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By SHAINA STOCKTON, Staff
It all began when John Ayers of Galax visited a brew pub in Charlotte, N.C.
He was used to beer that can be found in any grocery store, such as Budweiser, Coors and Miller, he said. But when he tried a variety of samplings at the restaurant, his enthusiasm for craft beer began.
After traveling and sampling the hundreds of brews that are available, he began crafting his own styles in preparation to start his own brewery back home.
Ayers has now taken the first step towards fleshing out his ideas with the opening of Creek Bottom Brews, a new craft beer and tasting room located next door to his Pronets information technology business on Meadow Street in Galax.
So far, Creek Bottom has received an impressive turnout. Their first tastings on Feb. 15 and 16 attracted a large number of visitors, half of whom heard the news through word of mouth, while the rest heard about it on Facebook.
Ayers sees the numbers growing significantly after more advertising is put out.
After his first taste of several craft brews, Ayers said that he was officially hooked, as well as curious to find out what other flavors were available in other locations.
“Thanks to Pronets, I’ve had the fortune to go to different states,” he said. “I just started visiting different places and tasting everything I could to figure out what I like.”
His travels so far have included breweries in North Carolina, Maine and New York. “There are so many different places around where you can get good beer,” he said. He soon honed in on several of his own preferences. “I have a preference for IPA, or India Pale Ale, and hobby beers,” he said.
Soon, he began inventing his own flavors, and is seeking to someday share his styles with the public with a brewery. But for now, he’s starting small with a retail business.
“We plan on doing a nano brewery, and we will produce on-site, so the brew will be strictly Galax-only,” he said. After getting a thumbs-up from Virginia ABC, he hopes to see at least one brew on tap by May.
The building had remained empty when Pronets was set up, in the hopes that a brewery would open someday. Now, walls are lined with a colorful array of selections, neatly arranged into several categories.
“This is a family business,” he said, extending credit to his wife Brandy Ayers and coworkers Tonya Reavis and Brian Reavis.
The store features several creative touches, such as the colorful signs above each section. Ayers pointed out that they were the works of Tonya Reavis and Starr Anderson of Pronets.
One goal of Creek Bottom Brews is to put an emphasis on local beer styles, Ayers told The Gazette. He hopes that this will bring tourists into the area.
In addition, by having 300 different selections available, he hopes to keep some of the local beer connoisseurs closer to home, as well.
Another idea is to encourage local restaurants to offer craft beers on tap. “Hopefully, enough people will start asking for that,” he said. “I think [if this happens], a lot of the younger crowd will start staying in town... and we want to keep people here in Galax.”
The business will feature regularly scheduled beer tastings to educate customers and help them find their individual style preferences.
On Fridays from 5-7 p.m. and Saturdays from 1-7 p.m., Ayers will host a sampling of several different styles of his choosing. Customers will be allowed to sample a few ounces of several inventory selections free of charge. Larger samples will also be available for a fee, he said.
Another option will be to “pick your own six-pack,” where the customer will be allowed to combine six different styles of beer into one six-pack. “Doing that will have people trying even more varieties,” he said.
As time goes on, private tastings for the Bottoms Up Club will be held on the third Thursday of each month. Benefits of joining the club include a variety of discounts, and the costs to join are currently being waived.
“Some people who come into our shop will have an idea or know what style they prefer, and want to try things within that particular style,” he said.
To help people find items more quickly and easily, the inventory is split up into several different categories, such as Belgian ales, ciders and imports. Individual 12-ounce refrigerated bottles are also offered.
For early risers, a coffee bar is available, courtesy of local roaster Sugar Grove. “We will usually have at least two or three of their varieties," Ayers said.
There are even gift basket options available, made up of a selection of beers and other snacks, spices and other goodies.
In the end, everyone who visits should be able to walk out the door with something that fits them.
• Creek Bottom Brews is located at 307 Meadow Street in Galax, next to Pronets. Hours are Monday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. For more information, call 236-BEER (2337), find Creek Bottom Brews on Facebook or visit www.cbbrews.com.