I got to spend a few days exploring the New River Gorge, in West Virginia, recently, hiking and biking and swimming with my kids. We crawled on our hands and knees out onto rocky overlooks, biked sinuous singletrack and swam off a sandy beach below the massive, steel arch bridge (longest arch bridge in the Western hemisphere!). I’ve spent my fair share of time inside and around the gorge, running races, climbing and rafting, but this was the first trip that I actually paid attention to the cultural history of the area. I’m talking about coal and the role it played in the development of that 800-foot deep canyon and the area surrounding it.
The natural beauty of the New River is stunning, but if you pay attention, it’s laced with coal’s fingerprints. You can hike and ride past old mine sites, forgotten company towns that sprouted up when the mines were booming…even some of the trails are laced with tiny, black shards of coal.
It seems natural, after spending a day hiking in that sort of terrain, to drink a beer that pays homage to West Virginia’s coal mining culture. Enter Miner’s Daughter, an oatmeal stout from Mountain State Brewing, out of Davis, West Virginia. The label is a little disturbing if you look closely—two tired miners with helmets and headlamps, sad, haggard, resigned. I couldn’t imagine doing that sort of work, actual work digging through the side of a gorge collecting dark rocks to power the country. A bad day in my job is when my laptop battery runs out before I finish a story.
The beer itself isn’t that disturbing. It’s a rather thin oatmeal stout, almost watery with notes of coffee and chocolate. But not the sweet kind, the bitter kind. Imagine a cup of coffee, without the sweetness of cream. That’s this beer. Comforting, in a way, like after you spend the day ski touring or hiking through the cold and you hit a Waffle House after your adventure and all you want is that cup of hot, black coffee. I can imagine the two dudes on the can, finishing a day of work in the mine, desperately needing a beer exactly like this one.