WILLIAMSBURG — Small breweries are a becoming a big deal in Virginia.
The Virginia Tourism Corporation marketed August as Virginia Craft Beer Month, noting there are 60 craft breweries across the state. There's even a beer lover's tour of Virginia online at http://www.vabeertrail.net.
A local brewery made a good showing at the Virginia Craft Beer Festival last week. AleWerks Brewing Company won a gold medal, for "Lover's Greed" beer and a silver medal for "Bitter Valentine" beer.
"Lover's Greed" took more than 18 months to produce.
"It was worth the efforts," according to head brewer Geoff Logan.
According to Al Whitaker, one of the owners of AleWerks, demand for craft beer has allowed the 8-year-old company to continue it's expansion, producing 40 percent more beer than last year.
"We're up to 6,000 barrels, which is still small," said managing member and founder Chuck Haines. Microbreweries are generally defined as those that produce less than 10,000 barrels a year.
But AleWerks is growing.
"Williamsburg AleWerks started in 2005 with a brewer and a packager/helper in the brewery and myself and Al Whitaker in the store," Haines explained. "Al did most of the tours and I did the rest, including helping out in the brewery. By 2007, we had added help in the store, so we were up to five people.
"Today," he continued, "we have seven people in the brewery and are looking to fill two additional positions."
A chef is being added because the brewery intends to offer top-shelf bar food at its on-site restaurant, dubbed The Tap Room.
Located in the Ewell Industrial park off Mooretown Road, AleWerks now occupies space in four buildings. And it's not just a brewery, it's a tourist attraction as well.
"More than 15,000 patrons have visited the brewery within the year. Many of the visitors take a tour learning how beer is made, and seeing the operation of a craft brewery from a very close vantage point," Whitaker said. "Many patrons take a tour and stay after the tasting to enjoy their favorite beer style in the newly opened tap room."
What's the draw?
"Above all it's about the beer" Haines said in a statement celebrating AleWerks' festival wins." Damn good, tasty beer. As good as anyone's beer, and better than most."
AleWerks makes several different styles of beer including two that are produced exclusively for Colonial Williamsburg visitors and sold at the taverns in the Historic Area; Old Stich, a brown ale, and Dear Olde Mumm, a spiced ale.
The reviews on Old Stich from beer professionals are glowing.
"It's just a really, really good beer," Haines aid.
Frank Clark, Colonial Williamsburg's master brewer and the person who researched the recipe for the beer, agreed.
"I really like it," he said. "They did a great job with it."