Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Center of the (Brewing) Universe comes to Virginia on November 16th.

Virginia's newest brewery is showing off its facility. The public grand opening for Center of the Universe Brewing Company (COTUB) —located in the former Herald-Progress newspaper building in Ashland, Virginia— is scheduled for Friday, November 16th, at 5pm, and Saturday, November 17th, at 12 noon.

Who are the principals of COTUB? Here, from the Hanover Herald-Progress:
Chris Ray, 31, developed his passion for home brewing while pitching in baseball’s big leagues for seven seasons. This summer he labored in AAA ball for two different teams while brother Phil, 34, helped set up the brewery.

Four years ago a former college roommate at William & Mary introduced Chris to home brewing. After tasting the first batch, Ray ordered a home brewing kit himself and shipped another to his brother.

They both developed a passion for making their own beer.

Two years ago, while Chris Ray was pitching for the Seattle Mariners, he collaborated with Washington’s Fremont Brewing Company to put out a special label beer, Homefront IPA. The sales benefited Operation Homefront, which assists our military and their families.

The Ray brothers will continue that association in Ashland and also embrace other charities.

The grand opening will feature local food and music. And, oh, yes, the beers. The brewing is under the stewardship of Mike Killelea, the chairman of the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild. Before signing on as lead brewer for COTUB, Killelea (pronounced Kill uh LAY) had brewed for several years for Legend Brewing, of propinquant Richmond, Virginia.

Brewer Killelea

The grand opening will feature four flavors:
  • IPA
    West Coast style IPA with lots of flavor and hop aroma.
    Classic Pale Ale brewed with a little honey malt and 'continuously hopped' with Cascade hops.
    Light, easy drinking session beer modeled after the beers of Cologne, Germany.
  • ALT
    A malty yet well-hopped copper-colored ale, modeled after the beers of Dusseldorf, Germany.

I asked Killelea about the brewery layout.

He's using a 15-barrel steam-fired Premier Stainless brewhouse and four 30-barrel fermenters *. He'll double-brew into each fermenter, and, once a brew's fermentation concludes, he'll transfer the beer into a similarly-sized tank called a bright tank. Anticipating demand, COTUB has already ordered four additional 30-barrel fermenters and one additional bright tank.

Although initial packaging will be in kegs, the brewery has purchased a Criveller four-head filler for limited runs of 22-ounce bottles. The beers will remain totally unfiltered, although Killelea reports that he will use fining agents such as Biofine —a natural, vegetarian product— to assist clarification.

There will be cask ale in the future, Killelea promises. And, he has a fifth, 'one-off' beer already planned.

At the outset, COTUB will limit its sales to Hanover County. As the brewery ramps up production, it will add deliveries to Richmond shops and restaurants. The idea is to build the brand with steady growth.

Center of the Universe Brewing: Why the, err, humble name? It seems that Ashland, Virginia, located in the heart of Central Virginia, is affectionately known by locals as “The Center of the Universe.” The Ray brothers elucidate:
With so much emphasis today on globalization and the lack of corporate stewardship, COTU wanted to be a company that truly embraces the local community. “Center of the Universe,” to COTU, is taking pride in where you live and respecting the people with whom you interact. We believe it is our responsibility to understand and appreciate how our actions affect the community that supports us.

COTUB is building a tasting room to be open to the public, with growlers —refillable take-home beer containers— for sale. Hours are yet to be determined. In the meantime, see all the progress —and taste the beers— in person, at the grand opening, November 16th and 17th in Ashland.


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