What do you get when you take one formerly fledgling brewery, two entrepreneurial souls from wildly diverse backgrounds and a love for brewing quality craft beer in West Virginia? If you’re exceptionally hardworking and in just the right spot, you get Blackwater Brewing Company in Davis, WV.
Located near the entrance of Blackwater Falls State Park, the brewhaus wouldn’t be out of place in a Bavarian hamlet, complete with a wooden beam-hewn exterior and a sign next to the front door that invites you in with “Welcome to the Mountains.” Once inside, you find rows of wooden benches, a warm fireplace, gleaming taps and a space clearly meant for gathering.
Lincoln and Amanda Wilkins
Lincoln and Amanda Wilkins are the proud owners of Blackwater Brewing Company, an ensconced part of the community, but they weren’t always in this trade. In fact, both came from rather unconventional backgrounds: academia and neuropharmacology for Lincoln, broadcasting and marketing for Amanda. After dabbling in the brewing industry with other startups in Amanda’s home state of Louisiana, they decided to take the leap into brewery ownership in West Virginia, where Lincoln grew up.
In May 2012, the Wilkinses purchased the once failing Blackwater Brewing Company, determined to put the couple’s unique set of skills and love for their craft to work in the Mountain State. “We inherited a business that was once thriving but had fallen on bad times,” says Lincoln. “It had developed a bad reputation. We found this inertia can be quite difficult to overcome in a turnkey transition, especially when keeping the name of the former business. But we have persevered, and our guests have begun to understand who we are and what we are about.”
Indeed, they have. With five beers on tap year-round and at least as many offered seasonally, Blackwater Brewing Company has become a gastropub that is especially proud of its partnerships in the local community. Every weekend, Lincoln creates a new menu based on seasonal whim and what’s available, often including the brewery’s beers in dishes they serve.
“We collaborate with A.F. Wendling’s Food Service of Buckhannon to produce a Kolsch Bier Bratwurst that has been quite popular,” he says. “Our Goldenrod Gold Ale is a Belgian blonde ale that contains locally-sourced goldenrod honey from Ben McKean’s Healthberry Farm located in Dry Fork, WV. This ale is a component of the base for our Beef Carbonnade. As you can see, local ingredients and farm-to-table are certainly a focus. Our intent is to be growing our own herbs and vegetables soon.”
With an impressive list of seasonal brews that range from their Wood Hick Vanilla Maple Porter to the Whitewater Wit, there’s a beer for anyone who finds themselves at the brewery after a day spent in West Virginia’s great outdoors. In fact, the location of Blackwater Brewing has played a key role in its reinvention and subsequent success. West Virginia’s natural playground surrounds the brewery on all sides. Within a short drive, you could find yourself at Blackwater Falls State Park, the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge or Timberline Four Seasons Resort. Slightly farther afield is the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, and it’s less than three hours from both Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh.
“Outdoor adventure and craft beer go hand in hand,” says Lincoln. “We are fortunate that we are in the vicinity of a resort area, connected to the outside world by the soon-to-be-completed Corridor H/U.S. 48 project.”
Being a part of West Virginia’s emerging craft beer economy has been challenging but significantly rewarding for both Lincoln and Amanda. After all, Lincoln is from just down the road in Keyser, so he has a vested interest in seeing a successful industry take hold in his home state. “West Virginia is experiencing a craft beer explosion,” they enthuse. “With nine operational breweries and taps expanding weekly, this is a very dynamic and exciting time to be involved in the craft beer industry.”
“West Virginia is somewhat like a big small town,” Lincoln continues. “It is easy to get involved, to feel like you are making a difference in the local area and state economy. This past summer was a turning point for us. We began distributing our beer and reached a wider audience of those who can appreciate and embrace the fruit of our craft. We developed the confidence to reform our hours and kitchen as well and have found both to be working well for us.” Currently, the brewery and restaurant are only open on weekends, so the couple can focus their time on brewing the quality craft beer they love and updating the space.
When you take into account that Lincoln and Amanda oversee all of the daily production that is Blackwater Brewing Company, in addition to their long-term business goals, you can see where building and maintaining their craft can mean a delicate balance with their personal lives.
“Work-life balance is a challenge with any job,” he says. “When running your own business, especially in the first several years during startup, it can be somewhat daunting.” Lincoln oversees daily functions, encompassing both food and beverage operations, including design, brewing and distribution of their beers, as well as account acquisition and maintenance. On weekends, Lincoln is in the kitchen as chef. In his free time, he keeps an ever-evolving list of building maintenance and renovations in play. Meanwhile, Amanda works full time as a sales representative at a company based in Wisconsin while marketing the brewery and updating its Web site. They are, in every sense, jacks-of-all-trades.
While Blackwater Brewing’s beers are not available statewide yet, there are certainly options for trying a few if you’re not at the brewery. Blackwater Brewing currently distributes within a limited geography, the Potomac Highlands and central portions of the state. They’re also on tap in Morgantown, Fairmont, Keyser and Glenville, in addition to Davis.
A love song to good beer, good conversation and a beautiful location, Blackwater Brewing Company is helping make a name for craft brewing in West Virginia. That love rings clearly in Lincoln’s voice as he reflects, “It’s wonderful to be back. It’s snowing here today, and it’s just beautiful. I love West Virginia. I love the people, and I want to see us do more here.”