With Almost a Dozen New Microbreweries on Tap, Can Knoxville Become a True Beer Destination?

In Cover Stories, Food & Drink by S. Heather Duncanleave a COMMENT

cover_pretentious_4It’s so close, he can practically taste it.

Matthew Cummings is approaching the day he’ll be pouring pints—pints of dark Belgian beer he brewed, into glasses he crafted over a hot forge in the next room.

But in April, his future glass studio on South Central Street was an empty room with giant piles of dust on the floor. Its tall ceilings and the walls decorated with brick arches hinted at its long history as everything from a nickelodeon (where Knoxvillians could watch a silent movie for a nickel) to a grocery store. The cavernous room, which is being renovated to handle the newly necessary infrastructure, is a contrast to the future pub next door, which is crammed with saws, metal bars, plastic tubing, glass-cutting lathes and ovens for reheating glass, giant rolls of white foam, piles of twisty wire for sculpture and plastic tubs full of delicate colored glass wands ready to work their magic.

Cummings surveys the space. “We’re doing our own metal and wood fabrication,” he says, gesturing to the beechwood-topped bars with frames like metal puzzle pieces, soon to be inset with bourbon barrel slats. “Everything we can legally make ourselves, we’re making it.”

The work is easier, though, fueled as it is by the kegerator wedged among towering stands of tools. Today Cummings has three of his own beers on tap, including two dark Belgians, which are among his specialties. The cherry quad is darkened by caramelized beet sugar, then set on cherries for two weeks. It tastes powerful and rich rather than sweet or cloying. “I think craft brewing is about pushing flavor profiles,” Cummings says. “It’s about an adventure, trying something you’ve never had before.”

Cummings owns the Pretentious Glass Company, soon to be the Pretentious Beer and Glassware Company, which has been making specialty pint glasses. But he plans to open a glass-blowing studio within a month, followed by a linked taproom next door.

“As far as I know this will be the only place in the world you can watch us make the glass and the beer, and then drink the beer out of the glass,” Cummings says.

Although this combination is novel, Cummings is not alone in his newfound pursuit of brewing in Knoxville. A scramble to roll out the kegs is happening all over the city. At least 11 different breweries plan to open in the next 18 months, many of them slated to start pouring or distributing this summer or fall. And although they cross the map, many are clustered in the Old City and around N. Central Avenue, which raises hopes for boosting tourism with an ale trail.

“I think the Old City and Happy Holler are going to be much more connected within a year,” Cummings says. “From here to Fanatic (Brewing Company), there will be six or seven breweries within a mile.”

Newcomer Fanatic Brewing Co. is already in production. By the end of May its beer was on 50 taps in the area and being bottled, too, says president and founder Josh Martin. Crafty Bastard Brewery is opening a taproom on North Central Street within a few weeks, according to co-owner and head brewer Aaron McClain. Alliance Brewing Co., a venture borne of the Bearden Beer Market, is expecting to open this summer on Sevier Avenue. Schulz Bräu Brewing Co. is shooting to open an authentic German beer garden near Central in time for Octoberfest. Cold Fusion Brewing plans to begin production for distribution to bars within the next month at a warehouse on Inskip Road. And that’s only a handful of the breweries planning to tap a keg or sell a six-pack in the near future (see sidebar).

“I think 2015 is going to be a big year for beer in Knoxville,” says Adam Palmer, president and co-founder of the 5-year-old Saw Works Brewing Co., Knoxville’s grand dame of microbreweries.

This sudden flood of beer had some important precursors in Saw Works (which produces 5,000 barrels of beer a year) as well as brew pubs like Blackhorse Pub & Brewery, Smoky Mountain Brewery, and Downtown Grill & Brewery. But the multiplication of beer and beer-related business—from beer glasses to beer additives and local hop farms—is growing a new “beer culture” for the region.

“I think Knoxville has potential to be a very strong ‘beercation’ city—maybe by next summer,” says Zack Roskop, owner of Knox Brew Tours, which transports visitors from one pub or tasting room to the next.

Why so many new breweries on tap all at once? Industry insiders say it’s due to a growing thirst for craft beer combined with favorable changes in Tennessee laws and Knoxville zoning.

The number of U.S. breweries grew by 19 percent in 2014, with the vast majority (3,418) being craft breweries, according to the association. Although craft beer made up 11 percent of beer sales, its retail dollar market share is higher, at more than 19 percent.

Palmer says craft beer markets like The Casual Pint, which jumped to eight locations in four years and is now selling franchises, “really grew the awareness” locally. “Places like that are invaluable to local suppliers,” he says.

But is there enough demand in Knoxville to support almost a dozen new breweries?

High-Gravity Taxes

cover_collaboration_4North Carolina and Kentucky are among Southeastern states riding high on the craft beer wave that Knoxville is just catching. Tennessee is home to 42 breweries, including brew pubs, Palmer says. Compare that to 125 in North Carolina, where the beer tax is about half as much. Asheville alone has 18 breweries, purportedly the most per capita in the United States, and its beer culture has earned it the Beer City USA designation four years running. Local brewery owners say Tennessee has lagged largely because it has the highest tax in the nation per gallon of beer.

“Asheville is reaping the rewards of people smart enough to change the laws several years ago,” says Stephanie Carson, Maryville native and media coordinator for Asheville-based Superfly Fabulous Events. Her company operates beer festivals across the country, including the recent Brewhibition festival in Knoxville. Carson notes that North Carolina also allows breweries to distribute their own product, reducing the cost of the beer.

“We’ve got good friends in the industry that just don’t send their beer to (Tennessee) because of the taxes,” Martin says, and Tennessee breweries make more money carting their beer out of state than selling it at home.

But it used to be even worse. That was one of the major reasons that Saw Works joined breweries across the state to form the Tennessee Craft Brewer’s Guild: They wanted to lobby for changes in state law. Unlike other states, which taxed beer based on volume, Tennessee was taxing based on wholesale prices. Seventeen percent of the wholesale price went to local governments. Due partly to lobbying by the guild and economic development agency Blount Partnership, the state switched to volume-based taxing in 2013, while preserving the local funding levels.

“We’re making something that brings a lot of tax revenue to the city,” says Martin, adding that he thinks Knoxville has started to better understand this perk. He says city officials worked well with his brewery to help it through permitting, although the process was slow.

In one case, Knoxville even approved a tax incentive to bring a brewery downtown. Balter Beerworks will turn an old service station in a blighted stretch of West Jackson Avenue into a brew pub with a beer garden this fall. The city approved a payment in lieu of taxes for the project valued at about $40,000 a year, to abate the increased taxes that would follow if owners invest $2 million in improvements.

Another state law change that will benefit breweries relates to “high-gravity” beer, which contains higher amounts of alcohol. Currently, any beer containing more than 6.2 percent alcohol by volume requires a liquor license to sell. But last year, the state Legislature eased limits on selling high-gravity beers at breweries by requiring only a high-gravity beer license. Brewers say this change is important as high-gravity beer becomes trendier. “Alcohol for beer is akin to salt for food,” Cummings says. “It enhances the flavors and gives a more luscious mouth feel.”

In just a few years, the Tennessee Craft Brewer’s Guild achieved the two goals for which it was formed, Palmer says.

Despite some progress, McMillan says Tennessee laws still fall short. He and others hope to start a Knoxville brewer’s guild to build camaraderie and work for improvements.

“Our state alcohol laws just need massive change,” says McMillan, who is working to help Hexagon Brewing Co. get off the ground. “Your beer license is regulated through city, and the distillery license is through the city and state. It has to do with paperwork, where you’re getting taxed, what laws apply. It’s become really overcomplicated and burdensome.”

And that has had a direct impact on economic development in the region. Blount County was very close to bringing Sierra Nevada’s first East Coast brewery to its Pellissippi Place Industrial Park in 2011, losing to Asheville partly because the tax structure was more favorable there. “At that time (our) laws were almost penalistic,” recalls Bryan Daniels, president and CEO of Blount Partnership.

More recently, Blount Partnership tried to convince Stone Brewing Co. to open at the same location, but couldn’t beat the enormous tax incentives Richmond, Va. offered. However, in the process, Blount Partnership pioneered some new techniques for wooing hip craft brewers, including music videos and booklets featuring Daniels using the same aggressive, colorful language as the brewery.

“Stone told us the reason we got in the mix was how out-of-the-box we were,” Daniels says.

Daniels says that after losing Sierra Nevada, the group got involved in pushing for changes in how craft brews are taxed, classified, and distributed. Now, he says, the industry can be profitable and far-reaching in a way that was impossible before. He says Blount Partnership is now negotiating with two nationally-distributed craft brewers, and is awaiting a final decision from one company it has been wooing for eight months.

Interestingly, Blount isn’t pursuing breweries for the jobs they would provide, although that’s a big plus. What it wants is the cache of the brewery itself, to attract top science and technology companies to the business park. Blount Partnership heard other communities wish they’d developed a commercial district within their science and technology parks, because this generation of young scientists likes to live close to work and “urban amenities,” Daniels says. So Blount Partnership planned Pellissippi Place to include a hotel, lofts with commercial businesses underneath, and a “destination brewer” producing 100,000 to 1 million barrels of beer and offering tours, a brew pub and a music/entertainment venue. As far as Blount County is concerned, those kegs will float a lot of high-wage, high-tech jobs. And that could raise not only tax revenue but the quality of life around Maryville.

Wanted: A Name and a Home

cover_collaboration_3In Knoxville, changes in local regulations have also helped paved the way for the profusion of smaller-scale breweries.

Last year Knoxville changed zoning rules to allow breweries in more areas. Until then, breweries had been forced to compete heavily for the few properties that were the right size and location, especially if they wanted to include a tasting room.

“That was really a big kind of game changer,” says McMillan, who was formerly with Alliance Brewing. “Slowly but surely the city is starting to see the potential of these breweries.”

Alliance has been in the works for about five years, partly because it couldn’t find a location far enough from schools and churches under the old code. Alliance brewer Adam Ingle says the brewery has finally found a home in a former laundry on Sevier Avenue, but that was its 12th—that’s right, 12th—attempt.

“Five years ago I wouldn’t have thought of opening a brewery,” says Stephen Apking, owner and brewer at Hexagon. Now he can use a warehouse on Dutch Valley Road that he was already renting to run his label company.

Once they find a location, breweries must obtain a host of permits, and in some cases seek a distributor. Even picking a name is a legal gambit.

To a layman, that might seem the easiest part. But it left several local breweries with significant hangovers. Saw Works operated for several years as Marble City Brewing before facing a legal challenge from Marble Brewery in New Mexico. Palmer says his company had two weeks to pull all its beer from the shelves and replace it with a new batch under a new name.

But he adds that it was the best thing that happened to the company. “It made us step back and analyze everything in the previous two years,” he says. “We got rid of the entire staff, basically took the playbook, ripped it up, and started over.” He says the brewery cut its accounts in half and focused them more exclusively on bars whose clientele drink craft beer, doubling sales as a result. But it was an abrupt lesson in the bitter realities of the industry, even for a company that began by buying its equipment from the old New Knoxville Brewing Co. at a foreclosure sale.

Even Balter Beerworks had to negotiate for its Old English name, a word meaning “to dance without particular grace or skill, but with enjoyment.” It and another brewery both tried to trademark Balter Brewing at almost the same time; they reached an agreement allowing the local brewery to keep Balter and switch to “Beerworks,” says co-owner Blaine Wedekind. Wedekind, who left a career at Cherokee Distributing Co. last year, says he vetted around 400 potential names before choosing that one. Almost all the others were already being used for a particular brew or brewery.

The Underground Brewing Company also had to change its name recently. Apking, who hopes to open the brewery in Fountain City later this year, says he recently switched the name to Hexagon when he couldn’t trademark Underground. The new name represents a powerful pattern in nature, one that his beloved grandfather used in making prized cane fly fishing poles. Apking also sees the shape daily in the pattern of the honeycombs built by his bees, which he began keeping when he started brewing beer. His insect assistants will be helping with the operation: Apking plans for Hexagon to make a carbonated, low-gravity mead, an alcohol made by fermenting honey and other ingredients.

Bubbling Personalities

cover_pretentious_2Almost every local brewer or brewery founder has had another career first—often many others. What brewers seem to have in common are interesting stories, an entrepreneurial spirit (often paired with a distaste for working for others), a love of adventure, a Y chromosome, and a noticeable propensity toward either shaved heads or immense mountain-man beards. Many started as home brewers who began sharing their beer at festivals.

At 27, Nico Schulz, founder of Schulz Bräu Brewing Co., had worked in a dairy before starting his first brewery. He opened the successful Blue Stallion Brewery in Lexington, Ky., where the German-born Schulz attended college. But his girlfriend and parents live in Knoxville, so he decided to locate Schulz Bräu, his second brewery, here (with his parents as co-owners). It will focus on the German lagers he had begun to miss. He says a shipping container full of used tables and benches from Munich’s Octoberfest celebrations are on the way across the ocean for the beer garden, which will serve up the suds in 1-liter steins.

Then there’s Cummings, a glass sculptor who has journeyed the world for a decade plying his trade. He started making beer glasses for regular income, but the business exploded after he was featured in Huffington Post and Southern Living, among others. Now he aims to hire six glassblowers to make his glasses during the week and their own sculpture on the weekends, as drinkers raise a glass at a bar top in front of the glassblowing stations.

For Cummings, the beer came second. It was an interest he developed only while perfecting the best glass to highlight the properties of each Pilsner, stout, or amber. (For example, “The ‘subtle’ is a really tall glass because when the carbonation can move through more beer, it brings out the smell.”) Now he anticipates that the tap room will help support the glassblowing studio and its expensive equipment, like the lathe affectionately dubbed Gertrude, which can be used to make personalized fingerprint grips on your beer glass.

But as time goes by, Cummings seems to be getting just as enthused about the beer, his boyish face breaking into a grin as if he’s just found an incredible new toy. He plans his to celebrate his nanobrewery opening with a huge party including a dance competition: “Me versus everybody!”

Fanatic Brewing Company is well-named: Its president and founder, Josh Martin, is so driven that he speaks about 5,000 words a minute without the aid of caffeine. “I’m just wired,” he says. “I got a motor on me.”

Martin started brewing at age 17 because he couldn’t buy beer legally. “I bought a 5-gallon bucket and started making it. It was easy,” he says. “It wasn’t good. But it doesn’t have to be good for 17-year-olds in a dorm room.”

Martin was far from a typical 17-year-old, though. He started a commercial supply company selling spas during his junior year to help pay for college. That blossomed into a business building cabins in the Sevier County mountains, until the recession dried up business. He switched to film, working on country and Christian music videos.

But in 2009, looking for a truly recession-proof venture, he settled on alcohol. Martin teamed with Copper Cellar’s Marty Velas, who became his partner and brewmaster.

At the end of May, Fanatic had been operating about three months, sending out 30 kegs a day, and had signed a deal to sell six-packs in all the Food City grocery stores in East Tennessee, Martin says. Through Cherokee Distributing, Fanatic will be sold in 21 counties, but that’s just a first step.

“I want to be in Chattanooga by the end of the summer,” Martin says. “We’d like to get to 25,000 barrels as soon as possible. That’s what this building can handle.”

Although Fanatic seems to be gearing up at fanatic speed, it took years to get there. “I think it’s funny when people pop out and say, ‘We’re going to open a brewery next year,’” Martin says. “There’s ton of moving parts: local, federal and state oversight…. All it is, is busting your hump.”

Rising Tides

cover_collaboration_1Walk through the Saw Works tasting room, under the 3-foot saw blades and past the “Pour it Forward” chalkboard where you can write your buddy’s name when you’ve bought him a beer ahead of time. Then duck through a side door into the brewery. On this hot May day, rock music is blasting and a bunch of guys in shorts and T-shirts are milling around, eating watermelon and tipping back bottles.

“Craft beer is 99 percent asshole-free,” says Adam Ingle, head brewer for Alliance, sipping beer from a pottery mug next to a shoulder-high stack of malt sacks. “We’re all going to be competing for taps soon, but we don’t care. What’s that saying? A rising tide raises all ships.”

There are a lot of ships floating on the foam here: Owners and brewers from nine breweries are hanging out, working on Knoxville’s first “collaboration brew,” a honeysuckle saison.

It started when Roskop of Knox Brew Tours had a booth at Hops for Hope, a Townsend event in May that raises money for New Hope Blount County Children’s Advocacy Center. He found that visitors were disappointed that he didn’t offer beer samples, and he joked with local brewers there about helping him create a brew. Right off, three volunteered. But Roskop liked the idea of getting everyone together, and sent out an email to other brewers asking whether they’d like to participate. too. A few weeks later, Roskop and Cummings helped organize the first local industry “bottle share” in Knoxville, with brewers, distributors, and sellers sharing rare six-packs. While sipping, brewers from nine local breweries started working on a recipe.

cover_collaboration_2Now, they were brewing the result, using Saw Works’ equipment. Roskop led the way into the giant Saw Works cooler full of kegs, and shook a bucket that was a quarter of the way full of fragrant blossoms. “I picked the honeysuckle with Blaine Wedekind (of Balter Beerworks) at 6:30 this morning at Lakeshore Park,” Roskop says.

Jars of Apking’s honey, ready to be added to the brew, sit on a table made out of a crate stacked on kegs.

The setup for this one-barrel batch isn’t very big. After the grains have steeped and starches have turned to sugar, the hot liquor is boiling in a silver vat. It looks like the big kettle grandma used to boil her greens, except with a big temperature gauge on the front. When the temperature and time are right, all the brewers gather around and shake small paper packets full of hops into the roiling mass.

Then they circle around Saw Works head brewer Will Brady, raising their bottles and mugs for his toast, which goes something like: “Here’s to you and here’s to me, that good friends we may ever be. And if we ever disagree… then fuck it. Here’s to Knoxville!”

Cummings says he hopes to continue such events to grow camaraderie—and the kind of group marketing that will help everyone.

But with so many breweries opening at once, won’t competition be fierce? Won’t the craft beer market be saturated?

“To me there’s a much bigger demand for craft beer than the supply right now,” says Aaron McClain, co-owner and head brewer of Crafty Bastard Brewery. The brew pub is very close to opening at a location just off Central Avenue near the Old City. McClain points out that his brewery won’t be competing with breweries that focus on distribution, like Saw Works and Fanatic. The new breweries are offering a variety of business models and styles of beer. For example, Crafty Bastard will be in the neighborhood of Schulz Bräu, but won’t compete with its German beer styles, McClain says.

“I think everybody starting up has really different aesthetics,” Cummings says. “When you’re really into a brewery, it’s like being really into a chef. With craft brewing, there are so many different styles.”

Many also point to Asheville, which supports 18 breweries and a population of 87,000—almost 100,000 less than Knoxville.

Developing Beer Culture

cover_bluetick_4Becoming a beer destination is about more than the number of barrels and breweries. It’s about saturating the local culture through beer festivals, supporting businesses, products made with beer and, in Knoxville’s case, a college program that provides a steady stream of new brewers.

This week, thousands will gather for Knoxville Brewfest, a fiesta for beer-lovers in its fifth year. McMillan, who manages the festival, says it will feature 100 breweries, 20 more than last year. Maryville will host its first Hops in the Hills festival June 26 and 27, distinguished by an emphasis on agriculture (a hop-growing seminar) and beer craft.

Blount Partnership is helping promote the festival as it continues to try to build the city’s beer culture for Pellissippi Place. “Truly in this industry, all ships rise,” Daniels says.

Knoxville can look forward to its oldest local beer extravaganza in October, the 19th Annual Brewer’s Jam in World’s Fair Park.

And Knoxville has room for even more festivals, says Carson with Superfly Fabulous Events. Her company, which put on Brewhibition in May, also runs four beer events in the Tri-Cities area, which has a smaller population than Knoxville.

Each festival takes a slightly different approach. For Brewhibition, it was a 1920s theme and unusual flavor combinations. The festival featured beer and whiskey cocktails as well as beer pairings (like Samoa Girl Scout cookies with Chisholm Tavern’s chocolatey Somora Stout) and beer infusions (like running an IPA through fresh jalapeños).

Many up-and-coming but not-yet-open Knoxville breweries, including Alliance and Pretentious, were pouring. Guys wearing Hawaiian shirts and pretzel necklaces mingled with women dressed in elaborate flapper regalia in the Old City Courtyard.

Sarah Holt of Knoxville swayed to hot blues as she stood in line to try a beer-and-whiskey Bananas Foster cocktail.

“Brewers here are actually taking the time to explain their craft to you,” Holt says. “Being able to see the person that made it is really cool.”

She and her friend Jared Huisingh say a Knoxville beer trail would draw them to neighborhoods like Happy Holler that they might not visit otherwise. “In Nashville, there are a bunch of breweries within a block, and you tour them all because: Why not?” says Huisingh. “Knoxville can be the same way.”

While some tourists might come for the beer alone, others might find it enhances another of Knoxville’s attractions. Knoxville has been marketing itself heavily to mountain bikers and outdoor enthusiasts, a group which Ingle and Apking say overlaps heavily with craft beer drinkers.

The city has expanded its outdoor opportunities in the last several years, with a 42-mile loop of urban wilderness trails as well as new rock-climbing options at Ijams Nature Center. Ingle says Alliance’s Sevier Avenue location is well-placed to be a stop-off on the way to or from Ijams. The brewery’s slogan is “Active Beer Culture,” and Ingle envisions group rides and other events that culminate in beer. “You need to earn it,” says Ingle, who plays rugby. “Go out and burn some calories before you have some.”

Apking with Hexagon is a co-owner of Cedar Bluff Cycles. “Extreme sports really lends itself to craft beer,” he says. “It goes hand in hand with that outdoor industry mentality. We really see some opportunity to become a Seattle, a Portland, an Asheville.”

Another advantage for Knoxville is the pipeline of brewers coming from South College’s brewing science program, the only formal program for training brewers in the Southeast. The six-month certificate program has graduated 40 students since 2013, says director Todd White. Fanatic’s head brewer, Marty Velas, helped White develop the curriculum, and Velas and other local brewers serve as guest instructors.

cover_bluetick_5Students study the chemical reactions, microbiology, and physics of brewing, as well as the business of brewing, White explains while awaiting a phone call telling him to get on the road. He’s taking a group of students to visit the brewery at Blackberry Farm in Walland, followed by Bluetick Brewery in Maryville (the only local co-op brewery, run by a former Blackberry Farm chef).

Students get the chance to see demonstrations at a variety of local breweries and sometimes to volunteer there or try out the equipment. At Saw Works, students can experiment making small batches of “rough cut” beers for sale at the brewery’s tasting room.

Partly as a result of these relationships, both brewers at Saw Works and three at Blackhorse are graduates of the program, which places 90 percent of its students in industry jobs, White says.

One former student is Saw Works head brewer Will Brady, a Knoxville native whose previous careers include carpenter, insurance salesman, and pizza delivery guy. His bushy reddish beard reaches almost to his muscle shirt, which shows off the many complex tattoos that wind over his arms and shoulders and across his knuckles. Brady sat at a wooden picnic table in the baking sun outside Saw Works, reflecting on the benefits of the hands-on experience he received with brewing equipment through the South College program.

“Brewing is ‘good clean living,’” is Brady’s mantra as sweat trickles down his forehead from beneath his black bandanna. “With that brewing science program right in the backyard, Knoxville will become a beer destination.”

Pour Me a Job Market

cover_hopfarm_1A community of breweries can provide an economic boost, not only in tourism dollars but in related businesses. “People think the beer industry is just putting beer in a glass, but it’s so many other products and jobs,” Palmer says.

In Asheville, locally-brewed beer is used in making everything from ice cream to shampoo. Plus, entrepreneurs there find all kinds of ways to bring beer drinkers together with their pints. (Bikers? Pedal your bar around downtown or end a group ride with a pub crawl. Women and New-Agers? Yoga class topped off with some suds.)

“Beer culture is integrated throughout the local economy,” says Dodie Stephens, director of communications for the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I can name at least 10 local artisan products made from local beer, so the foodie scene is rife with contributions from beer culture as well.”

Some of the new Knoxville brewers are already thinking about beer products. Cold Fusion, which plans to operate in North Knoxville off Merchants Drive, will not only make beer but additives that manipulate its chemistry in beneficial ways. Isaac Privett, president and head brewer, says the brewery is testing a provisionally patented product, packaged in small bottles like water energy additives, to turn the flavor of a light domestic beer into that of a full-bodied craft beer.

“The best part is that one ounce can take care of a whole 12-pack!” he writes in an email. “The flavors are concentrated down enough that it can make it more cost effective for the consumer to buy everything they need to drink ‘craft’ beer at slightly-more-expensive-than-domestic prices…. College keg parties can be conveniently more flavorful!” He says the company is also experimenting with yeast manipulation “that has some huge implications on the world of craft beer if successful.”

Roskop with Knox Brew Tours sees the potential to multiple tour routes so he can benefit from repeat business. His customer base has already been steadily expanding, enabling him to quit his second job. Roskop says he led 50 brewery tours between Black Friday last November and Good Friday this spring.

Roskop predicts that the food truck industry will also benefit from new breweries. Already bars that specialize in craft brews like Hops and Hollers, The Casual Pint, and Bearden Beer Market partner with food trucks. Rules limiting food truck locations downtown could complicate this at some locations, however.

As consumers continue to thirst for all things local, brewers are also on the lookout for ways to up the ante with local malts, barley, and hops. So far, only hops are in the mix, with several Knoxville hop farms planned and the Townsend farm, Hellbender Hops, in its third year.

Palmer says if there was enough supply of local hops or barley, Saw Works would buy them. He says another logical next step for the expansion of the local beer industry would be a malt house.

Privett, too, says he’s in the market for all-local beer components. To that end, Cold Fusion is looking to start or partner with a hop farm in Knoxville. “The hop farm is still in the planning phase but we should be looking for a location in the area soon after the brewery starts cranking out suds,” he writes in an email. “If we can in the long run use only ingredients from Knoxville, that would be ideal.”

In other words, an entire new homegrown industry. Both beer lovers and economic boosters can raise a glass to that.


• See our feature on Hellbender Hops farm in Townsend.

A list of all the announced breweries coming to the Knoxville area.

S. Heather Duncan has won numerous awards for her feature writing and coverage of the environment, government, education, business and local history during her 15-year reporting career. Originally from Western North Carolina, Heather has worked for Radio Free Europe, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in London, and several daily newspapers. Heather spent almost a dozen years at The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., where she spent most of her time covering the environment or writing project-investigations that provoked changes such as new laws related to day care and the protection of environmentally-sensitive lands. You can reach Heather at heather@knoxmercury.com

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