Saturday, May 01, 2010
Brewing up something new
Jerome Parnell will introduce a lake-inspired beer this summer
Those who enjoy a cold beer on a warm day are in for a real treat this summer when a new brew is released from taps around Smith Mountain Lake.
Dam Lager – named for the structure that created and retains SML – is the brainchild of lake resident Jerome Parnell.
"Our goal is to convert lite beer drinkers to enjoy beer that is locally brewed and hand-crafted," said Parnell, who grew up spending summers at the lake with family, and whose mother, Rory Parnell, helped open The Little Gallery at Bridgewater Plaza in1986.
"We hope to have Dam Lager at several establishments around the lake beginning Memorial Day weekend. As production ramps up, we will be expanding distribution throughout the summer," he said.
For Parnell, an executive for International Bio Resources, a bio-pharmaceuticals firm headquartered in Louisiana, the beer business is a hobby/occupation.
"My job requires a lot of travel," he said. "I kept noticing that many places have a microbrewery and a following for its local brews. Southwest Virginia was lacking in that regard," he said.
Parnell also had a craft-brew influence in his own family. While a student at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, he gave his dad, Jerry, a home-brewing kit as a Father's Day gift.
"The first beer was a disaster," Parnell recalled, "but Dad stuck with it and often shared his home-brewed beer with family and friends on holidays and here at SML."
Three years ago, Parnell began talking to Steve Davidson, president of Roanoke Rail house Brewery, about producing a hand-crafted beer dedicated to the lake area.
Learning that Davidson was wrestling with the question of how best to distribute his local brews, Parnell formed Lakeside Imports and Distributing, LLC. Based in Roanoke, the company is licensed to sell beer wholesale throughout Virginia. It services more than 80 taps at restaurants and pubs in and around Roanoke and Blacksburg. Lakeside is the exclusive distribution agent for brands produced by Railhouse and two other local brewing companies.
"We've had excellent response to locally brewed beers,"Parnell said.
In fact, Railhouse, located in the Wimmer Tire building on McClanahan Street, is currently doubling its production. Lakeside has plans to add more trucks, personnel and regional coverage this year as the craft beer revolution gains further footing in Southwest Virginia.
In a contract brewing arrangement with Railhouse, Parnell has set out to create a locally brewed beer distinctive to Smith Mountain Lake. Dam Lager will be crafted by John Bryce, who's earned German Brewmaster certification from Berlin's renowned Versuchs-und Lehranstalt fur Brauerei (VLB). His experience includes stints at several Virginia-based breweries, including Old Dominion Brewing Company, Capitol City Brewing Company and Starr Hill Brewing Company.
In his current position, Bryce is responsible for Railhouse's flagship brand, Track 1, a German-style dark lager, and for Blacksburger Pils, a smooth German-style pilsner Railhouse brews under contract for Blacksburg Brewing Company.
Bryce said he adheres to the German purity standard called Reinheitsgebot, which Boston Beer Company uses in brewing the Samuel Adams line of beers and ales. He described Dam Lager as "a crisp, clean, copper-colored lager with low bitterness, light caramel malt profile and light-to-medium body."
Parnell added, "And, with more flavor than you get in the common fizzy, yellow-colored light beers, [it's] a great beer for the outdoors and the summer season.
"Dam Lager is a celebration of the lake lifestyle and, hopefully, will become recognized as part of SML culture and experience."
Strong local support could allow the brand to grow statewide, or regionally, creating potential for bottling and creating new blends, said Parnell, who makes his home at SML with his wife, Sandra, and two daughters, Maeve, 5, and Fiona, 2. He said Lakeside will also introduce merchandise this summer.
"Look for T-shirts, coasters and other items to be available around the lake," Parnell said.