Beer was precisely the reason that Steam Bell Beer Works owner Brad Cooper was fired from his aggregate mining job, but he refers to that day, Sept. 19, 2014 as “Freedom Day.”
This was the opening to an email we received the other day, and we couldn’t help but be intrigued by the full story. The story is the founding of Steam Bell Beer Works in Richmond, Va., by Cooper, a homebrewer who needed a career/life change.
Since launching in 2016, Steam Bell Beer Works has thrived, and good stuff remains on the way — a second location is already set to open in February, and Cooper just received an agricultural grant from the State of Virginia because 40 percent of their materials/ ingredients come from Virginia.
Anyway, we thought it was a cool story and followed up with Cooper to learn more.
Give us the backstory on how Steam Bell Beer Works got started? And what does it mean that “beer was the reason” you were fired from that aggregate mining job?
Cooper: Steam Bell got its start with a bad day at work. I had been a homebrewer for a few years and had even worked part time at the Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond for a few years but my full time job was in the mining industry. One day a coworker and I were talking, and we were complaining about our boss’s boss’s boss, or something of that matter, when he looked at me with a sigh and said, “Well, I guess we only have about another 40 years of this.”
When my coworker uttered those words, that was the turning point where I knew I had to go into business for myself. I had been interested in opening a brewery for a few years at that point but had been scared away by the cost of all the equipment and construction involved.
As for getting fired — Every time I would homebrew, I would bring in a few growlers for some of my coworkers to try when they got home. One of my former coworkers, instead of putting the growler in his car chose to put it in the office refrigerator. The company I worked for has a very strict, black and white, zero tolerance policy toward alcohol on company property, and we were both let go soon after.
What would you say is the focus of Steam Bell Beer? How are you branding yourself? What beers are your big sellers?
Cooper: As far as our beer is concerned, we wanted to focus primarily on beers not currently available in the marketplace. So many breweries out there have offerings of an IPA, a pale ale, a blonde ale, a wheat beer, a lager, etc. Once upon a time in a land where there were few options besides mass-produced American lagers, these choices were seen as new and innovative, but as craft beer has become more mainstream craft breweries have to branch out beyond these basic styles.
At Steam Bell, instead of finding a stout, it’s a Tiramisu Stout. We wanted to buck the trend of pumpkin beers so instead we brewed a beer with Virginia-sourced sweet potatoes and sorghum syrup.
Our flagships include:
- The Grisette — A light Belgian Saison brewed in the style of beer provided to the miners in old world Belgium.
- Brindled Brown Ale — An English Brown Ale aged on cocoa nibs and toasted pecans.
Our two flagship beers are our two biggest sellers, but the Tiramisu Stout is a close contender.