By Karen Gardner
What makes the beer from Berkeley Springs Brewing Company stand out is the water.
Water in Berkeley Springs comes from the area’s famed mineral rich spring water. Magnesium and silica give the water a buoyancy, which in turn gives the beer flavor like no other.
Berkeley Springs Brewing Company opened in the Morgan County town in 2015. Karl and Denise Wagenbrenner opened in space that rapidly became too small. They’ve moved into a larger property with room to brew and store their beer, and a pub space that allows ample room for a dance floor, live music and a dining area for people to enjoy a beer and food while socializing or listening to live music.
“I started as a home brewer,” Karl Wagenbrenner said in a YouTube posted on the brewery’s website. “I had a home brew shop. I love to teach other people to do this. That first look, when they tasted the beer or wine they created was priceless to me.”
The Wagenbrenners opened their home brew supply shop in 2012, selling mostly beermaking, and also some winemaking supplies. Customers suggested, however, that they brew their own beer to sell. The Wagenbrenners live just up the road in Pennsylvania, in the space where West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania are a few short miles from each other.
“We were drawn to the Berkeley Springs area because of the traffic and a bigger influx of people,” Denise Wagenbrenner said. “We knew about the water here, but we had no idea it would make the beer that much different.”
The beer’s flavor was good when made with water from the town’s water system. It improved even more when the brewery moved to its new space on the old Coolfont Resort. The brewery’s private well taps into the same aquifer that provides Berkeley Springs State Park with its famous healing waters.
The hops used at Berkeley Springs Brewing range from pilsner to Vienna to pale malt. “We make 18 different beers,” Karl said. In the old space, the brewery had only seven fermenters, and Wagenbrenner had to rotate the tanks. Finished beers were stored in kegs in a tiny 6-foot by 6-foot cooler.
At 1,800 square feet, the brewery became cramped within two years of opening. The brewery had to close for about four months early in 2018 to make the move. The brewery reopened in new space about four miles south of Berkeley Springs, in what was formerly Coolfont. The 988-acre one-time golf and hiking resort has been closed since the early 2000s, and was auctioned off in pieces in 2016.
Today, with much more breathing room, the brewery can make more beer to sell off the premise as well as on. Beer from the brewery sells not only in West Virginia, but in Maryland. At the brewery, you can buy Berkeley Springs Brewing Company beer to go in pints, 22-ounce bomber bottles and growlers. Once a month, a mobile canner comes to can several different flavors to sell in retail stores and restaurants in the region.
Beers include Towpath Pale Ale, Lovers Leap IPA, Vienna Calling, Mountain Man Marzen, Warm Springs Pale Ale, Cacapon Kolsch and Old Oak Stout.
The new space has a grain-handling room, storage room, a retail store and pub space. Outdoor seating allows patrons to enjoy the wooded terrain surrounding Berkeley Springs.
The Wagenbrenners have two barbecue smokers from which they serve barbecue. Pulled pork and brisket are both popular menu items, marinated in beer, of course. Deli sandwiches are also featured. “As much as we can, everything is made fresh and in-house,” Denise said.
The Wagenbrenners are eager to begin offering live music regularly. “We’re putting together a lineup for this year, along with open mic nights for people to enjoy,” she said. Another popular feature is the brewpub’s Brains and Brews Trivia Nights most weeks, usually on Thursdays.
The brewery’s new location has five efficiency apartments on the property, which the Wagenbrenners plan to convert to overnight lodging rooms. They hope to be able to offer visitors a bed and brewery package. Rooms will be named for different styles of beer, including the Stout Room and the Pale Ale Room. The rooms will be decorated in hues reminiscent of those beers.
When the expansion is complete, a separate brewhouse will have 10 barrels with an automated packaging system. Long range plans include expanding to 15 barrels, Denise said.
Townspeople support the brewery, although it took a little while, Denise said. “As they tasted it, they began to realize there’s more to beer than Budweiser or Coors or Miller,” she said. “They realized that not all craft beer is dark and thick.”
For many locals, knowing that local water is an ingredient was enough to get them to try the beer, and once they tried it, many came back for more.
Berkeley Springs Brewing Company has several beverages for kids and those who want something non-alcoholic, but equally tasty. Kombucha, a fermented tea with very little alcohol, and homemade root beer are popular options. Those and a couple of other non-alcoholic drinks are also made with water from the famed Berkeley Springs aquifer.
Monthly pairing dinners show patrons how different beers go well with different menu items. Diners also get a taste for how different beers can be used in cooking.
The brewpub and brewery are a lot of work, Denise said, but she added that the support of visitors and townspeople has made it gratifying to be a part of Berkeley Springs.