Behind the Brew

Area Brewers Talk Chattanooga’s Growing Craft Beer Scene

 

Strawberry-pineapple kettle sour, lemon-cherry German-style gose, MoonPie stout … it may not sound like it, but we are talking beer – locally crafted beer. Thanks to a growing number of Chattanooga breweries, it’s not hard to find a locally made beer with hints of apricot, vanilla, cacao, coffee, or even guava.

 

By Amy Clarke | Photography by Emily Long

“Pineapple ManBun is my self-portrait,” laughs Nathan Woods, head brewer at Naked River Brewing Company. “I am a big fan of pineapples, always have been.”

In addition to all the different flavors of beer on the market these days, there are just as many creative names, including Sturgeon General, Old Heller, Monkey Heart, Belay On, and Cloudfall. Most of these you can find in incredibly detailed cans often featuring work from local and regional artists.

So who are the minds behind some of these uniquely crafted concoctions, and how are they coming up with these popular pours?

We talked to five local head brewers, all who entered the Chattanooga brewery scene in the last six years. They are men with different educations and different paths, but all homebrewed for many years, and all love beer.

Together they are following their passion, taking the local craft beer scene in Chattanooga to a whole new level, and turning their favorite brews into top-selling brands inside their own establishments as well as in restaurants and stores across the Southeast.

Jay Boyd

Age: 29

Brewery: OddStory Brewing Company

Flagship Brew:  Monkey’s Heart, a combination of East and West Coast IPAs – best of the bitter combined with the fruity

The Inspiration

“It takes drinking a lot of beer. You are out there trying other people’s beer, food, wine. You are trying new flavors and broadening your horizons, and when that happens, ideas start coming to you,” says Elliot Kehoe, head brewer at Five Wits Brewing Company. Schooled in electrical engineering, Kehoe, a transplant from Denver, Colorado, and originally from St. Louis, Missouri, is finally doing what he wants to do at the Five Wits location on the Southside.

Same for Woods with Naked River. He moved here from Asheville, North Carolina, originally from Florida. Woods worked on submarines with the Navy before he decided to bite the bullet and help start the Naked River Brewing Company by UTC’s Finley Stadium. “The best way to come up with new ideas is to explore new beers and what is out there. You want to stay on top of the trends, what is coming, what is fading out.”

“I can be inspired at any time,” shares Brett Bauer, head brewer at Heaven & Ale Brewing Company on the NorthShore. “It could be something new I ate or drank, something I read in a publication, something that a colleague might be doing that I want to try my hand at.” Bauer, a chemistry major from the pharmaceutical industry, became a certified brewer after he decided to make his part-time passion a full-time career. With five years of brewing under his belt outside Boston, Massachusetts, Bauer moved to the Scenic City just eight months ago.

Regardless of how the latest brew flavor and style comes about, it’s often a group effort as these local breweries work to be innovative and stay fresh. Many create and brew a new beer every month and can it on-site.

Some of those new brews come from collaborations, another way to get those creative juices flowing. “We did a super unique collaboration with Big River,” says Kehoe with Five Wits. “We took indigenous Eastern cedar tree branches and put them at the bottom of the grain and filtered liquid through the cedar.”

Brett Bauer

Age: 32

Brewery: Heaven & Ale Brewing Company

Flagship Brew: Cloudfall, a hazy IPA with a focus on Mosaic hops providing intense flavors and aromas of stone fruits and ripe berries

Collaboration beers often combine the best of the best from different local breweries. “We just did a collaboration with Five Wits – a Belgian stout. We used two different kinds of yeast, dark Belgian candy syrup, fresh plums, apricots, and currants,” says Joel Krautstrunk, owner and head brewer at Hutton & Smith Brewing Company. Krautstrunk is the proud winner of a gold award at the 2018 World Beer Cup, and a silver and bronze medal at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival. “The scope of aroma and flavor with a beer is so much wider in my experience than wine because you can do whatever you want with a beer, ferment it with different yeasts, put adjuncts like fruit in it, age it in a barrel, so many different things to do with so many different possibilities. The flavors are almost limitless.”

Without any formal brewing education,  Krautstrunk, who holds degrees in psychology
and music and worked as a school counselor in Las Vegas for years, was encouraged by his wife, Melanie, to follow his dream. Together they have shaped Hutton & Smith to what it is today – two locations with the largest brewing facility in town, located on Riverside Drive, and a tasting spot on MLK Boulevard.

Just down the street is OddStory Brewing Company. “In terms of beer, I want people to think of eclectic wide styles and varieties but also true, approachable, palpable beers,” explains Jay Boyd, owner and head brewer at OddStory. He recently introduced a raspberry wild ale with a hint of chocolate, aged in local bourbon barrels. A transplant from Decatur, Alabama, Boyd started his career in the beer brewing industry. Today, it’s a family affair, as both his father and wife work alongside him. One of his popular beer ideas came from blending the bitter, piney, and fruity flavors of the East and West Coast India Pale Ales. “Intentionally designed to please both of these IPA drinkers, it’s taken on a life of its own,” smiles Boyd.

Another avenue driving new beer creation is when local breweries come together to create a special beer for a fundraising event. There is a whole host of specialty craft beers supporting Chattanooga causes. Naked River supports local waterways and is now showcasing the Cosmic Turtle, a blood orange IPA for the Tennessee Aquarium.
They are also teaming up
with Five Wits and brewing a special beer for the Lula Lake Hike Bike and Brew event. Afterward, the two establishments will feature the new brew on tap and donate proceeds to the nonprofit.

Whether making new beer for local causes, donating beer for fundraising events, or even hosting nonprofit leaders to talk about their missions, there is always a bigger sense of community and camaraderie around the beer.

Elliot Kehoe

Age: 32

Brewery:  Five Wits Brewing Company

Flagship Brew:  Sunblaze IPA, a mingling of light and crisp malt body, tropical and juicy notes from hop blends, and delicious fruity jam flavors from the house yeast

The Community

“Beer is a way to bring people together and connect the community,” shares Kehoe with Five Wits. “We want to get people talking, whether it’s about the beer or personal experience.”

Bauer with Heaven & Ale believes that’s what it is all about. “I appreciate it for its ability to bring people together and not so much be the centerpiece, but the complement. It’s not the thing that everyone is talking about, but it’s the thing that got these people
in a room.”

Fostering communication is the goal behind OddStory’s open floor plan and communal seating. “We designed it with an old-style German beer hall in mind. We have tables pushed together that seat 12 people on each side, and it pretty much forces people to sit next to people they don’t know. That creates conversation, creates memories, and creates a bond back to this place,” explains Boyd.

And, all of these head brewers see the local craft beer scene flourishing and growing and believe other breweries that open in the area will only help improve the scene. “There is a very prominent sense of camaraderie between brewers,” shares Krautstrunk. “There is no other profession like it that I have been in that has that sense of brotherhood, doing collaborations, welcoming fellow brewers and exchanging ideas.”

“Being a head brewer is a dream job. It’s something a lot of people have a desire to do, and you never want to not support another person’s dream,” says Boyd with OddStory.

For Bauer at Heaven & Ale, it’s his favorite part of the industry. “In the brewing industry, there is always that sense of camaraderie, that sense of shared success.”

Joel Krautstrunk

Age: 45

Brewery: Hutton & Smith Brewing Company

Flagship Brew: Igneous IPA, a classic American IPA with grapefruit, pine, and resin character

The Building Blocks

To have any kind of success when it comes to brewing good beer, you have to be committed to the detailed processes. Believe it or not, all of these brewers say they spend most of their time cleaning and testing. This is the part where art meets science. “Everything is about quality control,” says Woods with Naked River. “We test the beer daily and make sure it is fermenting correctly.” At Naked River, it’s about being crystal clear. “I love the way it looks in the glass.”

“We have invested a lot of time and money in quality control at Riverside,” explains Krautstrunk with Hutton & Smith. Throw a bunch of new ingredients into the brewing process, which craft beer drinkers get super excited about these days, and you can understand why. “Once we started distributing beer throughout the state, we knew we couldn’t screw up. We have a full-time quality control manager and a part-time assistant constantly testing beer, cleaning, sanitizing, making sure everything is up to our standards.  We also closely monitor the progress of the beer as it ferments, conditions, and is packaged. We routinely test for dissolved oxygen in the beer throughout the process – we have very strict protocols.”

Still, with all the extra steps, most of the beer out there is made from just four main ingredients. Essentially all beers fall into two key categories depending on how the yeast is fermented: lagers and ales. In lagers, the yeast is cold fermented, while in ales it’s warmer. Vary the yeast and any of the other building blocks of beer –  hops, grains, and water – and you can create a wide variety of beer styles. “Within those four building blocks are a whole range of flavors. Jam and fruit flavors come from the yeast, malt builds the backbone of a flavor profile, and hops are the spices of the brewing world,” explains Kehoe with Five Wits. “You can have the same base recipe and use two different hops, and the two beers will taste entirely different.”

One of the biggest challenges to good brewing is duplicating that same good beer over and over. “I want the consumer to think and feel and know that the product is made with the highest integrity as possible – that it’s well-made beer,” says Boyd with OddStory.

“We try hard to make sure the beer we envision is the beer you get,” says Woods with Naked River. To keep up with demand for new styles and flavors, these local brewers work hard on their processes and often test smaller batches before they take it to the public. “My job is to make sure that idea ends up as a good recipe that makes a good beer,” says Kehoe with Five Wits. “You can look at a flavor profile and have to figure out how to bring it all together.”

Bauer with Heaven & Ale likes the same kind of challenge. “I think when looking at trends we are being pulled in opposite directions between intensity of flavors and nuance. I’m hoping to strike a balance.”

Even with the best of intentions, sometimes you have to dump a batch of beer. “It’s a punch in the gut to open the bottom valve and let the beer go down the drain,” says Boyd with OddStory. “If you have to ask yourself if you should dump it, then the answer is, ‘yes.’ It’s pretty easy to make really bad beer. That’s where cleanliness comes into play. If you do all of it properly, you will make a good batch of beer.”

With a drive to make the best beers across a wide spectrum, Hutton & Smith now sees an opportunity for more experimentation.“My favorite thing is a new recipe or scaling a recipe up from our small location on MLK to our large facility on Riverside Drive.  The process from start to finish is challenging, and it’s rewarding to brew a beer that turns out as expected,” explains Krautstrunk.

Ultimately, it’s about the challenge, creativity, camaraderie, and community. “I enjoy the pride of being able to present something I made to the consumer, a friend, a family member and say, ‘Yep, I made this. Please enjoy,’” smiles Bauer with Heaven & Ale.

They share the belief that when one succeeds, they all do. “We are all on this ship together,” says Boyd with OddStory. “If you aren’t bringing people together, you might as well hang up your boots,” laughs Kehoe with Five Wits. “I love everything from the grunt work and designing the recipes to sweeping the floors,” shares Woods with Naked River. “At the end of the day, we make a pretty cool product.”

Nathan Woods

Age: 29

Brewery: Naked River Brewing Company

Flagship Brew: Naked Light, a light-colored pilsner brewed according to style with a German lager yeast and Saaz hops

Shares