#119 – Chestnut Brew Works in Morgantown, WV

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(1) THE BREWERY & OUR EXPERIENCE

Some of you might recognize Chestnut Brew Works from our List of 10 most memorable breweries that we put together, and there’s multiple reasons it was on there. Chestnut Brew Works opened in March of 2013 and is the passion project of Bill Rittenour. He is the sole employee of the two-barrel brewery, which is currently operating out of the stand alone garage of his private residence. However, during our visit he shared with us plans to expand into a seven-barrel brewery with adjoining taproom that would be moved to a space in downtown Morgantown. While attending nearby West Virginia University, Rittenour studied the blight of the American Chestnut tree (hence the brewery’s name) and following completion of his doctorate in Nebraska, moved with his family back to West Virginia where he began the brewery after becoming disenfranchised with his day job. This business exemplifies the do-it-yourself mentality we have witnessed within the craft brewing community throughout the country.

Rittenour is growing hops on the property and even shared plans to partner with the university in isolating wild yeast in hopes of creating a beer made with solely West Virginia ingredients. The brewery’s flagship beer, Halleck Pale Ale, can be found in draft accounts in the Morgantown area, but Rittenour constantly releases different brews ranging from Belgian wits to Jack Daniels barrel-aged imperial porters. We truly enjoyed chatting with him and drew inspiration from hearing about how his sacrifice and hard work has paid off in a growing business.

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(2) VITAL INFORMATION

Date of our visit: Thursday, 4/24/2014
Open since: Licensed March 24, 2013
Approx. Barrel (bbl) Output 2013: Roughly 200 bbl
Projected bbl Output 2014: n/a
Brewhouse size: 2 bbl
Founder(s): Bill Rittenour
Head Brewer: Bill Rittenour
Packaging: 5 gal kegs
Distribution: Morgantown with a few other scattered accounts in WV

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Other things we learned:

*The brewery is housed in a separate building behind Bill’s private residence. The building was being renovated to be a garage and guest house by the previous tenants but was not completed. Bill quit his research job and spent much time before opening finishing the construction on the space.

* Bill earned his undergraduate degree at Penn State in Forestry and spent his time during MS degree studying blight of the American Chestnut, hence Chestnut Brew Works. Bill later went on to specialize in Fungal biology at the University of Nebraska for his Ph.D. This extensive science background enables Bill to many of the technical aspects involved in the brewing process.

* More on the American Chestnut: In the early 1900’s there was a blight imported from Asia that wiped out the population. 1 out of every 4 trees in Appalachia used to be a Chestnut tree, supplying timber and food. The tree is starting to make a comeback, paralleling to the American Craft Beer movement.

* In July of 2013, just a few months into operation, upgraded from a 1 bbl to a 2 bbl system. There is currently 9 1/2 bbl of fermentation space and all carbonation is done in kegs.

* As a brewery in WV, they can sell a keg directly to customers but are not able to sell cans/bottles or fill growlers on premise.

* Long term goal to partner with WVU to set us a program to isolate wild yeast. With the goal of doing a primarily WV sourced beer.

* Growing Cascade, Centennial, and Nugget hops in the land behind the brewery. Planted last year.

* Despite a limited supply of beers, Bill feels it important to attend local beer festivals as able.

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(3) BEERS WE TASTED DURING OUR VISIT

* Halleck Pale Ale
* Nate’s Nut Brown Ale
* Listing of beers

What we learned about their beer during our visit:

* Halleck Pale Ale, Nates Nut Brown, and Class II Wheatwater (class II referencing a step up into craft beer from the mass produced light lagers) were the primary year-round offerings, however, to celebrate the recent announcement of the expansion plans, he brewed and released South Park (robust) Porter which is slated to replace the brown ale. The Class II was also replaced by the Wits Virginia Belgian-style Wit with orange peel, coriander, and grains of paradise.

* Would like to make many more beer styles but is limited by fermentation space and keeping up with demand of staple beers, especially the popular Halleck Pale Ale.

* Does small batch beers in the 6th fermenter. For ex: Oak aged English Ale (Olde ale)

* Also started limited offering of cask conditioned ales to local bars as well as the Steinhoist Series which showcases non-traditional ingredients or methods.

* Barrel aging: Imperial Porter had just been added to Jack Daniels bbl April 1st with Imperial Stout and Barleywine slated to go in the other barrels. After first use the plan is to innoculate them with souring micro-organisms.

* Upcoming Beers: Belgian Tripel, German IPA, Belgian Wit, Malus Intent (malus being the genus of apples) is intended to be an old ale style beer blended with apple cider.

(4) EXPANSION PLANS

Moving to a new facility downtown with 7bbl system, 56 bbl fermentation space, and taproom

(5) BACKGROUND OF PEOPLE WE SPOKE TO

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[Brandon, Bill, Michael]

Name: Bill Rittenour
Title: Owner/Head Brewer/Everything Else
Been with company since: Founding
Previous Brewing Experience: Homebrewing
Previous Occupation(s): Researching allergies to mold at National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
Favorite Superhero: Wolverine

(6) MORE LINKS ABOUT BREWERY

* Brewery Website
* Contact Info,
* Listing of Accounts

(7) You can find the rest of our photos here

Author: Michael Roberts & Brandon Wurtz

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