Pittsburgh native shares craft beer wizardry in W.Va.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Pittsburgh native Ryan Heastings didn't give up teaching when he moved from Pennsylvania to Charleston about 3 1⁄2 years ago.
Rather than teaching history and economics, Heastings now provides instruction about beer. And he is hoping to expand his classroom.
Heastings, 29, of Scott Depot, W.Va., has been educating local residents about craft beer — regional specialty beer — since he started working at Pies & Pints pizzeria on Capitol Street.
Now he will continue that educational effort as the brewer at the new brew pub on Quarrier Street near its intersection with Summers Street in Charleston.
“I just never stopped teaching,” Heastings said with his characteristic smile. “I talk about the many different styles, I give them samples and I want to show them how cool craft beer really is.”
The products of corporate macro breweries have dominated West Virginia for decades. But craft beer, which has been wildly popular in other states for years, is finding a niche in the Mountain State.
Heastings will be brewing at Charleston Brewing Co., which is targeted to open April 1.
The brew pub will start out pouring five beers made in-house. It will have the capacity to pour three more beers, which will be produced by the Bridge Brew Works, a microbrewery in Fayetteville. Heastings also has a hand in the production of beer there.
Heastings has been interested in brewing since his early 20s. As a young man in the northern portion of Pittsburgh, he drank cheap suds. As he got older, he discovered microbrew. Western Pennsylvania is home to many microbreweries.
“My wife and I would eat at various brew pubs, and we would just try stuff,” he said. “I seemed to always like it, no matter what kind of beer it was.”
One day while out with friends, Heastings had Hoegaarden, a Belgian wheat beer that has made inroads in the United States. And he has never looked back.
“I couldn't believe it,” he said. “I'd never heard of Belgian beers. That's when I really stepped into the rabbit hole.”
Heastings soon started brewing at home. As with many home brewers, his first attempt was not successful.
“To say it was pretty bad is kind,” he said with a laugh.
Heastings also began to immerse himself in the history of beer and its different styles, from German wheats to India Pale Ales.
“I couldn't get enough of the history of beers,” he said.
One of his close friends in Pittsburgh also started home brewing, and the two kept at the craft. And as with any art, practice makes perfect.
“I would go to work and listen to brewing podcasts,” he said.
At the time, he was teaching in a Pennsylvania school system. When his wife took a job in West Virginia, Heastings decided to concentrate on his love of beer.
“Teaching was very good to me,” he said. “But this was just starting to take over.”
West Virginia was not known for its brew pubs. Heastings continued to brew beer at home, and he contacted a brewer at Fat Heads Brewery in Cleveland.
“I basically would just go up there and hang out to learn everything I could,” he said.
During this time, Heastings also was working at Pies & Pints. The owners of the pizzeria had ties to Bridge Brew Works in Fayetteville.
The pizzeria's first location was in the small mountain town near the New River Gorge and the brewery.
Heastings and the pizzeria owners decided to collaborate with Bridge Brew Works. Heastings would travel to the brewery about an hour southeast of Charleston to work on beer there.
The beer was then sold at Pies & Pints. The first batch brewed by the group, an American Pale Ale, proved to be well received at both the Fayetteville and Charleston Pies & Pints.
During that time he became fast friends with brewery owners Ken Linch and Nathan Herrold.
Ann Saville, the founder of Charleston Brewing Co., approached Heastings last spring. She asked him to come on board, and he agreed, although the arrangement allows him to continue to oversee the beer operations at Pies & Pints.
Heastings expects craft beer's popularity to continue to grow in the state.
A perfect confluence of circumstances helped foster an expanding beer culture in the area when the Legislature passed the craft beer law in 2009, allowing high alcohol content beer to be sold in the state. Bridge Brew Works opened shortly thereafter.
Heastings is happy to help expand that culture, and one way to do that is to promote what are called “session beers,” which have a lower alcohol content than the typical craft beer, while retaining the robust flavor.