Center of the Universe’s brew team is one of the best in the world for 2018 (Pictured top L-R: Nathan Landers, Joseph Cross, Doug Pike, Skyler Hinkel) (Pictured bottom L-R: Corey Johnson, Brett Dillon)

By Jeff Maisey

Nashville might be known as Music City, but in May it became Medal City for two independent Virginia craft breweries and one non-independent from Nelson County. 

Ashland-headquartered Center of the Universe Brewing Company won a Gold medal for its Bad Irishman in the Irish-style Red Ale category and its Session Pale Ale scored a Silver medal in the Session Beer category. 

Alexandria-based Port City Brewing Company earned a Silver medal in the Robust Porter category for its Porter.

For both independent craft breweries it was their first-ever medal in the World Beer Cup.

“We have entered the competition since we opened,” said Port City owner Bill Butcher. “It is only held every two years, so we have competed in four: 2012, 2014, 2016 and this year. I could not be more proud of our team, and we are all super excited to win this award. For me personally, the best part was having 11 of us from the brewery there to share the moment. It really is a special recognition to be considered among the finest in the world.”

Bragging rights certainly are also in order for Center of the Universe; their Irish red ale was deemed the best on earth for 2017.

“Phil and I were thrilled as we heard our brewery’s name called out via the live stream on Thursday night,” said co-owner Chris Ray. The COTU team was not in Nashville to accept the awards. “But really, these awards are for our staff.  They are for the guys in the back who work tirelessly in extreme conditions while maintaining a high level of precision.  It is for our sales staff that are out on the streets everyday pushing products they believe in.  It is also for our front of the house managers and servers that enthusiastically great our fans on a daily basis with such pride in the brewery they represent.  It was just really exciting to be recognized on the world stage and have those rewards reflect the hard work of everyone who makes Center of the Universe what it is.”

So what makes the Bald Irishman with best of its style in the world?

“It is truly delicious,” a confident Chris Ray said. “Phil changed this recipe up for the 2017 brew to round out the flavors a little more and we just hit the nail on the head.  It doesn’t hurt to have a little karma on your side for what this beer represents.  We brew this beer annually and donate the proceeds to the Balderinos, our Satellite club’s group of fundraisers, to benefit the St. Baldric’s Foundation.  This year, the group raised over $35,000.  Perhaps the judges could taste their passion for improving our community.” 

Center of the Universe is well situated to experiment with recipes since opening its satellite location known as Origin Beer Lab in downtown Ashland. It’s impact is credited with the brewery’s new successes.

“Origin has had a monumental impact on Center of the Universe,” Ray said. “From new techniques, to new ingredients, to complete recipe formulation, Origin Beer Lab does it all.  We decided to get a “mini-me” style system, one not seen very often in breweries that small, in order to allow our team to scale-up new recipes and practice on a system that mimics our main facility. Origin’s brew system isn’t a playground, its a vessel that makes extremely good beer on its own.”

The non-independent brewery winner from Virginia was Devils Backbone Brewing Company for its Danzig (Bronze, Baltic-style Porter) and Alt Bier (German-style Altbier).