A family affair

Greg Eckles prepares to fill a beer jug from a tap inside the Better Beer Store at 3340 Valley Pike in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER — It’s a family affair at the Better Beer Store.

Kevin Eckles and his father Greg love beer, especially craft beer. Ales, lagers, stouts and porters, there’s not a beer the Eckles won’t try. So when they attended the Hop Blossom Craft Beer Festival in Winchester last June, they were happier than pigs in mud.

“We’re on the downtown mall in Winchester and there are thousands of people drinking beer brewed right here in Virginia,” Kevin Eckles said. “Afterwards, we go to Martin’s and those beers aren’t there, we go to some bottle shops and find some of them, but we couldn’t find them anywhere.”

So necessity being the mother of invention, Kevin, along with his wife Victoria, decided to go into craft beer store business. The Eckles — Greg, Kevin, Victoria and Kevin’s mother Karen — operate the store, offering 400 craft beers from all over the country and imports. The Better Beer Store opened its doors Nov. 17 at 3349 Valley Pike.

Kevin Eckles, a former toxicologist for a pharmaceutical company, said not only does he enjoy the taste of beer, but also he is fascinated by the science behind a good brew.

Karen Eckles stocks a shelf of Virginia beers inside the Better Beer Store in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

“For example, one of my favorite ales is a Scotch ale,” Eckles said. “Oskar Blues Old Chubb beer makes a great ale, and they carbonate it with carbon dioxide. Well, they take the exact same formula and use nitrogen instead. It makes it a whole different beast.”

He said craft beer is currently the biggest trend in beers, with overall beer sales falling by 8 percent last year and craft beer sales jumping by 15 percent.

“The last 10 years, it is my firm belief, we have entered the golden age of beer in America,” Kevin Eckles said. “The number of kinds of beers has just exploded. There’s so many more things people are trying, I get excited about it.”

The store is sectioned out by seasonal, import, beers from the Midwest, the West Coast, the East Coast, the Northeast, the Southeast and Virginia. Kevin Eckles said he really wants to focus on Virginia beers because it is a young but thriving industry.

“I do want Virginia’s craft beer industry to blow up like Oregon, California or outside of Boston,” Eckles said. “In order to make that happen, we need to support breweries located here in Virginia.”

In addition to offering beers in bottles and cans, the Better Beer Store also offers beers on tap that can be filled in large glass jugs called growlers. Kevin Eckles said he generally reserves the tap space for beers that are only sold by the keg.

The Better Beer store offers customers an opportunity to mix and match beers for a six-pack. Greg Eckles said it is a good way for people to try out a beer.

“People always want to try something new, but there’s a concern that if they get a six pack and they don’t like it, they’re stuck with five more beers,” Greg Eckles said. “This way, people can try different ones, get an idea what they like or don’t like.”

According to Kevin Eckles, owning and operating a store with his family has been a pleasure.

“It has been for me a very pleasant surprise,” Kevin Eckles said. “I love my wife, but I was a little concerned about working with her all the time. But it has been great and honestly, I wouldn’t be able to do it without her.”

So far, business has been good according to Kevin Eckles. While improving his business and building up a clientele mainly concerns him, he does have bigger plans.

“I would love for this store to become the go-to craft beer store of the region,” Kevin Eckles said. “I want to not only to serve people in Winchester, but also people from Front Royal and parts of West Virginia.”

So what’s Kevin Eckles’ favorite beer?

“It’s like choosing a favorite child,” Eckles said, with a smile. “I love too many of them.”

The Better Beer Store is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. On Fridays and Saturdays, the store is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com