Ross Williams is the man behind a trendy Charleston brewery
CHARLESTON — Ross Williams grew up here in Hampshire County, but some people might refer to him as the bad shepherd behind Bad Shepherd Brewery.
The Romney native now lives in Charleston brewing beer for haute local dining spot called Black Sheep.
“Black Sheep and Bad Shepherds probably hang out together, right?” asked Williams jokingly about the name of the restaurant’s sister establishment. “We try to be playful with it you know. I don’t think of the name as an irreverent thing. The bad shepherds of the world are often great customers and we have lots of friends at the pub because they’re always here instead of out tending the flock.”
When Bad Shepherd began in 2016 they were modernizing a building previously occupied by the now-defunct Charleston Brewing Company, which Williams noted had occupied the space until 2013.
The group also snagged up brewing equipment the former tenants had been using, consisting of a 10-hectoliter brewhouse “with 8 fermentation vessels, 5 conditioning, and storage tanks, a machine for washing and sanitizing kegs, and numerous kegs,” said Williams.
It all began when Williams had been looking for a new job in the brewing industry. “So when I learned about the opening in Charleston” he recalled, “I was excited at the possibilities.”
Prior to moving back to West Virginia, Williams had been living in South Carolina after garnering some experience at a brewery in Morgantown, but noted he felt he “wasn’t getting much traction—at least not with a job as a head brewer.”
Williams interviewed for the role in Charleston where he got to take a look firsthand at the equipment.
“And I was sold,” said the son of Eugene and Nancy Williams. “I knew I could make a good product at this brewery.”
Today Bad Shepherd is going strong serving up craft made brews for visitors and locals alike.
“I get feedback from customers and our restaurant staff,” said Williams regarding what he chooses to brew. “Internationally-owned brewers like AB-INBEV and SAB-Miller have entire divisions focused on market trends,” while Williams says he just follows his palate.
“I'm the head brewer,” he explained. “A lot of people ask if I'm the ‘brewmaster,’ and while I do a lot of the final call things brewmasters do,” Williams elaborated, “I will be the first to tell you I don't have a degree in brewing science, nor the years of experience that qualify one, in my mind, as a brewmaster. I like to reserve that term for the really qualified experts out there.”
Bad Shepherd sources ingredients globally from the Atlantic to Pacific Rims and back. “I do like to use Hampshire County peaches from Shanholtz’s Orchard,” he said with a prideful tone, adding that he finds the fruit at a farmer's market in Charleston.
“I like to use them in lightly-bittered pale ale to counter the [beer’s] bitterness. Our facility isn't set up to process a ton of fruit, though, so these are almost always small-batch offerings just at the brewery.”
Black Sheep had operated next to the former Charleston Brewing Company for a number of years. Since starting their own brewing arm “Black Sheep's bar always has 11 of Bad Shepherd's beers on tap at any given time,” said Williams confidently.
Earlier in the year the folks behind Bad Shepherd were interested in “celebrating a big step forward for agriculture in West Virginia by using hemp hearts in a beer.” Williams explained the company wanted to “highlight the fledgling hemp-growing industry that is developing here, because it's a great crop for the farmer and a great crop for soil conservation.” However, the process to brew such a concoction quickly became wrapped up in legal red tape, but Williams said optimistically, “We should have everything in order to brew that beer next year.”
Brewing beer for a living may sound like a dream job to some, but it has its pitfalls. So what’s the worst part of the job? “Telling a customer or a coworker that our company has decided to stop brewing their favorite beer,” he said with a laugh. “It happens mainly with seasonal, fruity beers, or special, small-batch brews that require hard-to-find ingredients or difficult, time-consuming processes.”
Williams said his current favorite brew “right now, in the heat of summer/early fall, it's a lager called ‘Cerve Say What,’ brewed with fresh whole limes and masa corn flour. It's a really light but flavorful pour.”
Today you can find Bad Shepherd’s brews at various pubs and restaurants around the state, however, to toast the source you’ll need to pull up a stool at Black Sheep, 702 Quarrier Street, in Charleston.