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Micro Managed

How a home-beer kit became the start of a local business.



Kelley, a chef, and Robert Blevins, a catering manager, were presidents of the chemistry club in Powhatan High's class of 2003, so when they chose the name Kelvin Brewery for their line of small-batch ales and stouts, it was a nod to the scientific temperature scale and also a blend of their last names.

Mostly, it was a very good way to fine-tune a hobby that started with a spontaneous road trip to Chester in January to buy a home beer-making kit. "We were just goofing around," Kelley says, "and we made about 100 gallons of beer in the first two weeks."

That's when they had their eureka moment. "We realized we're capable of making really good beer," Blevins says, "and we're doing something with local flavors that's not too hoppy and that everyone can enjoy."

Richmond's other breweries, Legend and Richbrau, are successful local operations; Main Street Beer proved harder to keep afloat. But Kelvin Brewery, which also includes partners David Napier, Casey Ward and Peter Martorano, has the advantage of professional connections.

Napier owns The Old City Bar, and Kelley and Blevins work for him, crediting Napier's know-how with their ability to presell their brew to a small network of restaurants and retailers as soon as it hits the market this fall. And of course it will be featured on tap at their restaurant, which is the brewery's Shockoe Bottom headquarters.

Small-batch handcrafting lends microbrews their flavor characteristics and makes them popular with enthusiasts. "Fresh, local ingredients give these beers a local flavor," Blevins says, describing the Virginia honeys and other products used in the brewing process. Four types of beers are ready for production: Kelley's White Ale, a Belgian-style summer beer with hints of orange and coriander; Gentleman Nape's English Ale, a bitter beer with a heavier style; Pete's Killer Wheat, a hefewiezen "best served with a lemon," Kelley notes; and Ward's Oatmeal Stout, the partners' personal favorite with chocolate, oatmeal and toffee undertones.

Labels drawn by Adam Campen and designed by Eric Zirkle are ready for the bottles. Health inspections of the brewing operation are complete, and the last detail, ABC licensing, is expected any time now. Then the partners gear up for production of 50- to 60-gallon batches and a distribution plan that eventually takes their work to restaurants in Phoenix, Roanoke and New York City, as well as several Shockoe Bottom establishments.

"We're going to start small but we don't want to stay small," Napier says. "We hope to grow out of this space and find something bigger in Shockoe Bottom. We're ready to go, and we're psyched." S

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