Chris Burcher

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What’s your current position at your brewery, and how did you get started in the craft brewing industry?

I am the brewer and president of Wolf Hills Brewing Co. in Abingdon, Va. I retired from my professor job to stay at home with my three kids and really got into homebrewing, directing my energy into learning. There are four of us at Wolf Hills. I had the idea that we needed a craft brewery here in Abingdon; they had the political pull and energy to push it through and make it actually happen. Last October we started filling growlers and selling 5-gallon kegs to restaurants via our distributor. We quickly realized that the demand was here and that we could barely make enough to satisfy the growler customers and had to pull out of almost all the restaurants. We now sell about 2 bbl a week in growler fills during our Thursday night “growler hours.”

What’s new at Wolf Hills?

We’re expanding, from 288 square feet to almost 6,000. We’re going from about 4 bbl a week capacity to 14 and will have temperature control, filtration capabilities, etc. Basically, we’re moving from a homebrew/pilot system seat-of-the-pants approach to an actual brewery with equipment that was designed for making beer (7 bbl pub system). Still very tiny in the world of microbrewing, but huge for us. We’re renovating an old icehouse that hasn’t been used since refrigeration! So just doing the electric and plumbing will take a while but we hope to be in there this summer and doing tours (we live in a big tourist area).

What’s the best part of being a part of the craft brewing community?

Our customers appreciate that we are willing to take on the challenge of being the first in the area to do this. The most difficult part is introducing a new price point into the market.

What do you like to do in your time away from the brewery?

Spend time with my family. I have three girls ages 8, 6, and 4. I also play mandolin. I am pretty obsessed with studying the brewing industry and brewing science, of course.

What’s your favorite food and beer pairing?

I’m very much an amateur when it comes to beer. I am pretty much a reflection of our area. I can’t say I’ve ever intentionally done a beer/food pairing, although I like IPA and pizza.

What’s your biggest accomplishment unrelated to your job?

My wife and kids. My PhD and academic career, though short. My friends.

What’s your favorite beer that your brewery does not produce? 

Of course, it changes constantly and you have to understand that I can’t really get much where we are. Some of my favorite beers I can’t readily purchase are Petrus Oud Bruin and Stone’s 13th anniversary ale— it’s a big hoppy amber ale. My favorite beers this week that I can actually buy locally are Sierra Nevada’s Glissade and Sam Adams Noble Pils. I’m such a hop head and we don’t have the ability to make Pilsners, so I look for different styles when I buy beer.

What’s the most exotic travel destination at which you’ve had a chance to sample the local beer?

Phoenix, Ariz. My flight got delayed on my way out to Idaho to inspect our new brewing equipment and my hotel was right next to Four Peaks brewpub. I had a great flight (of beers) and got to walk around in the brewery. That was pretty exotic for me.

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