By: Steve Cook
“You really need to come in and hang out,” Lezlie said. “This place is like Cheers.” She was right. Even though no one knew my name, the Parkway tasting room offered an exceptionally pleasant experience. There’s something about snow and beer that tends to open channels of communication. Strangers become fast friends. I hung out at the bar in order to learn more about the brews offered. The regulars were more than happy to tell me how much they enjoyed Parkway’s refreshing lineup of brews.
On a scale of one to ten, Parkway gets an eleven when it comes to ambience and friendly customer service. Interestingly, I learned later when I spoke with Lezlie Snyder, one of the brewery’s owners, that such ambience was not what she or her husband Mike, better known as “Keno,” anticipated when they, along with a few friends and investors, opened the brewery back in 2013. “When we began at Parkway, we envisioned a manufacturing plant that might have a few folks drop in to taste the beer and possibly grab a growler if we were lucky,” Lezlie said. “That was quickly flipped on its head!”
It’s only logical that the Snyders didn’t know exactly what to expect when Parkway opened its doors. Theirs was the first brewery/taproom in the area. Lezlie elaborated on those “early days” of just six years ago. “We served our first brew in the taproom at the end of January 2013, and when we added live music, people just flooded in. Keno was very hands-on, greeting every customer and talking beer to anyone who entered the building. The local musicians were there from the start, adding to a community of outdoor enthusiasts, music lovers, and beer drinkers like Salem or the Valley had never seen before.”
“Keno and I first decided we wanted to start a brewery back around 2010,” she said. Lezlie’s career was in real estate development at the time and, if you recall, that was not the best time to be in real estate. “After the crash of 2008,” she said, “We knew it was time to move on.” But why a brewery? “We had watched craft beer trends and had friends in the industry in Colorado that had been thriving since the 90s,” Lezlie continued. “We saw those trends starting to get a foothold in the east. We decided a brewery was the way to go, as there was no craft beer scene in the Roanoke Valley at all – Roanoke Railhouse (a brewery that has since closed) was the only game in town.” In order to learn the business, Keno took a job at the Railhouse where he met brewer, Ryan Worthington.
“Ryan is an amazing person and brewer, and he had a scientist's brain and an artist’s palette,” Lezlie said. “Creating wonderful brews was just natural for him - almost instinctive. Keno recognized Ryan's talent and ambition, and knew they would need to forge their own path to make the quality and styles of beers they wanted to showcase in the Valley.” Ryan became Parkway’s first brewmaster. As luck would have it, Ryan’s wife Jessica is a talented artist and proved to be instrumental in branding the brewery’s new products. “Jess was great at taking my ideas as creative director and translating them into the exact visual imagery I had in my head,” Lezlie explained. “Her paper cut artworks formed the basis of our branding and were instantly recognizable as ‘Parkway.’" At the end of 2015, the Worthington’s returned to their Tennessee roots and Mike Pensinger, joined the team as the new brewmaster.
“Mike brought great recipes that have resulted in our Christmas seasonal, A Moment On The Lips,” said Lezlie. I had enjoyed this tasty Chocolate Orange Stout myself during my visit. Its rich, slightly sweet taste offers a delightful hint of orange. Perhaps my favorite beer among those I sampled is Parkway’s flagship beer, Get Bent Mountain IPA. At 7.2 ABV, this is not exactly a session beer, but it is a very drinkable, well-balanced IPA with a good, slightly citrus, hop flavor. I would highly recommend their Majestic Mullet as a gateway beer to anyone who is just beginning to acquaint oneself with craft beers. I thoroughly enjoyed my sampling of this kolsch style beer.
If you enjoy good beers in pleasant, fun surroundings, then put Parkway Brewing on your list of must-visit breweries. Lezlie described the Parkway experience well, saying, “We have a varied and extremely loyal customer base, comprised of Salem residents, outdoor enthusiasts, beer geeks, and travelers off the Interstate looking for a quick stop. It's a laid back place with a DIY atmosphere. In addition to making sure that a good time and a good beer is had by all, the folks at Parkway are very supportive of the community and are involved in many fundraising events. As Lezlie explained, “Building community is what we're about!”