.

Another meadery on the horizon is Hawk Knob Hard Cider and Mead in Lewisburg. They source local apples and honeys from Monroe and Pocahontas counties, and are looking to expand. Although Hawk Knob has not yet officially opened, keep an eye out for them soon in Greenbrier County.

Shine: It’s not Bathtub Gin Anymore

It’s hard not to think of Appalachia’s moonshiner past when someone says “West Virginia liquor,” right? Images of mason jars, stills up the hollow and Depression-era bootlegging are all inextricable from the pop culture and history of our state.

Well, some of that still holds true. Step into any West Virginia liquor store, and you’ll be able to find locally (and legally) produced moonshine– it’s usually even sold in mason jars. This clear, strong-grain liquor is often flavored (the traditional favorite is apple pie), should obviously be enjoyed in moderation, and is perfect to pass around any campfire.  

Hard liquor in the Mountain State goes beyond just novelty moonshines, however. Plenty of our distilleries make the excellent aged rye and corn whiskeys that have defined American frontier culture for centuries.

For some excellent offerings of ‘shine, whiskey and more, check out Smooth Ambler in Maxwelton for award-winning grain-to-glass spirits. The West Virginia Distilling Company makes its signature “Mountain Moonshines” out of both corn and rye. And for true history, check out Hatfield and McCoy Moonshine, an old-time corn whiskey distilled small batches in Gilbert.

Whether you want a cold IPA after a day on the river, a fine red wine with dinner, a sweet cider, or a sip’o’shine for a nightcap, remember that we’ve got it all in West Virginia.

How many local craft beverages have you tried?

Explore the state’s best sips on the West Virginia Wine & Spirits Trails.

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This post was last updated on October 7, 2021