Gone are the days of red-labeled or “lite” beers dominating all bar taps and store shelves. Instead, small batch craft brews are bubbling up in microbreweries all over the country and making their mark on West Virginia – bringing with them millions of dollars in revenue.
West Virginia University is contributing to this growing tourism industry by offering a craft beer certificate program, producing student-developed software technology for microbrewing, pursuing West Virginia’s first hop farm and having professors who are growing hops and other ingredients.
“Craft beer is an art – something meant to be enjoyed or paired with food. And it’s really becoming a popular way for people to interact with a community. It’s not for large-scale consumption; it’s for sipping and appreciating the flavors,” said Bryce Capodieci, an instructor in WVU’s Continuing and Professional Education Craft Beer Certificate Program and president of Morgantown’s local home-brewing club.
Blazing the Craft Beer Course Trail
Capodieci. an electrical engineering grad, said the program, which is the first of its kind in the state, certifies participants in craft beer through a three-course program:
• Introduction to Craft Beer – beer styles and history, brewing ingredients and the brewing processes.
• Advanced Craft Beer Appreciation – off-flavor detection and prevention, recipe formulation, beer sensory evaluations and judging.
• Craft Beer: Going Professional – focusing on the business side of the industry, including creating business plans, preparing financial projections and the importance of brewery design.
Twenty students across various disciplines graduated from the courses in mid-February. According to Capodieci, some are just interested in learning how to make beer at home, while others are interested in starting a professional microbrewery.
“Sharing a love for craft beer is fun; it’s a certain caliber of people attracted to craft brewing,” Capodieci said. “So, helping others get into it and learn about the process can help them to go on and do the same.”
Crafting Software for Microbreweries
Love of craft brewing is what motivated WVU computer science major Chris DeFazio and mechanical engineering alum Cody Cheesebrough to create Pubstomper Brewing Co., a craft beer manufacturer and distributor that received a $10,000 investment from the West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition last year.
The concept contains brewing software that would allow anyone from a small craft brewer to a large-scale craft brewery to keep track of ingredient inventory, recipes, distribution and delivery processes and even allows brewers to automate the brewing process itself. This duo’s engineering backgrounds helped in the development of this software, which it plans to license, and will help bring a transparency to brewing that will show where ingredients are sourced from and how far along the process is, among other benefits. And, that’s just one part.
“Our software is one small piece of our greater business, which at its core is really about creating a large production-style brewery in Morgantown and expanding it nationally – creating a nationally recognizable brand for high-gravity craft beer from West Virginia,” DeFazio said.
The combination of software and brewery helps set this business apart from the others, DeFazio said. That, and its ability to expand.
“We’re trying to create a much more scalable brand; we want to focus on the distribution and production. We don’t want a brewpub, which most craft breweries have ? For us, we are interested in getting out there more and becoming a nationally recognized brand,” he said.
Grant Speer, a WVU graduate student in mining engineering, is focusing on the front-end of the craft beer business: the ingredients.
“There are 99 total acres of hops in West Virginia and no commercial hops grown in the state – that I’ve been able to find, at least,” Speer said. The Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, native is currently competing in the West Virginia Collegiate Business Plan Competition and hopes to open the first hop farm in West Virginia.
Speer said nearly 80 percent of hops are grown in the Northwest, and he sees this as an opportunity to help supply local microbreweries, who are attempting to create different, distinct flavors.
“Hops grown in West Virginia will have a slightly different taste compared to the Pacific Northwest,” Speer said. “So, if a microbrewery is going for a complete West Virginia taste, West Virginia hops would go a long way in helping them to carve out their own place in the market.”
Speer said that while West Virginia is situated a bit too far to the south compared to the optimum growing region, it wouldn’t inhibit West Virginia’s ability to successfully grow hops.
“We don’t have the 17 or 18 hours of sunlight that the Pacific Northwest gets down here; we get maybe 16 or 17 – maybe a little less, but it’s nothing that would dramatically inhibit the economical production of hops,” he said. “There’s just no history of it in our area.”
Speer will continue to pursue his business, Bergsteiger Hops, into the final round of the Business Plan Competition.
“I do, in fact, grow hops, though it’s pretty limited. A grad student gave me some hops a few years ago from his family’s farm, and they now take over the side of our house every spring,” he said.
Anderson said the hops are likely Hallertau considering the original plants were from Germany. In addition, he hopes to start new plants this spring.
James P. Lewis, another professor in the physics and astronomy, grows Cascade, Centennial, Columbus, American and Fuggle hops on his farm: Spring Water Farms LLC in Fairview.
Jen Gallagher, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology, has been collaborating with a local craft brewer to isolate local, wild yeast for brewing fermentation. Matt Winans, a biology master’s student, has been leading the project to harness flavor diversity from yeast strains harvested from forests through the state. These microscopic organisms are what make the alcohol from the ingredients and have a big impact on final profiles of the brews.
Winans, who hopes gain a future patent from his research and open a business or brewery in the craft brewery industry, said, “As Mountaineers, we have a certain pride you don’t find in most other states. I believe the people would really embrace a microbrew entirely ‘homegrown.’”
By Candace Nelson
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