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Beers to You: Expecting the best from Charleston's new brewpub

By Rich Ireland

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I have been counting, first the months, then the weeks, and now literally days. Charleston Brewing Co. is set to open April 6. It's already been a surreal experience walking downtown and inhaling the aroma of fresh barley mash wafting from the first batches being brewed for the opening.

In the history of the craft-beer resurgence, the popularity of brewpubs charts like that of a roller coaster, with all too many taking that twist upside-down at the apex and plummeting to failure. This is usually because although the beer is the draw to the place, good food and good service is what keeps customers coming back. In recent years, this message has been learned by anyone daring to venture into this volatile world of brewery-meets-restaurant-meets-bar.

The owners of Charleston Brewing Co., from all that I know at this point, have approached this venture with long-term success in mind. They understand the pitfalls and they seem to have done all the right things: created a nice restaurant space, invested in an efficient and modern brew house, hired a passionate and creative brewer and recruited a good chef. Now it comes down to execution.

When I walk into a brewpub, here is what I want to see:

  • The beer needs to be well made with a wide range of choices along with some very special releases that pique interest. I have no doubt CBC's brewer Ryan Heastings will strive to do all of the aforementioned.
  • The food needs to be excellent, consistent and, most important, it needs to be mindful of the beer offerings. The chef and brewer need to be the culinary team. In many brewpubs, the brewer is relegated to moping around like the rubber-booted plumber, having little or no say in the culinary side of the house. In the case of CBC, they need to be aware that Heastings is also a certified cicerone (like a beer sommelier) and knows a thing or two about beer and food pairing. They need to value this as a resource.
  • The bar staff and servers need to know how to serve beer properly. If I see a frosted mug, I am doing a 180 and walking back out the door. If I ask about one of the beers on tap and I get a description like "It's kinda like Yuengling but it's really dark," I am walking out.
  • With this much capital invested in this place, I would make sure each and every server in my house completes the certified beer server course offered by the Cicerone Certification Program and attend regular team meetings where the brewer and chef enlighten them to new things being created and offered.

    Charleston Brewing Co. has the full attention of every beer lover in this region. We understand that there might be a few snafus in the first opening weeks -- they will be forgiven. But the ball is in their court. CBC's success or failure will be a smoke signal to others who may be thinking about investing in West Virginia's burgeoning craft-beer awakening, so we want success!

    I can't wait for the first sip.

    For more on the craft of beer, see Rich Ireland's "Beers to You" blog at thegazz.com.


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