Brewery Articles by: Paul Kavanaugh
April is Craft Beer Month in Tennessee and it’s official. The State House voted last year to designate this month long occasion. Representative Jon Lundberg initiated the resolution to recognize the major growth among brewers in the Volunteer State.
And so it is in our region. From Damascus to Greeneville, Abingdon to the Tri Cities and many points in between, craft breweries and those establishments serving, selling and supporting their wares are perhaps the fastest growing segment of the business population. The Loafer decided to take an in depth look at this phenomenon in honor of Craft Beer Month. But before we do that, a big Loafer Shout-Out to two of Johnson City’s top notch breweries, JRH Brewing and Johnson City Brewing Co. These two fine establishments were the beer sponsors/donors for last week’s Pie Wars fundraising event at The Venue in downtown JC benefiting the Boys and Girls Club. Judging from the long lines throughout the evening, the patrons thoroughly enjoyed the various offerings. Well done guys!
It’s easy to write descriptions of beers, you can get that info easily on the internet. We wanted to pull the covers back a little and get the story within the story. To that end, we interviewed three local Master Brewers, two of whom are also the proprietors of their establishments. What follows is a bit of the inside story of these three gentlemen, Ken Monyak of Bristol Station Brews and Taproom, Erich Allen of Studio Brew, both proprietors, and Adam Bailey, the Master Brewer at Holston River Brewing Company. As you might expect, Adam was more focused on the beers while Ken and Erich wanted to tell the story of their businesses as well as their beers. So, here is a brief history lesson on beers, breweries and some true local characters.
Now that we have whetted your appetite, go visit a local establishment and enjoy a craft beer. You’re sure to find one – or more – that you really like!
Brewer: Adam Bailey
Brewery: Holston River Brewing Company
Adam started experimenting with home brews, realized he liked it and decided to pursue a career. He attended South College in Knoxville, the Brewery Science curriculum, and then spent several years working at various breweries in Fresno, in Nevada and at a distillery. When he returned to the Tri Cities area, he got the job at Holston River, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Adam tells us that it starts with the water. He gauges the mineral profile and makes some subtle adjustments depending on what he is brewing. He believes that the combination of malts and hops is the centerpiece of his brews, and has at his disposal an arsenal of different malts depending on the hops he intends to use, making sure that they complement each other. Hops, by the way, are what determines the overall bitterness of the batch.
Adam brews many different types and flavors of craft beer at Holston River. We asked him about some of them:
A hoppy beer, typically with a little higher gravity than most conventional beers.
Essentially a “Pale Ale on steroids”, IPAs have 1 – 1 ½ % higher alcohol content than a pale ale. They originated in England when the brewers needed to send their beer by ship to India, thus a need to have it last longer. The additional hops, which have some antibacterial properties, and the higher alcohol content helped delay spoilage. By 1850 it had become one of the most popular styles of beer in England. Renditions of English IPA’s were brewed in America using English and landrace varieties of hops, but the first modern American IPA was made by Anchor in 1975 and was quite hoppy in comparison to the beers of the time. Over the ensuing years, they have taken on many new characteristics as new hop varieties are developed, and are popular with the beer-drinking public. It’s the best-selling craft beer and style most associated with craft beer.
Lagers typically take weeks to ferment and one or two months before they are ready to drink. Lagers are a broad class of beer, one of the two main classes, the other being ales. They are differentiated by the strain of yeast used for fermentation. Lagers are cold- aged beers typically using one or more varieties of German and Czech hops traditionally termed “noble hops.” Balancing the hops with the malts used is what enables brewers to come up with so many different types, including the signature 423 Blonde Ale popular at Holston River.
Ales are also often made using noble hops, but are more commonly made with English or American varieties. Using faster fermenting yeast, Ales can be ready in a week or two. Adam tells us that the yeast is the critical differentiator here.
All the others you see are a result of the brewer’s art, adding adjunct ingredients, flavors and fruits at various times during the brewing process to either an ale or a lager. Different types of sugars are also used to increase the alcohol content. Yeast turns sugars into alcohol, so that makes a lot of sense. For example, the Holston River Vanilla Cream Stout uses lactose to sweeten the beer and then it ages on vanilla beans.
But don’t take our word for it; visit Holston River and taste for yourself the wonderful products generated by this up and coming brewer!
Brewer: Ken Monyak
Brewery: Bristol Station Brews & Taproom
One of the seemingly ubiquitous brewery owners who started as a home brewer, Ken followed a rather unique path. By a rather fortunate circumstance, his wife had to work late on Wednesday evenings, so Ken and his neighbor began brewing beer those days. After a year and a half, and some 50 different beers (not all successes), he began to hone in on the craft. At parties at his house, he would serve these different beers, collect the comments and really let the brewer bug bite him. Then, he entered a local entrepreneur event in Bristol, won, and got the seed money to start his brewery. Two years later the old Greyhound Depot in downtown Bristol had been transformed into the Bristol Station Brews & Taproom.
It is a common tale among successful craft brewers that you experiment with different yeasts, hops, grains and malts. Ken’s take is to keep it relatively simple, not wanting to overwhelm people with too complex iterations. But at the same time, he wants to produce unique tastes and memorable beers. His ideas for new concoctions come from trying different beers and
when he finds one he is drawn to, he goes back to the Station and tries to duplicate it with the refinements he thinks it needs.
To achieve his desired result, Ken depends, and prefers to use, local suppliers. He buys some hops and grains locally and, for his adjunct ingredients, tries to be consistently local. This includes blueberries and strawberries from Scott Farms, local hops for his white IPA grown in Goose Pimple Junction, pumpkins from Jonesborough and ingredients for his chocolate coffee Porter sourced from SW Virginia.
We asked Ken what his favorite beer was. His answers, while unsurprising, were inciteful. He prefers bocks and pumpkin beers in the fall, Porters and stouts in the cold months, IPAs in the spring and a variety of lighter lagers in the summer months. We find it hard to disagree with this assessment!
At The Station, Ken typically keeps between 12 and 20 different brews on tap. That keeps him quite busy and there are occasions when you could visit and not find one that you had enjoyed previously. It will return, but Ken says that this is the perfect time to try something new.
All brewers appreciate feedback, positive or negative. Ken loves to sit in the brewery on a Saturday afternoon when customers are most likely to buy flights – samples of 6 different beers – and ty them. He wants to know what their opinion is, and, most importantly, why. The answers gained are what he believes are the keys to becoming the best brewer he can be.
His favorite story is about a YWCA event last year. They wanted a pink beer to go along with an Empowering Women fundraising event and came to him to create it. Up to the challenge, Ken brewed a Belgian ale and used pomegranate and raspberry to create the color and enhance the flavor. Not only was it a hit, but he is brewing it again for this summer as it turned out to be a light, refreshing creation. Final word, Ken says “Come have a beer!”
Brewer: Erich Allen
Brewery: Studio Brew
Like so many craft beer professionals, Erich started out as a home brewer. In 2008 Erich created his first craft beer not from a kit but from tasting grains and hops while researching beer styles throughout the world. His first beer was an all grain Belgium Triple which is on tap at his brewery in Bristol. “This was a moment in time because I finally realized what I wanted to do in my life”, says Erich. Before he founded his brewery, Erich and his wife Pamela visited some 48 different breweries around the country meeting with owners and brewers. They gained much insight on what to do but more importantly, what NOT to do!
Pam & Erich opened a 3 BBL Brewery in Colonial Heights in 2010 and quickly realized they needed to build a bigger brewery. It took four years, but Erich finally found a three-story eyesore in downtown Bristol, VA that was originally built in 1908 as a repository for Happy Valley Whiskey. They worked with the Commonwealth and the city of Bristol to create their current location, which is now a tourist destination and a production brewery. Erich is proud of this accomplishment because it meant “giving back” to Bristol and especially downtown. Erich sees himself, and indeed, the whole craft beer industry, as a way to give back to and use local vendors and talent. To that end, Studio Brew is adamant in sourcing as much product locally as possible. The couple take pride in offering 22 good paying jobs in the community and educating their staff.
Erich will tell you that beer is an art, a very tasty art. In its essence, it is taking in grain and other ingredients, turning it into a beer, getting it into a glass and then seeing the smile. Nothing makes him happier than someone trying one of his craft beers and generating one of those smiles.
Everyone talks about wine pairings, but Erich insists that he can pair his craft beers with anything from food, spirits, emotions and even cigars for a wonderful experience. Because everything pairs with Craft Beer, he has branched out into several different fields. Studio Brew now offers their very own grass & spent grain fed beef “Brewsteer Meats”. Pamela, an incredible bread maker, uses their spent grains and turns them into wonderful breads and even bread soup bowls. Nothing goes to waste. Studio Brew chefs incorporate their beers, spent grains and even hops to create amazing dishes that pair perfectly with their artisan craft beers.
Studio Brew is an enthusiastic supporter of the local community and the arts. In addition to many different bands that have played at the establishment, they have hosted various art projects, including a most interesting body art creation. He tells us that once the project got started, the focus was primarily on the art, not the models. Not always easy to do!
Erich & Pam’s core belief is to create a brewery where they can support other breweries, local businesses, local farmers and the people of the Tri-Cities. “Keep local dollars local” is very important to them.
Erich enjoys visiting with craft beer fans from all over the region, the country and, indeed, the world. With so many amazing craft beers out there, Studio Brew is constantly pushing the boundaries. Some of his creations have aged in Bourbon barrels for many months, one up to 14 months.
We applaud his interest in beer, but even more importantly, his interest in his fellow citizens. You need to visit Studio Brew, check out their hundred-year old building, and try one or more of the 18-24 beers currently available.