After six years of helping build Legend Brewery, a local beer magnate will become head brewer for a new local craft brewery.
One of the most important figures in RVA’s craft beer scene will soon move to The Center of the Universe. Mike Killelea is leaving Legend Brewing Co. to become head brewer of a new Ashland-based craft brewery, Center of the Universe Brewing Company.
Killelea, founder and elected chairman of the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild and organizer of the first Virginia Cask Beer Fest, started home brewing in his native Boston, Massachusetts in 2004. Soon after, he and his wife moved to Richmond.
In 2006, he took part in a six-month brewing science and engineering program, a distance learning program offered through the American Brewers Guild. In 2007, he began a six-week internship with Legend. He was hired afterwards, and spent the next six years brewing beer, formulating recipes, and building a laboratory. “I’ll always look fondly on my days at Legend,” said Killelea. While he worked at Legend, two brothers began tinkering with their home brews. Soon, that tinkering would lead to a new craft brewery.
Chris Ray, a Major League Baseball pitcher who played with the 2010 World Series champion San Francisco Giants, and his brother Phil began brewing beer in their respective Ashland, VA homes in 2009. An obsession emerged, and the two later created their own craft brewery called Center of the Universe Brewing Company (COTU). They just needed a head brewer.
The brothers knew that Killelea was well-acquainted with many of the area’s best brewers, so they reached out to Killelea for a list of prospective names to fill the position. One of the attributes that impressed Killelea about the brothers was “they’re really passionate about craft beer.” He obliged in their request, giving them a list of candidates he thought would be good for the position. One of the names was his. Last week, COTU announced that Killelea would be the brewery’s first head brewer.
Although his first official day won’t be until September 4th, Killelea is already working with the Ray brothers on the four beers they hope to launch with in October. Many new beers will follow.
“We’re going to do a lot of different styles,” said Killelea, who estimated that once production ramps up, COTU will offer up to 24 unique beers a year. Of which, only about four beers will be year-round. “We’re going to do a lot of different styles.” One-offs, experimental brews, virtually nothing is off-limits.
Although Killelea said a few of the debut beers are “still being researched,” he said that the some will be West Coast IPAs: pale ales that typically have more hops and are drier than other Indian pale ales. Ten years ago, many beer drinkers might not know what an Indian pale ale is, let alone subtle differences between two varieties. That’s changed with the nationwide (and local) growth of craft brewing.
“Craft brewing is a native industry,” said Killelea. He means that younger drinkers (ages 21-24) have a better appreciation for craft beers. “Craft beers have been around their entire life. It’s not new. It’s not a fad.” Killelea said that breweries are not the only ones to commend for the emergence of craft beer appreciation. “The consumer has gotten a little more educated, a little more savvy” about craft beers. As a result, a niche market has evolved.
Killelea estimates that less than 5% of the beer market consists of craft beer sales. “It’s definitely a growing scene,” he said. “We still have quite a way to go.” Killelea and COTU hope to be a part of that growth at a local level.
The brewing company is currently finishing a build-out of the Herald Progress Building in Ashland, VA. It will also partner with a hop farm in Hanover County for ingredients. Killelea said that COTU has not contracted with a distributor yet, but plans to do so in the near future. “We really want to focus on the local market,” said Killelea with a mind towards “slow, steady, sustainable growth.”
Center of the Universe Brewing Company is located at 11293 Air Park Road
Ashland, VA 23005.
- Baseball pitcher, brother to open brewery in Ashland; Herald-Progress
- Tap into the first Virginia Cask Fest; RVANews
- Quality brews, right in your hometown; RVANews
photo by xlibber