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Matt and Nikki Holbert take a break from work on their upcoming Clendenin Brewing Company. They currently have a 4-unit Airbnb upstairs, with four more units in the works, which will become the region’s first Bed & Brew operation.

Charleston area residents are so fortunate that the Charleston Main Streets organization chose to make beer festivals their primary fundraising tool. Over the past few weeks we greatly enjoyed their two main festivals, one on the West Side and one on the East End.

The outpouring of people — in excess of 1,500 enthusiastic patrons at each event — is testimony to the pent up demand for more and better outlets for good craft beer in our community. Kanawha County still has a ways to go to match other similar sized communities in beer selection and availability.

The recent opening of The Tap at Olde Main Plaza in St. Albans is great to see. It offers 24 beers on tap — many from West Virginia brewers. The Tap joins two other excellent craft beer-focused accounts in the western side of the county. Ron Cole’s T&M Meats in Cross Lanes is possibly the nation’s best craft beer bar and carryout located inside a true meat market.

Then there is The Pitch at Shawnee Park in Dunbar/Institute, which brought us that wonderful selection of previously hard-to-find Stumptown Ales from Davis, plus a score of other good taps.

More on the way

Upcoming on the northern side of the county is Nikki and Matt Holbert’s Clendenin Brewing Company project, which they hope to open next spring. I visited with them recently and was encouraged by the progress they are making.

A Clendenin brewery should be a perfect complement to the growing Elk River tourism brought on by the popular river and rail-trail recreation developments. With much anticipation, downtown Charleston awaits the opening of its second craft brewery, Fife Street Brewing, which is set for a March, 2022 unveiling.

The owners appear to have made an excellent move in hiring Gil Peterson as head brewer. A Michigan native who was beer brewing professionally in Alabama, Peterson moved to Charleston this summer to put together the brewing operations for Fife Street. Having sampled several of his test batches, I can tell you I am excited to see him get his beers into the market. This man can brew.

Still lots of opportunity

Yes, we have some welcomed new developments in craft beer around the Charleston region, but we are nowhere near reaching our potential for craft-beer focused businesses.

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Back in August, I found interesting a Lee Wolverton column in the Gazette-Mail about Billings, Montana. He wrote about the positive economic and community development direction there compared to the opposite experience in Charleston and Huntington. While he mentioned several factors, he did leave out one important thing that I believe is significant to Billings’ success as a city.

Billings, with a metro population less than that of either Charleston or Huntington, has eight craft breweries within its city limits and one more in the suburbs. Charleston and Huntington currently have one brewery each.

This concentration of small breweries greatly contributes to Billings’ ambiance, image and reality as a hip and happening, high-livability place. Today, there may be no better indicator of an area’s development direction than the abundance or the lack of small breweries within its bounds.

In communities with multiple small local breweries, people don’t necessarily drink more beer, but they do drink a lot more locally brewed beer. Why? Because they are much more exposed to it.

With more local breweries, local beer becomes a much greater part of their community’s identity. It becomes a source of pride. Folks grow very attached to their local brands. And when you have six or seven breweries in your metro area, chances are that a couple of them are going to be extra good and probably gain national recognition.

Better local beer creates a stronger local beer culture, increases pride, and that drives the sales of local beer higher. People in Billings did not drink much local beer until they had a bunch of local breweries. If the experience of Billings shows us anything, it demonstrates a great business opportunity for small breweries exists in both the Charleston and Huntington metros.

Everything I see and experience in my travels around West Virginia and the nation tells me this is true.

Upcoming craft beer festivals

While we are closing in on the end of beer festival season, don’t overlook these two upcoming events. On Oct. 23 the brand new Corks & Kegs festival kicks off inside Huntington Mall. The ticketed event, which is being hosted by the mall and HD Media, features beer, wine, and cider along with food vendors and live entertainment.

On November 13, Wagging Tails and Nitro Ales joins forces with the Smoke on the Water chili cookoff to bring cheer and spice to Nitro’s Living Memorial Park.

Charles Bockway is a craft beer blogger and podcaster who writes, blogs and talks about West Virginia’s craft beer industry. Send questions and suggestions to him at wvbrewnews@brilliantstream.com.

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