2016-06-01 / News

Full steam ahead

Steam Bell Beer Works readies for opening
By Rich Griset

Brad Cooper at Steam Bell Beer Works off Genito Road, near Southside Speedway, which plans to open June 11. 
Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer Brad Cooper at Steam Bell Beer Works off Genito Road, near Southside Speedway, which plans to open June 11. Ash Daniel/Chesterfield Observer Beer cost Brad Cooper his last full-time job, but it’s also provided a new one.

While working for a mining company two years ago, the Chesterfield native brought in growlers of a homebrew for coworkers to take home. Instead of putting the beer in his car, one co-worker stored his in the company fridge. Because the company had a strict no-alcohol policy, Cooper and his co-worker were fired.

Meeting his parents that evening at Goochland’s Midnight Brewery, Cooper resolved to move forward with a plan he’d been contemplating for some time: bringing a craft brewery to Chesterfield. Two years later, the 29-year-old’s plan will become a reality as Steam Bell Beer Works opens its doors to the public on June 11.

That isn’t to say Cooper’s journey has been an easy one. Worried he’d get too comfortable if he took another full-time job, Cooper got a part-time gig with Old Dominion Mobile Canning, traveling the region to can beer on-site at breweries. Working part-time allowed Cooper to pursue his dream of opening a brewery, but it took a toll on his finances.

“It was a sad country song,” Cooper says. “I had to move back in [with his parents], sell my car, girlfriend broke up with me. Thank God my dog is still alive.”

Last May, Cooper leased a former machine shop just off Genito Road near Powhite Parkway and state Route 288. He’s since brought in a 310-gallon brewing system and jumped through the numerous logistical hoops of bringing the first-ever production brewery to the county. While the Midlothian location of Extra Billy’s barbecue has a brewpub, the majority of the beer it produces is consumed on-site.

“It’s exciting,” says Ben Humphrey, project manager with the county’s economic development department. Cooper credits Humphrey with helping navigate the zoning hurdles involved with bringing the brewery to Chesterfield.

“It’s something that we’ve been trying to do for a while now,” Humphrey says. “We were able to finally get a match with not only a business owner, but also the type of real estate, the type of operator we were trying to attract here in the county.”

Given Chesterfield’s size and population, Humphrey says the brewery should be a hit.

“We have a lot of young professionals and families in the demographic,” he says. “Anyone from 21 to 51 or 61 is now a craft beer enthusiast. There are more and more craft beer drinkers every day.”

So far, Cooper has two flagship beers planned, the “Time is Money” farmhouse India pale ale and the Grisette. Grisettes (no known relation to the reporter) are an old beer style from southern Belgium that are similar to a saison. The beer was originally brewed for miners, which Cooper relates to his previous job. He describes his beer as “light-bodied, dry, kind of citrusy on the back end.”

Though Time is Money is an IPA, Cooper says that he generally wants to steer away from the style, as Richmond already has so many local interpretations of the variety.

“It’s really hoppy, but it’s not bitter,” says Cooper of his IPA. “Just bitter enough to where you know it’s an IPA.”

Of his general approach, Cooper says he wants to brew beer that’s approachable to new craft beer drinkers but complex enough to keep seasoned drinkers interested.

“It’s just a really fun blend of art and science,” he says of brewing. “It’s like a chef, knowing which ingredients go well together.”

Arthur Allen, owner of the store Artisans Wine and Homebrew in Midlothian, attended a tap takeover that Cooper held recently at Sergio’s Pizza. Among the brews Cooper provided was a tiramisu stout.

“It was just off-the-wall good,” Allen says, adding that the 31.5 gallons of beer Cooper brought were quickly consumed. “They were done really quick. … It’s just a good craft style of beer. He’s bringing the art back to where it’s not just IPAs. It’s about producing good, high-quality beer.”

The brewery is also a family affair. His father Tom built all the bars, stools, tables and signage at the brewery. His mother Connie is the office manager, and his sister Brittany is helping on the human relations front while continuing to work remotely for IBM in New York. Cooper credits his parents with inspiring him to work toward his dream.

“They have been my biggest supporters from day one,” Cooper says. “They have always pushed my sister and I from day one, whatever your dream is go for it, but know that it takes a lot of work.”

According to Connie Cooper, everything is full steam ahead.

“We’ve just about filled everything we can fill [with beer] filled,” she says. “We’re ready to sell beer.”

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