by Annie Tobey
There’s more to beer than meets the eyes, nose and taste buds. Ingredients, chemistry, biology and other variables combine to make beer and brewing even more compelling. The new Origin Beer Lab in Ashland will experiment with those variables while customers help judge the lab results.
Both Origin and Center of the Universe Brewing Co. are owned by brothers Chris and Phil Ray. The system at the nanobrewery is scaled in proportion to the brewery’s larger system. Any Origin experiment that the breweries and customers judge as worthy can easily be brewed at the parent production plant.
Situated in Ashland’s downtown, the tasting room won’t offer food or the brewery's beers, in order to maintain the good will flowing to nearby restaurants and businesses, including Trackside Grill, the Iron Horse Restaurant, and Caboose Market and Café.
The small brewery and tasting room along the town’s railroad tracks carries the lab theme from the logo to the serving glasses. The brand icon represents humulone, a chemical compound found in hops. Glass lab flasks are mounted on the exposed-brick wall of the 1901 J.G. Hughes Drug building. And the serving glasses for 5- and 12-ounce pours mimic beakers.
Among its six always-rotating beers on tap, Origin aims to serve a diversity of palates. On a recent weekend, choices included an approachable, effervescent golden ale, a fruit-forward New England India pale ale, a Belgian dubbel, an imperial cream ale, a pale ale and an extra-special bitter. The experimentation is apparent: The dubbel is surprisingly sessionable, the cream ale is surprisingly potent and the bitter represents a British style infrequently brewed in this part of the world. As the brewery’s second iteration, the pale ale is dubbed PA2.
It’s a playground for the brewers, but Origin also will share its search for knowledge with the community. It’s partnered with the biology department at nearby Randolph-Macon College to isolate local wild yeast strains for use in Origin sour beers. The brewery offers free cicerone certified beer server classes — the first level of beer’s equivalent to wine’s sommelier certification — for anyone interested in delving into the intricacies of ales and lagers/ It also will play host to other educational and charitable events.
On Feb. 3-5, the Origin tasting room will have its grand opening at 106 S. Railroad Ave. in Ashland. Never has the role of lab rat been so appealing. originbeerlab.com.