A Brewery Explosion

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The second story of Chattanooga Brewing Company boasts a great view of the entire taproom.

Chattanooga is a city with thirst for craft beer. And while local breweries and restaurants have labored mightily to quench it, some beer lovers only want more. Talk to many of Chattanooga’s craft beer devotees and one will find a common thread that winds its way through their conversations—Asheville envy.

Situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains and blessed with an abundance of natural beauty and outdoor sport, Asheville also boasts somewhere around 25 breweries. No one seems to know the exact number because new ones pop-up on a continuous basis. Add to that a generous roster of taprooms and beer-centric restaurants and it is easy to see why many beer-loving Chattanoogans are smitten with Asheville’s riches.

However, Chattanooga is holding its own with a vibrant and growing craft beer culture where many local bars and restaurants now offer wide selections of craft beers. Taprooms and liquor stores are booming, and area enthusiasts are turning their basements and garages into their own personal breweries. Grocers and even some convenience stores are adding growler filling stations to slake the thirst of area beer lovers. Chattanooga’s once modest beer scene seems to be gaining a great deal of traction.

A sampling of different kinds of beer at Heaven & Ale.

Some may wonder whether Chattanooga will achieve Asheville’s level of craft beer cachet. One thing is for certain, the local craft beer scene is gaining ground here in Chattanooga after several somewhat static years. Big River Grille and Brewing Works ℹ️ opened in 1993 and operated as the city’s lone brewery for nearly fourteen years before St. Elmo’s Moccasin Bend Brewing Company ℹ️ hit the market in 2007. Over the next four years The Terminal Brewhouse ℹ️, Chattanooga Brewing Company ℹ️, and McHale’s Brewhouse ℹ️ would open, planting the seeds for Chattanooga’s craft beer scene. Indeed, that ground seems fertile.

Joel and Melanie Krautstrunk relocated from Las Vegas to open Hutton and Smith Brewing Company ℹ️ on Martin Luther King Blvd in 2015 and quickly established a loyal following. After just four months, their taproom was full most nights with the brewhouse also at full capacity. “We can’t say enough nice things about the support we’ve had from the brewing community and from the city of Chattanooga,” says Melanie. An additional 15,000 square foot production brewery on Riverside Drive is scheduled to open in 2017, increasing their brewing output and adding a canning or bottling line to offer their beers at retail outlets in Chattanooga and eventually Nashville and Knoxville.

And if one brewery on MLK is not news enough, the end of 2016 saw the opening of Oddstory Brewing Companyℹ️  just a few doors down and across the street from Hutton and Smith. The popular perception seems to be that rather than diluting the market, each new brewery that comes online tends to buoy the others. Craft beer lovers tend to value variety and experimentation and often prefer to visit several breweries in an outing rather than staking out a bar stool and nursing a single brand all evening.

Oddstory’s flagship location at MLK and Foster Street.

They will soon have more opportunity to do just that with the addition of three new breweries scheduled to debut in 2017: Wanderlinger Brewing Company ℹ️, Mad Knight Brewing Company ℹ️, and Heaven and Ale Brewing Company ℹ️. Local homebrewer Mike Dial will open Wanderlinger Brewing Company on King Street which will locate them roughly half-way between the existing MLK breweries and The Terminal Brewhouse. From The Terminal to Chattanooga Brewing Company’s Chestnut Street location is another short hop. One could argue that those five establishments’ relative proximity sounds like a brewery district in the making.

St. Elmo once again has a neighborhood brewery with Mad Knight’s debut in the space once occupied by Moccasin Bend Brewing Company. Moccasin Bend is now just down the road in a new South Broad Street location. “We are focused on St. Elmo. People stand behind local and we want to be the best we can be,” says Connor Choate, who at 24 years old might be one of the youngest brewery owners in the country. Choate brings his experience gained working at White Squirrel Brewery in Bowling Green, Kentucky and partners with Greg McCourt in the endeavor.

Heaven and Ale, the popular Northshore taproom, will expand its brand in the form of Heaven and Ale Brewing Company, slated to open in the summer of 2017 in a warehouse space near their current location. “We believe in Chattanooga. We loved the direction this city was going and felt like it was a craft beer scene that was on the cusp,” says Joe Winland, who opened the taproom just over three years ago. Winland was looking to grow the business in some manner other than just opening additional locations. The stars somehow aligned when Joe’s brother, Brian Winland, and close friend and brewer Marc Powell came on board. “The timing was unbelievable. The idea of opening a brewery is so intuitive and I know I didn’t have the skills to do it. And I wasn’t going to partner with someone I didn’t know very well. He (Powell) was one of two guys I was willing to take this plunge with.”

Most taprooms offer “flights”- a sampling of various hand selected beers.

The growth of craft breweries is not limited to Chattanooga’s urban core either. Red Bank saw the opening of Big Frog Brewing Company’s ℹ️ Dayton Boulevard taproom and brewery in 2016 and word of mouth about Monkey Town Brewing Company ℹ️ is loud enough to entice Chattanooga beer connoisseurs to make the trip north to Dayton, Tennessee to see what the buzz is about. Just across the Georgia state line, Phantom Horse Brewing Company ℹ️ brews a full roster of beers that are available at Pie Slingers Pizza in Rock Spring.

If the quantity of breweries is not enough of an indication of Chattanooga’s arrival as a beer town, there’s quality to consider as well. To date, two local breweries have been awarded medals at the Great American Beer Festival, widely regarded as the nation’s top beer festival and competition. McHale’s Brewhouse was awarded a gold medal in 2014 for Scottish Pride, their 80 Shilling Scottish Ale. More recently, Hutton and Smith Brewing Company brought home a bronze medal in the 2016 competition for their On-Sight Alt, a dark, malty German-style beer.

Along with growing number of area breweries, another piece of the craft beer puzzle fell into place at the beginning of 2017. The Tennessee General Assembly increased the amount of alcohol allowed in beer (in terms of alcohol by volume, or ABV) from 6.2% ABV to 10.1% ABV.  Previously, any beers above 6.2% ABV required a distilling license to produce and a liquor license to sell.

This kept many commercial beers off the shelves of local grocers and taprooms and prevented Tennessee breweries from producing many popular styles of beers. With the new 10.1% limit, local brewers have already begun producing those once prohibited styles. No longer are resinous Double IPAs, aggressive Imperial Stouts, and rich Barleywines relegated to liquor store shelves. They now sport their own tap handles at local breweries and taprooms and can be found on grocery store shelves along with standard strength styles.

At the heart of the craft beer phenomenon is the demand for variety, novelty, and quality. Take for example the Facebook group Chattanooga Let’s Talk Craft Beer, now nearing 250 members, who use the social network to share tasting notes, recommendations, and tips on where to find the latest releases to hit the market. The social aspect of the group should not be overlooked. Indeed, beer lovers seem to enjoy the shared experience and camaraderie just as much as the beer itself with invitations to bottle-sharing events being a regular occurrence.

Many beer fans take matters into their own hands. Not satisfied with exploring commercially available beers, home-brewers go a step further and craft their own beers from scratch. Practically every ingredient and technique employed by professional breweries is within reach of the home-brewer, allowing them to mimic any existing beer and to create new styles limited only by skill and imagination. Barley Mob Brewers, the area’s home-brew club, draws together hobby brewers to interact socially as well as share knowledge and experience.

The question among local beer enthusiasts seems to be whether the current brewing boom is the high water mark for Chattanooga or the beginning of a continuing trend. If Asheville is any indication, there is certainly room for more growth. It may be just a matter of time. All the pieces are fitting together. The welcome mat is out, the taps are flowing, and the beer is cold.

Chattanooga Area Breweries:
Big Frog Brewing Company
2122 Dayton Blvd. Red Bank

Big River Grille and Brewing Works
222 Broad Street Chattanooga

Chattanooga Brewing Company
1804 Chestnut Street Chattanooga

Hutton & Smith Brewing Company
431 East Martin Luther King Blvd. Chattanooga

McHale’s Brewhouse
724 Ashland Terrace Chattanooga

Moccasin Bend Brewing Company
3210 Broad Street Chattanooga

Monkey Town Brewing Company
287 1st Avenue Dayton, TN

Oddstory Brewing Company
336 East Martin Luther King Blvd. Chattanooga

Phantom Horse Brewing Company
56a Fieldstone Village Drive Rock Spring, GA

The Terminal Brewhouse
No. 6 14th Street Chattanooga

Breweries scheduled to open in 2017:
Heaven and Ale Brewing Company
304 Cherokee Blvd. Chattanooga

Mad Knight Brewing Company
4015 Tennessee Avenue Chattanooga

Wanderlinger Brewing Company
1208 King Street Chattanooga

To learn more visit chattanooga.guide/beer.

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About Author

Scott Phillips is a certified beer judge and award-winning home-brewer. He is an avid gardener, an occasional hiker, and a perpetual dabbler. Scott's contributions include food & drink and outdoor excursions.

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