By Paul Kavanaugh
Last year for our Craft Beer issue we interviewed three local brewers, gleaned a ton of information and included them in the story. This year we are adding another local brewery, Yee Haw, of Johnson City. We also decided to go back and revisit the three originals and see what has changed over the past year. Then we sponsored a contest for the best ‘Go To’ craft beer as voted upon by our readers. We’ll reveal the winner. Whew! That’s a lot of craft beer stuff, but it promises to be interesting, so let’s get the ball rolling.
Yee Haw Brewing Company opened its doors in downtown Johnson City in July of 2015, and in less than two years has become a fixture of the JC craft beer scene. They always have their four main beers, Dunkel, IPA, Kolsch and 80 Shilling available and supplement those with seasonal offerings and high gravity beers. Their best seller, the Dunkel, won a Bronze Medal at the 2016 World Beer Cup, and they are entered again this year.
The actual brewery is in the very capable hands of Yee Haw’s Master Brewer, Cris Ellenbecker. Cris sources some ingredients locally, but due to the nature of his beers, he gets most of his malts from Europe and his hops from Oregon and Washington. While the tap room came first, Cris knew the long-term goal was to package his product and get it out to retailers and bars. They do bottle some beer, but they have moved to cans for the most part, claiming that they are the better vessel for beer.
Along the way they have had to overcome some obstacles as any new business would. Their first mistake was underestimating the popularity of their Dunkel. They began to run out rapidly and had to get scrambling because this particular beer has a 5-week brewing cycle. But they have managed to handle this and anything else that came along, usually unplanned! The goal was to become The Beer of Tennessee. While not there yet, they have been making great strides towards that end. We recommend that you stop by and try some of Cris’s wares. You are sure not to be disappointed.
When last we chatted with Ken Monyak at Bristol Station Brews and Taproom we heard the whole story about how he got started in this business. Well, fast forward a year and things have changed quite a bit. First, as of this month, they are now canning their own beer, four varieties to begin with. This was a year-long process to get all the approvals, labels, UPC codes, etc. Ken is using a mobile canning company to create the actual cans of beer, which they do right on premises. Ken gets the cans and labels delivered, the canning company gets them completed and voila. He just has to make sure he has enough beer on hand! The taproom itself has evolved too. In nice weather bands still perform in the outdoor arena, but every Friday he hosts a Singo event. This is like bingo only using snippets of music. Apparently, everyone sings along with the tunes that all are familiar with and everyone has a great time. Since Ken has said from the beginning that his goal is to have a fun and relaxed atmosphere in the taproom, it appears that yet another goal has been reached. The beer is quite good, so stop by and try one of them.
Adam Bailey, Master Brewer at Holston River Brewing Company, gave us all a great education into different types of beers, malts and hops in last year’s article. During the ensuing year, Adam has experimented with several new types of beers and refined some old ones. He tells us that the trends he sees are moving to more fruit beers, especially a Peach Cobbler Ale he has crafted that uses some cinnamon, peach flavors and non-fermentable milk sugars to achieve a really refreshing taste. He thinks that the mini-trend towards sour beers has not really taken off yet, Session IPAs are in decline and some IPAs are getting tamed down just a little to enhance drinkability. He is bringing back his coffee porter as folks have been asking about it, but he is perhaps most proud of his RatRod, a Vienna Style lager that uses Munich malts and German Perle Hops and is named after the popular June RatRod festival held on the brewery property. It’s been a busy year for Adam, and he is looking forward to another year of experimenting and concocting more great beers. He is well on his way. Stop by and check out some of the newer offerings.
Last but certainly not least is Studio Brew, deftly managed by Erich Allen with a big assist from his wife Pamela and his Head Brewer Keith Dancy. In addition to expanding the number of products available for retail sales and gaining umpteen new outlets for their beer, Erich and team have been working and collaborating on several new offerings. He is especially proud of his newest collaboration, this one with Stone Brewing, one of the largest privately held brewing companies in the world. While flattering to get the opportunity, you still must deliver. All signs point to this being a wonderful beer, a Belgian Strong Ale IPA that will be released at a party on April 6 at the taproom. They were joined in this effort by Jim Sipp, Stone’s Brewing Process Manager. Mr. Sipp was in town for several days as they got their collaboration going and Erich says that is was like learning all over again considering the amount of suggestions, tips, etc. Mr. Sipp provided. At the end of the day, the beer is the result, of course. We’re planning on stopping by on the 6th to see how this much anticipated beer turned out. Please join us.