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At a new Salem craft beermaker, excitement is brewing
Keno and Lezlie Snyder are preparing to open the city’s first craft brewery: Parkway Brewing Co.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times Photo taken January 8, 2013 The Parkway Brewing Company on Kessler Mill Road will be a venue for tasting locally brewed beer in Salem and also for listening to music.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Parkway Brewing Company in Salem will sell refillable growlers.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times Photo taken January 8, 2013 Picnic tables decorate an interior space of the large warehouse that is becoming the Parkway Brewing Company in Salem.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
Artwork drawn by Jessica Worthington for one of the Parkway Brewing Company's labels.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
On a recent weekday at Parkway Brewing Co. in Salem, only me and a few employees rattled around inside the yawning industrial building.
As I talked to brew master Ryan Worthington, company founder Mike “Keno” Snyder was busy scooting one of six picnic tables in the warehouse space into a diagonal position.
“I don’t like them all in a straight line,” he said. “It reminds me of a school cafeteria.”
That’s Keno for you, his friends say — always thinking and never walking a boring straight line.
As they prepare to open the brewery in a few weeks, life is about to take an interesting turn for Snyder and his wife, Lezlie . It is a diversion born of a love of good beer, a fascination with the brewing process and a firm belief that craft brewing is a sound investment right now.
There is strong evidence to support that belief. According to the Brewers Association, a nonprofit trade association based in Boulder, Colo., the craft beer industry grew 13 percent by volume and 15 percent in retail sales in 2011. Alcohol sales in general — including wine, beer and spirits — have continued to climb despite the recent recession, presumably because people like to drink as much — if not more — when they are bummed out than they drink when they are happy.
The caveat is that craft beer enthusiasts have to like the product. Judging by what I’ve seen and tasted at Parkway Brewing Co., that’s not likely to be a problem.
The right time
Keno Snyder hails from western North Carolina, while his wife is from Roanoke. They met at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, where he studied music composition.
For seven years after he graduated, Snyder worked at recording studios in Richmond. In 1999, the couple moved to Roanoke, where Lezlie worked for her family’s company, University Housing Group, and they started a family (they have two daughters, Olivia, 11, and Ava, 8).
“I was a house husband,” Keno said.
An avid and talented cook, he was also interested in beer. Since a couple of his college roommates had gone on to work for Breckenridge Brewery in Denver, Keno decided to travel west, where he spent a few weeks shadowing the head brewer and learning more about how beer is made.
In April 2010, he went professional and took a job as head brewer at Roanoke Railhouse Brewery in South Roanoke. That’s where he met Worthington, who came on as the master brewer there three months later. Originally from Tennessee, Worthington earned a degree in brewing science and technology from the Siebel Institute in Chicago and Doemens Academy in Munich.
He developed the recipes for several Roanoke Railhouse beers, including Loose Caboose, Switch Monkey and Railhouse IPA. But he and Snyder bonded over a desire to start fresh.
“We really just got along,” Worthington said. “We had a good rapport and we both loved cooking. Mike had already been working on this idea. I just showed up at the right time.”
Lezlie Snyder uses the term “serendipity” a lot when talking about how the details fell into place.
While driving past the current site on Kessler Mill Road in Salem , her husband happened to see a “for lease” sign. The building happened to be just down the street from where her grandfather once owned Salem Frame Co. and her great-grandmother once owned a farm.
The former manufacturing facility already had the type of floor drains required in a brewery, and the ceiling was just high enough to accommodate the gleaming 30-barrel brewing system they purchased. Even with the presence of a large bottling line, the space feels cavernous, but the Snyders will not regret that size if they choose to expand.
While some aspiring craft brewers have run into opposition from neighbors, Salem “rolled out the red carpet” for Parkway Brewing Co., Lezlie said. Roanoke is home to a couple of craft breweries already, but this will be Salem’s first.
“Everyone that I know is very excited,” said Salem Mayor Randy Foley. “We are happy for any new business to come, but especially something that is more unique than the average business.”
This new brewery is opening just months after Virginia law changed to allow on-site beer sampling at breweries, as well as retail sales. That means Parkway will be able to invite customers to the brewery to sample beer, drink it by the glass, buy refillable growlers and purchase bottled beer. The bar at Parkway will have limited hours because the Snyders don’t want to compete with local bars, which they hope will be selling their beer. They plan to have outdoor events with food when the weather gets warm.
When it came time to find an artist who could design cool, funky beer labels and paint eye-popping murals inside and outside the building, the Snyders looked no further than Worthington’s wife, Jessica, who has an art degree.
Said Keno, “It is kind of amazing all the lucky breaks we’ve had.”
The first flight
Beyond all the planning, business decisions and grunt work, the success of Parkway Brewing comes down to the beer.
Worthington could list at least a dozen beer styles he wants to make right now, but he is starting with four. They’d like to release new seasonals quarterly.
Bridge Builder Blonde, named in memory of the immigrants who built the stone bridges along the Blue Ridge Parkway, will be a signature beer. Get Bent Mountain IPA, the beer I tasted, has a light, citrusy flavor that morphs into a pleasantly bitter, hoppy finish.
Four Damn Fights to a Pint is a double IPA, which means it is a stronger, higher gravity beer than the IPA. This one will be released in four-packs, but at 9.3 percent alcohol by volume, you might as well consider that an eight-pack.
Finally, Worthington created a recipe as a birthday present to his wife called Magella Belgian Dark Abbey Ale (Magella is her middle name). At this time, the brewers plan to sell the Magella in kegs and 22-oz. bomber bottles only.
Keno Snyder said he hopes to launch Parkway Brewing Co. with a soft opening near the end of January. In the beginning, they’ll sell kegs to restaurants and have beer on tap at the brewery for tastings, pints and growlers. If all goes well, the bottled beers will be available for purchase on-site and in stores this spring.
It’s a big undertaking and a little bit scary, but everybody involved at Parkway seems ready to walk this new path.
“It’s kind of like a new chapter,” Ryan Worthington said. “We get to begin a whole new creative cycle.”
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