Origin Beer Lab is not your typical brewery. Located along the railroad tracks in a vibrant stretch of downtown Ashland, you won’t find a fridge full of six packs for purchase or a detailed menu. What you will find a is an experimental space ideal for both beer enthusiasts and beer novices looking to explore, learn and gain appreciation for some lesser-known styles of beer. Or as owner Chris Ray describes it, “[Origin] serves as a fun playground for our brewers to try out different things. We’re able to perfect different techniques and try different hops, before launching new brands at Center Of The Universe.”
As a pilot facility for the Center of the Universe brewery (Origin’s big brother located in the Hanover Air Park), Origin’s concept is truly unique – especially in a region teeming with breweries. “[Center Of The Universe] always wanted to have a presence in the actual town of Ashland, and it got to a point where we realized we needed a proper pilot facility,” Chris said.
The ability to experiment and gain feedback on potential new beers before they are formally launched at Center of the Universe has proven invaluable for the brewery. “Nothing at Origin really has a name, it’s always something like IPA 1 or IPA 2,” Chris said. “We do that by design so we don’t get pigeon holed into a brand or branding element for a beer that could potentially graduate to the main [brewery].”
Despite being characterized as a “laboratory” for the main brewery, Origin is attracting customers and attention beyond in the world beer scene. After only two years in operation, Origin won two medals at the 2018 World Beer Cup, the most of any Virginia brewery. Bringing home a silver medal for best session pale ale is impressive in its own right, but the brewery also took home the only gold medal by a Virginia brewery for their Irish red ale – Bold Irishman.
Even with this global recognition, Origin Beer Lab maintains its small-town values. The staff at Origin pride themselves on the brewery’s “Cheers” mentality, where you’re always greeted with a big and genuine “hello” when you walk through the door. That ethos translates into the success of their “Lab Rats” mug club, which began last year with a limited offering of 50 mugs for regulars. Within 10 minutes of going on sale, they were sold out. Origin now boasts 200 Lab Rat members and is close to running out of wall space for mugs as the demand for more spots continues to grow.
But Ashland’s love for Origin is far from a one-way affair. Chris is not just a local business owner, but lives here with his family and clearly has great affection for the Town. “Ashland is a 365 community, there is always something going on, it’s always welcoming,” he said. “I’ve had the pleasure of watching this town morph into a foodie destination. There are unique shops, great food, farm to table places, and now with the Ashland Theatre you have a major entertainment factor here as well. People that haven’t been here in a year are going to be really surprised as to what Ashland has to offer.”
Downtown Ashland is quickly making a name for itself as an exciting alternative to Short Pump, with a quirky soul and quaintness that can’t be built overnight, but rather fermented over a century. No visit is complete without a stop at Origin, so be sure to visit them at 106 South Railroad Avenue. Open Wednesday through Sunday, you can visit www.OriginBeerLab.com or call (804) 299-2389 for specific hours and more information.