Pallets of beer cans at Big Timber Brewing

ELKINS, W.Va. (WBOY) — When walking into Big Timber Brewing’s brewhouse, you will first notice the smell of freshly peeled oranges and the bready scent of fermenting beer. The next thing you’ll notice is the pallets of empty beer cans stacked nearly two stories high, each one holding more than 6,000 labeled cans ready for use.

Rock music is playing near the canning machine, and the rest of the building is alive with movement—one brewer is inspecting fermentors, another is peeling fruit, while several more are busy in the back of the building canning Big Timber’s flagship IPA.

The Big Timber name is well known to beer drinkers throughout West Virginia and is easily one of, if not the most widely distributed breweries in the state.

The citrusy smell is coming from Big Timber’s lead brewer Chris Newsom, or more specifically, from the oranges he is peeling one by one for their upcoming Alpenglow Gose, a sour beer made with cranberries, orange peel, rosemary and coriander.

Alpenglow Gose (Courtesy Big Timber Brewing)

Newsom has been with Big Timber for almost eight years. Before he studied at WVU, he brewed beer with his father at home, so when he came back to the craft after he graduated, he already had some time making beer under his belt. Surprisingly, Newsom said home brewing and commercial brewing are largely the same, except you’re going from five-gallon batches to batches well over 400 gallons.

Big Timber Lead Brewer Chris Newsom

“First and foremost, we like to brew beer that we like to drink,” Newsom said. “We’re always trying to better our product.”

Newsom said that even with their staple beers like their IPA or lager, they are always making small adjustments to the recipe to see if they can bring out any additional flavors or qualities they find appealing.

These old bourbon barrels were used to make Big Timber’s “Bourbon Barrel Porter” where beer is fermented in bourbon barrels for several months to give it a boozy and complex taste. (WBOY image)

Big Timber produces at least one if not two 60-barrel batches every week of their most popular beer, the Big Timber IPA, and because they produce it so often they have a lot of opportunities to experiment. Producing so much beer can be challenging to say the least, especially when you want to balance keeping up with demand year-round while also sprinkling in seasonal and variety of beers throughout the year.

Newsom, a self-proclaimed hop-head, talked about one of his pet beer experiments from earlier in the year, the Timber Cutter, a low-calorie, low-carb and reduced-gluten IPA.

“I selfishly was trying to diet at the time, so I made this low-carb beer that I could drink while I was dieting, and I thought it turned out pretty well and hopefully we’ll be able to make it again.”

When it comes to beers that are currently available, Chris’ favorites are the Frost Notch, a seasonal winter ale, and the Alpenglow, the gose mentioned above, but if he had to recommend people try any beer of their beers, he recommends the Big Timber Porter, which won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival earlier this year in the robust porter category—the first beer from West Virginia to ever win a medal at that event. When Newsom is out he said he’s always trying to gauge people’s interest or thoughts on certain brews.

“I like the reward of talking to people anonymously. A lot of people don’t know me, but if I go to a bar and talk to them about beer, I like to hear what they have to say. I do enjoy not letting them know I’m a brewer, specifically from Big Timber, but just kind of say ‘Hey what do you think about this or that?’ and just get their opinions,” Newsom said.

Even though Big Timber was recognized for its porter, the variety of its beer offerings is nothing to sneeze at. Its brewers have even tried their hands at seltzer a few times with their Cherry-Lime and Strawberry-Pineapple seltzers. While seltzers have exploded in popularity over the last five years, the process is very different from brewing beer, as you might expect.

“Jokingly a lot of people call seltzers in our profession ‘profit water,’ because it’s just table sugar and water. Short story, you mix it up, throw it in the fermentor, add some yeast, you got a seltzer.”

Hop pellets used in Big Timber’s Pale Experiment (WBOY image)

Newsom admits that there is a bit more to it than that – seltzers are more labor-intensive on the fermentation side than the brewing side when compared to beer. Seltzer is like a blank slate that Big Timber can add whatever fruit they want to, but generally prefer drier seltzers and don’t sweeten them very much.

However, having a large variety of products can be a blessing and a curse. Sure you have a lot of different options to keep drinkers interested, but it also means you have many different cans and labels you need to source from different manufacturers, which became a problem for Big Timber during the pandemic. In one example Newsom gave, they ordered cans for one of their beers in January and didn’t receive them until September.

“If you walk around the brewery right now you’ll see a lot of empty product, we kind of have to keep that stuff on hand just so we don’t run into that problem again,” Newsom said.

Newsom said that hopefully in the future they will be able to store the excess supplies off-site, as constantly dodging pallets of cans can be cumbersome. Big Timber’s brewing operation moved into a new space in 2019, and construction is already underway in that new location to create a bigger and better taproom as well.

“Come to Elkins, come down to the taproom, experience Big Timber as it should be experienced in the small atmosphere at our taproom, have the variety of choosing all the beers we are currently providing, and get to know somebody new.”

While there’s no estimated completion date for their new taproom just yet, Big Timber is still one of the cornerstones of West Virginia brewing and is absolutely worth a visit, especially if you find yourself near Elkins.