Beer brewing ‘exploding’
Winchester — The first time Mitch Hoopes helped a friend make home-brewed beer, he was hooked.
The combination of hands-on techniques and using a little of his math and cooking skills made the whole process not only appealing but fun, said Hoopes, 35, of Winchester.
“Home-brewing isn’t more complicated than making a gumbo,” he said. “It is just adding things in a pot and keeping it at a certain temperature for a long time.”
After several years of working to get the recipes just right, Hoopes took the leap last year to launch his own professional brewery, Winchester Brewing Co.
In a small storefront at 110 W. Boscawen St., he has everything he needs to make and bottle beer. Lined against one wall, people can see the various hops, grains, and other ingredients he blends to make his brews.
He offers tours and tastings by appointment.
The beer scene in Virginia is exploding, Hoopes said, which is why he decided now was a good time to launch his business.
“Everybody in Virginia is going to have their own favorite local brewer,” he said. “I want to be that for this area.”
Hoopes was born and raised in Winchester and graduated in 1996 from Handley High School. His parents, Dan and Gwen Hoopes, also live in Winchester.
He moved back to Winchester in 2003 after several years away to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Virginia Tech and working a few years in Richmond.
Winchester Brewing Co. has four varieties that have been released seasonally so far but which Hoopes hopes to launch year round by the fall.
The Shenandoah Saison (4.2 percent alcohol) is the brewery’s spring beer, and Hoopes made sure to have plenty ready in time to hold a party at his house during the spring Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival.
“As a home-brewer, I would make it for Apple Blossom. It is light, so people could drink it all day long without passing out on the lawn,” he said.
The Belgian-style beer is light in color, body, and alcohol but not to be confused with a low-calorie light beer, he said. The flavor is lightly earthy with spicy, flowery hops and a grain-and-bread malt character.
With his other beers, there is a definite European feel in ingredients and taste, but with the saison, Hoopes wanted the Shenandoah Valley to be represented. It uses a blend of American and European ingredients.
“All of my other styles are very specific,” he said. “This one is the amalgamation of them all.”
Murphy Beverage Co. in Winchester, which carries the brewery’s beers, already sold out of the saison, co-owner J.P. Murphy said. It is a very popular style of beer right now.
“Styles come and go, kind of like shoes. But in the last year or so, Belgian saison style has become very popular and it will probably stay that way for a while,” Murphy said.
The store tries to carry Virginia and regional beverages whenever possible, so when the local brewery started up, the owners were thrilled. They knew Hoopes when he was still a home-brewer and liked that they can “support local” at the same time as carrying a good product.
The summer beer selection will be the Wini Witi (4.5 percent alcohol) — a Belgian white with the least amount of hops of all the beers he brews, Hoopes said.
The wheat beer has a complex yeast character and aromatic spices. Hoopes uses coriander seed and bitter orange peel to add flavor.
“I really like the Belgian-style beers because they tend to taste sweeter,” he said.
This fall, the beer of choice will be the Timothy (4.7 percent alcohol), an English pale ale named for Tim Mayfield of Winchester, the friend who introduced Hoopes to home-brewing.
With the exception of the water, all of the grains, hops, and yeast in the Timothy are imported from either England or Scotland, he said.
English pale ales are maltier, sweeter, and less aggressively hopped than the American version, he said. It is copper-brown, medium-bodied ale with a flowery, fruity bouquet and subtle bitterness.
The malt gives a beer the sweetness, where the hops gives it bitterness and aroma, he said.
“I like them maltier rather than hoppier, so I didn’t do American pale ale,” he said.
The Alternative (5.4 percent alcohol) is the brewery’s winter selection. The German-style “altbier” is the same as an Oktoberfestbier except that is a lager and this is an ale, he said.
This strong, dark brew also uses only ingredients from its home country, Hoopes said. With up to five different types of grain, it is the maltiest beer he makes and has a high hop bitterness.
He actually has one of the German hops plants that is in the beer growing in his backyard. Last year, when he poured a glass of it, he put some of the fresh hops in as well. “I did it because it looked neat.”
Brewing beer is “basically science and cooking all in one,” said Martin Wagner, a home-brewer and manager of Roberts Oxygen in Winchester, where Hoopes gets the carbon dioxide he uses for his taps.
On one hand, brewers have to know their math — measurements, weights and specific gravity, which is the density of a substance divided by the density of water. The last is used to measure the beer’s alcohol content, he said.
Brewers also need to know about the complex flavors of beer. Home-brews and craft beers have taken beer from a “blue collar drink to a connoisseurs beverage,” and Hoopes is only adding to that, Wagner said.
“I think it is actually making people more selective of what they want to drink,” he said.
Hoopes started home-brewing in 2006 with Mayfield, at first using a kit and then graduating to coming up with their own recipes. They would often start with a basic recipe and add things like “dried fruit or fruit extract” to experiment with the taste, he said.
They used extract brewing for five years using malt extract, which is limiting because there is only a small range of them, he said.
In summer 2011, when Hoopes bought an advanced system, a new world was opened up where he actually had to extract the sugar from grains. This allows for “infinite possibilities of mixtures.”
Hoopes has all four of his beers on tap at his brewery. He also bottles them in two sizes — a 22-ounce beer, called a “bomber,” and a 64-ounce “growler.”
He usually produces four to eight cases and one to two kegs a week.
Since he went from part-time in 2012 to full-time brewing this year, Hoopes has increased his output. He worked at Tech Team Solutions for eight years, the last year of which the owners allowed him to work part time so he could get the brewery off the ground.
— Contact Laura McFarland at firstname.lastname@example.org