Friday, February 5, 2016

What’s On Tap For Bearded Iris Brewing

By Matt Kelsey

Much like the state flower of Tennessee, Bearded Iris Brewing is composed of a blend of the arts and sciences. Just as scientists have created a wide variety of Irises, the founders of Bearded Iris hope to create a wide variety of craft beer for all to enjoy throughout the Volunteer State. Murfreesboro natives Paul Vaughn and Kavon Togrye will host the grand opening of Nashville’s newest brewery on Saturday, February 6, from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. at their 1,500-square-foot taproom located in the Germantown neighborhood.

Co-Founders Vaughn and Togrye grew up as childhood friends, became homebrewers and while playing a late-night game of pool, they first dreamed of owning a brewery together. Now they are business partners at Bearded Iris Brewing, housed within a 10,000-square-foot brewery, which allows plenty of room for growth.

“We hope to bring something fresh and innovative, to make people look up to Tennessee for beer, because right now there’s a lack of enthusiasm about Tennessee breweries, in general,” said Vaughn.

“There’s not, necessarily, a Tennessee brewery that you’ll unpack your suitcase and throw your clothes away, so you can travel back to California with their beer. We really want to create that level of excitement that you see on the West Coast. That’s something we strive for.”

Finding a building with a good location and a reasonable price for their brewery was initially difficult. Originally, they thought they’d find a place in East Nashville, but those plans didn’t work out. Within a week, they found their current location. The origins for this building remain a mystery, but they believe it was used in conjunction with a nearby flour mill, possibly used as a storage facility.

The brewers will be using five 30-barrel fermenters, two 1,000 gallon oak foeders and a two-vessel 15-barrel vintage brewhouse that’s about to experience its 20-year anniversary at the brewery. With all this equipment, they will be brewing their flagship craft beers, which are all
based off actual Bearded Irises. Habit is their India Pale Ale that has already been released into the market since last year. Persona is their Brett Pale Ale, Suspicion is their Dark English Mild (which is brewed with coffee), Local Color is their Biere de Garde (which is a maltier version of a Saison) and Lady Friend is their Petit Saison, which is a light, dry, thirst-quenching beer. Their taproom will basically work as a small test market, where the brewery will have small-batch releases, seasonals and later this year, they’ll release beers from their barrel-aging program.

When asked why Nashville has a booming craft-beer market, each brewer had similar thoughts.

– Togrye: “Nashville is an awesome music destination and a general tourist destination. It’s a growing city. If there’s not enough room for another brewery this month, there will be next month. It’s exciting to be part of that growth and be part of the new Nashville. It’s very much taking on a new shape. It’s not just the honkytonk city anymore. It has a new identity that’s a little more sophisticated

— that’s due to us having more people from New York, Chicago and out West: Free-thinking people moving into the city and I love it.”

– Vaughn: “Nashville’s been this untapped market, mainly due to alcohol laws. We don’t have a ton of breweries here. When you compare it to Oregon or North Carolina, we have room to grow. I love living in Nashville. It’s just a great city to be in. There’s this entrepreneurial undercurrent that you can just feel, all over the city. It’s innovative. People are striving at doing the best at what they’re doing and they’re succeeding. So, it’s really cool to be a part of that.”

For now, distributing craft beer throughout Middle Tennessee is their main focus. Additionally, food pairings are a big focus for the brewers, as their lighter beers pair well with a variety of foods. In fact, they have already five beer dinners lined up, before the brewery has officially opened. Craft-beer fans can expect upcoming chef collaborations from them in the near future. Other future plans for the brewery involve brewing and bottling their barrel-aged beers, eventually canning their flagship beers in the near future and starting this weekend, in the taproom, customers will be able to fill crowlers of craft beer at their brewery.

The brewers are both are very excited about having beer available in their taproom and being open to the public, for the very first time. Attendees of the brewery’s grand opening can expect plenty of food trucks feeding folks and plenty of craft beer pouring for the eagerly awaiting crowds of people.
Last year, before the brewery opened, the Bearded Iris founders attended a few events, including local beer festivals, beer-dinner pairings and the Bonnaroo Music Festival, where Habit was the best-selling single brand at the craft-beer tent. After that experience, the founders are already making plans to attend many upcoming Music City events this year, as well. Check out the event calendar on the brewery’s webpage for future events.

Regular hours of operation for the brewery:
Wednesdays and Thursdays: 5 – 10 p.m.
Fridays: 5 – 11 p.m.
Saturdays: 12 noon – 11 p.m.
Sundays: 12 noon – 8 p.m.

For more information about Bearded Iris Brewing, visit their website here.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

TONIGHT: Doctor Who Way Late Play Date at Adventure Science Center

By Matt Kelsey

Prepare to party like a Time Lord. Tonight from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Nashville’s Adventure Science Center hosts The Way Late Play Date and explores the science behind the TV show, Doctor Who.

Hop into your TARDIS for this adults-only themed party. Tickets cost $25 for museum members, $35 for non-members, and include admission to all exhibits and activities, three beverage tickets and a souvenir cup. Fat Bottom Brewing and Mayday Brewery will provide craft beer at the event and there will also be wine and sodas available for attendees. During the event, the Sudekum Planetarium will be playing Astronaut, narrated by Ewan McGregor, which allows guests to experience traveling through space, much like the Doctor on TV. Development Coordinator Alyssa Blades and Events Manager Jennie Stumpf preview the upcoming event.

The Doctor Who themed Way Late Play Dates are one of the hottest tickets in town. What makes this event so popular?
– AB: “We are thrilled to bring our Wibbly Wobbly Nights back to Nashville once again! Our Way Lay Play Dates are always so popular because they are a way for people to experience Adventure Science Center after hours in a casual, fun atmosphere. People enjoy dressing up to the night’s theme, trying out the different food trucks we bring in and tasting some local beers. But they also have fun exploring the hands-on science activities at each Way Late Play Date, and hopefully go home with little more appreciation for the wonders of science. I really can’t think of any other event in town where you can watch someone flash freeze using liquid nitrogen, while sipping on a drink or two.”

What’s new for this themed event in 2016?
– AB: “I have to be honest, our educators rocked this theme this year. We have a Find the Doctor scavenger hunt, learn how to write your name in Gallifreyan, explore the creatures of the universe (think snakes…), and of course, decide once and for all, is it really bigger inside?”

What kind of relationship does Adventure Science Center have with local breweries?
– AB: “Nashville’s local breweries are essential to making all of our late-night events a success. For us, it’s a win-win situation. We get to support our local brewing community, while also knowing that our guests are getting to enjoy some fantastic beer.”

Do you know which beers the sponsored breweries will be bringing to the event?
– JS: “I can say that Fat Bottom is bringing a seasonal beer, Java Jane.”

What kind of details do you have for the costume contest?
JS: “We have great prizes and guest judges for our Wibbly Wobbly costume contest. The rules are simple — report to Jack Wood Hall at the front of the Center no later than 8:15 to show off your best look. We will award 1st, 2nd and 3rd place with tickets to the next Way Late, passes to the Clarksville Con and original art by guest artist Grant Cooley!”

Please describe the details of the newly created Way Late Play Date Passport.
– AB: “This is the first year we’ve offered the Way Late Play Date Passport. Essentially, this passport allows you into all FOUR Way Late Play Dates for the price of three! It’s a great deal and people seem to be really excited about it.”

How do people purchase the passports and are they still available?
– AB: We do have some passports still available, but I would encourage people to buy now! We are only offering 100 passports this year. Go onto our website.”

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
– AB: “April 2016’s Way Late Play Date is People’s Choice. We have a poll that will close at 10 a.m. on Friday, Jan 29 to decide the theme. Go to our Facebook page, and take the poll today!”
– JS: “Hope to see you all this Thursday at the Wibbly Wobbly Way Late Play Date!”

More information may be found here.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Beer with a Brewmaster: Luke Colgate of Hi-Wire Brewing

By Matt Kelsey

Recently, Hi-Wire Brewing expanded its distribution into Middle Tennessee and it has been a welcome addition to the local craft-beer scene. Offering up both easy-drinking and high-ABV beers, the Asheville-based brewery with the circus theme has quickly won over the locals. Not long ago, on a road trip, I visited with Head Brewer Luke Holgate at the North Carolina brewery’s Big Top location.

In this Beer with a Brewmaster interview, we discuss Mr. Holgate’s brewing background, the brewery’s expansion plans and a powerful cure for those seasonal blues (hint: find out at Asheville’s upcoming Winter Warmer beer festival).

How did you get your start, as a brewer?
I went to school; Biotechnology was my major. I graduated in 2008 and no jobs were jumping out at me, so I ended up moving home to New York. There was a brewpub in town that I started bartending at and I started hanging out with the brewers. I realized all the Bio and Chemistry I learned in school could go to making something cool, besides pharmaceuticals. So, I started digging in, trying to learn as much as I could. I actually moved to Asheville six years ago, specifically to get into beer. It probably took me about a year and a half of pestering people and making my way in. I really wasn’t a big homebrewer. I brewed a few batches at the pub and that was the extent of my homebrew experience. I ended up getting an assistant brewing job for the now-defunct Craggie Brewing. They occupied the building that Hi-Wire took over. I knew all the equipment. My boss was a great guy and he recommended me for the job, when they were asking around. I felt a little overwhelmed, I mean, I still do, every day.

Hi-Wire had a couple of key things that we wanted to do, that we thought set us apart in the industry: Even though we were going to be doing 1,500 or 2,000 barrels, we wanted to go straight into bottles and we wanted to do an almost-macro type of lager, but on a micro scale. Those were the two things that we thought would differentiate us at first and I think it really did help launch us, to give us the springboard to be able to grow at the rate we’ve grown, so far.

So, you were working for Hi-Wire, when it began, as a company?
Yeah. Basically, they decided to buy the building in December. I was out of work, because Craggie shut down, so they paid my rent while I brewed pilot batches for four months. I looked through my notebook a while back and I had 37 recipes that I had brewed in those months. I brewed everything over and over again, just trying to make tweaks to move them in the right direction. I finally landed on recipes that we liked and we jumped right in. It all kind of fell into place. Everybody thought we were crazy for launching right into six packs and trying to get distributed, but that crazy mentality got us where we are today.

Do you think it was the six packs that initially spread the word of Hi-Wire the most?
Yeah. It set us apart. There’s already so many breweries in Asheville. Tap space is a premium in town and it’s a very competitive tap scene, but everybody’s got shelf space. Everybody’s got cooler space. To be able to get into restaurants that didn’t have big draft systems and to be able to put your beer in gas stations and places like that… the reach is much broader than if you’re just trying to sell it, keg by keg. It’s just a good way to spread the name. Really, the artwork drove that, as well. We put a lot into the hand-drawn art. We had a great artist who did all of the original labels and obviously we’ve got the circus theme. It’s something people can cling onto and that really helped getting us planted into the scene.

How did the company decide on the circus theme?
It’s a mystery. I remember some of the meetings, chatting what our general ideas were for the brewery. Really, somebody threw out the name ‘Hi-Wire’ and then we started going down the road of, ‘What could we do with a circus theme?’ We didn’t want to completely pigeon-hole ourselves to where we can’t name a beer something else, but we wanted to keep a general theme. It helped the brand, immensely. Now we’ve got Death Defying Spring Ale and things like that. We’re stretching for circus themes, these days, and we’ve stepped back from them with Twice As Nice Doppelbock. It works, basically. The push-pull that we had going, between doing the theme and then pulling back from the theme helped us.

Please tell me a little about your flagship beers.
We have four year-round flagships: The Hi-Wire Lager, Prime-Time Pale Ale, Hi-Pitch IPA and Bed of Nails Brown. We’ve always brewed four ale seasonals and this year we introduced another four lager seasonals. So, we have two seasonal programs going, which is real exciting, for me, as a brewer. We started with the Oktoberfest this year. We got a great response, but we didn’t make a ton of it — we made one 90-barrel fermentor of it — and it was gone before I was ready to stop drinking it. That’s usually a good sign. Our Doppelbock came out and it’s gotten a great reception. Next up is a Baltic Porter that’s been aging for eight weeks. After that, we’re doing our first IPL, which we did two test batches of last year and landed on a couple of cool, new German hop aroma varieties. It’s basically a Vienna-lager base, then we’re going dry hop it. A lot of late-addition hops really drive the aroma home.

We also have a series called our Hop Circus. The first one I did was the Single Hop Simcoe Session Pale Ale. I really, really liked it. It was a super-smooth, drinkable hop bomb. That led into what the next ones became. We did one with Azacca and El Dorado hops. That had a really fun stone fruit-passion fruit profile to it. The next one will come out in January: A white IPA with passion fruit. We’re going to really drive the hops toward the passion fruit.

How would you describe the craft-beer scene of Asheville, North Carolina?
It’s obviously grown up, quite a bit, in the time I’ve been here, but it’s been a growing thing, for years. It’s the reason I moved to Asheville. There’s such a range of different breweries, different mentalities here. The best part of the Asheville beer scene is the camaraderie amongst us. It’s probably the only city on the East Coast, where you can run out of a hop, drive 10 minutes and pick up a box from your buddy. Nobody seems to be at each other’s throat. It’s a really good vibe in the beer scene, here, and then you start tacking on the big guys — Sierra Nevada and New Belgium — but they’ve totally embraced that mentality, where they’re helping the local beer scene continue to grow and continue to get better at what we’re doing. The community continues to move in the right direction, which is what keeps someone like me, happy with it. If it was dog eat dog and you had 15 breweries in a tiny town, like this, it wouldn’t be any fun at all… it would be like a war. The way that it works out, I’ve got good friends at just about every brewery in town. That makes it a lot of fun.

Is the beer scene thriving?
Yeah. There’s more breweries opening all the time. The way that Asheville, western North Carolina and even Eastern Tennessee has accepted this kind of beer movement, there’s room for more breweries, especially for quality beer. I don’t think anybody’s going to survive making bad beer, but, at the same time, there’s plenty of room for good beer in town. We have good friends who are about to open up a spot, South of here. I know they’re going to kill it because they make excellent beer. Everybody’s got their own niche. That’s been the nice thing. Nobody’s come in and tried to bulldoze anybody else.

What does Hi-Wire mean to you?Personally, it’s an outlet for creativity, but the most important thing that’s happened with this company, in my mind, is that we’re very quality focused. I got into this industry through science… that’s what got me into beer. We really put a lot into maintaining quality and trying to improve quality, all the time. We have really great staff and we’re all like-minded. The end-goal is to constantly be better at what we do. That’s my favorite thing about being a part of this company. I’ve worked at other places where that’s definitely not the case and I’m very happy that’s our driving force.

Have you ever visited Nashville?
Yeah. Just once, for the Music City Brewer’s Festival three years ago. When I worked at another brewery, Nashville was always a great market. Beer drinkers there have always been into trying new things. We sent some really weird beers out there that people really dug. It’s a really cool city. I’ve really been pushing for Hi-Wire to move to Tennessee as our first expansion of territory. The owners really got on-board with it and we’re really excited to be a part of what’s going on, out there.

Hi-Wire Brewing is now distributed in Tennessee.
We just launched a month go, so it’s been kind of a slow roll. We’re with Lipman Brothers and they’re excellent. They’re really great to work with. We’ve hired a sales rep who’s based out of Nashville and she’s spearheading everything. We’ve already got pint nights lined up everywhere. Over the next three or four months, you’re going to see a lot more of Hi-Wire.

Will Hi-Wire be canning its beer any time soon?For me, as the brewer, it’s a back burner thing. I would love to be able to drink our lager out of a can. To go out into the woods or on the river, taking a 12-pack and not worry about breaking a bottle in your bag sounds great to me. We just put so much into what we started here… we’re probably going to do a tank expansion in the near future and when we start adding barrelage, we’ll need an outlet for that volume. That’ll probably be the next step, in late ’16 or early ’17.

What does 2016 bring for Hi-Wire Brewing
Hopefully, a little span of sanity, for us, in the brewery. We’ve been growing at this exponential rate for the last two and a half years. It’s been crazy. I think we’re all ready to do what we do and do it well, maybe give ourselves a little break before the next big expansion. Really, we want to improve on quality. That’s always our goal and that’s what makes this job fun, knowing that you can always do it better. Basically, I’d like to start working on some beers for a few years from now: I’d like to start a sour program. How to execute that and what’s the best way to go about it is next on my plate. I want it to be a small, very organic thing. It’s not going to be a huge marketing mechanism. We won’t make a ton of it, every year, but it’ll be available. We’ll probably do a few batches that are more widely distributed, but for now, we’re kind of messing around with different strains and trying to hone in what our program will be.

Are there any upcoming events that Hi-Wire is scheduled to attend?
I think Winter Warmer is the next one, coming up in January. It’s always a good time. People tend to pour it on heavy, for Winter Warmer. It’s a good one to check out. We’ll have some 9 and 10 percent beers there, to get you through the winter.

For more information about Hi-Wire Brewing, visit their website here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Nashville Beer Blog Presents: 2015 Nashville's Finest Readers Poll

Happy New Year everyone!  What a year 2015 was for the ever-growing craft beer scene in Nashville!

Our goal has always been to make information relevant to craft beer in Middle Tennessee easily accessible to the general public, and with your help we are able to continue that effort. 

Please take a moment to participate in our second annual Nashville's Finest Readers Poll!  Tell us which local establishments were your favorites in 2015, and we'll share the results on the site and use them to better make recommendations in the future.

Here's the fine print:

1. One vote per person, please.  As a measure to keep things fair and honest, we'll be throwing out duplicate votes made from the same computer / ip address.

2. Voting begins now and will close on Friday January 22 at 11:59 PM (Central Time).  You have over two weeks to not only vote, but convince your friends to vote as well.

3. You may vote for any business that is in Middle Tennessee that meets the criteria of the category. (Must be within a thirty minute drive from the Ryman Auditorium downtown to be eligible) 

4. Be honest.  Your feedback will better guide those who are in seek of good beer.

Sound good?  If so, proceed to vote here.

Feeling curious?  See last year's winners here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


By Matt Kelsey

The newest year-round release for Highland Brewing Company is a West Coast-style IPA from Appalachia that will be the first of 12 new beers debuting for the North Carolina-based brewery in 2016. This craft beer is available in our market starting this week.

"Our vision for intentional growth and our talented team inspired the additions of a West Coast IPA and other exciting styles to our portfolio," said Highland Brewing Company President Leah Wong Ashbury.

Developed by Head Brewer Hollie Stephenson, the West Coast-style India Pale Ale features American Chinook, Citra and Centennial hops, creating hints of tropical fruit, lemon rind, grapefruit and dank hop notes.

"Highland IPA will be my favorite in the Southeast," said Stephenson. "As a year-round offering that is drinkable and edgy, I think Highland IPA is unique. It is assertively bitter, but not overwhelming. The ABV is higher than what you see in a lot of of new IPAs, but not so high that you can't go back for another. For me, Highland IPA is what defines a West Coast IPA."

Sold in six-packs, 12-packs and available on draft, Highland will release the IPA in January 2016 with distribution expanding throughout the year.

The 22-year-old brewery will release two other year-round beers, three new seasonals, two new Warrior Series beers and four Kinsman Project beers in 2016. For more details about the brewery, its beer selections, special events and sustainability efforts, please visit www.highlandbrewing.com.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Beer with a Brewmaster: Rich Kilcullen of Wicked Weed Brewing

By Matt Kelsey

Whenever sour beers are mentioned, a certain funk comes to mind that’s all the rage in the craft-beer culture these days. Living in the South, one of the most well-known producers of sour beers is Wicked Weed Brewing. Within three quick years, the North Carolina brewery’s grown from a cult following to a craft-beer powerhouse. In 2014, the brewery opened up the Wicked Weed Funkatorium, a separate downtown location from its production brewery and brewpub, which specializes in producing barrel-aged sours and wild beers. Each of the Funkatorium’s beers is brewed with 100 percent Brettanomyces strains during primary fermentation, creating a unique character that stands out from all of its competitors, ultimately leading to a gold medal awarded at Denver’s Great American Beer Fest.

During a recent road trip to Asheville, I visited with Wicked Weed Head of Sour Production Rich Kilcullen to discuss the creation of The Funkatorium, Wicked Weed’s sour beer program and the brewery’s upcoming craft-beer collaborations. Special thanks to Erin Jones for setting up the interview and assisting with my visit.

How did you get your start, as a brewer?
I got my start at a small craft brewery in Black Mountain, Pisgah Brewing Company. I was a brewer there for about four years and worked with those guys almost from the time they opened. After that, I worked for a craft-beer bar for a while and when I saw that Wicked Weed was hiring, I really saw a lot of potential in this company. It looked like it was going be a great opportunity for me and it worked out wonderfully. I’ve been with Wicked weed for two-and-a-half years now. I started out as an assistant brewer at the pub. It was just Eric Leypoldt and I. Eric is now the head of production at the production facility — our larger brewery — and I split off to go here, at the Funkatorium.

Are you originally from the area?
No. I’ve lived here for about 10 years. I’m from upstate New York, originally.

How did the Funkatorium come to be?
The Funkatorium is 100 percent Walt Dickinson’s brainchild, one of our owners. There’s two brothers who own the company. They couldn’t be more different from one another and their tastes in beer could not be more different from one another. Walt is a pretty social, outlandish guy and Luke’s a little more reserved. Luke has an amazing mind for recipe creation — he does some awesome IPAs.  He’s got a gift for it. Walt has a gift of funky beer. He’s got a passion for it. Pretty much, from the moment we opened our doors, we had some sort of sour beer or Brett beer on tap. Walt pushed really hard for it. He was out there dosing barrels in the driveway when we didn’t even have a place to do it. Basically, it grew from there. When the pub expanded, we took some of the older tanks and put them downstairs, in the back building. The Funkatorium was really born out of that little white building. We had just a bright tank and a fermenter. We’d occasionally brew and we would truck the barrels out, in an old U-Haul, to Fairview, up the Continental Divide, about 20 minutes each direction, to a little warehouse, where we kept the barrels on racks.

This place was the first push to expand that program. Once we saw the appeal of these beers and the increased interest in the expanded palates of a lot of consumers in the Southeast, we realized that Walt was really onto something. We’ve easily grown 200 percent since then. We now account for 50 percent of the wort production at the pub. We’re producing about 75 barrels a week of sour and wild ale. We wanted to have a special, separate venue to let people see what goes on in these barrel houses, how much work goes into it, how much oak goes into it, how long it takes for the beer to sit and to develop. Walt saw this as a way to increase people’s appreciation and understanding of sour beers. It’s not just a warehouse. It’s a lot more than that. We really focus on the educational aspect, here. We give tours several times a week. What’s good for sour beer and craft beer, right now, is good for everyone. As people’s understanding increases, their desire and energy increases and they’re more interested in beer. Sour beer is a really beautiful thing.

When did the Funkatorium open?
October of 2014. We just hit our one-year anniversary. We started with about 500 barrels in the program. We’re now at 1,200 wood vessels, including four folders.

Can you explain how the sour-beer phenomenon has skyrocketed?
As craft beer expanded, people’s palates really expanded. Their desire for obscure styles and their desire to try new things expanded. Like anything else, the more education that goes into things, the more appeal, the more understanding that people have for the product, the more they’re going to go out of their way to find these rare things. I think there’s a certain romance that goes into the barrel-aging. It’s a really cool process, but basically, I just see it as an expansion of the consumer’s palate. It’s a really good sign for the health of craft beer. I’d say five years ago, we would have never had this level of success, this quickly. We’re in a great place at the right time. The Southeast is exploding, right now, as far as craft beer goes and it’s awesome to see. It’s an evolutionary thing.

People want more refined products. They want to get a little weird. A lot of people think the idea is off-putting. I love seeing people try sour beer the first time. There’s that initial reaction of, ‘I hate this,’ but then they’re like, ‘I don’t. This is just different.’ That develops over time. It’s kind of a learned experience.

Please describe the craft-beer scene of Asheville.
When I first moved here, there were only a handful of breweries: Asheville Brewing, Highland and Green Man. Pisgah opened when I was a Sophomore in college — that’s when I got a job with them. Slowly, but steadily, it built momentum and now it’s such a cool beer scene because it’s so concentrated. We get so much traffic and so many visitors into this town, that it doesn’t feel saturated. Every brewery, here, is offering something unique and something of a different appeal. There’s not one type of craft-beer drinker, any more. There’s tons of people who are into craft beer from all different backgrounds and it’s really cool to see each one create their own place, to see what they’re after.

Business is booming. I think we’re nearing 25 breweries and it’s a really small city. The year-round population is about 85,000 people. When we beat out Portland, OR to become the Beer City, that drew a lot of attention and now, the newest addition is all the large-scale breweries coming in. People ask me, ‘Do you see it as a threat to your business?’ It’s absolutely not. They already have a tap presence, here. It means we get fresher, better beer, more resources and a broader education base from some of the people who work for places like Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues and New Belgium. They’re very generous to all the smaller breweries. We can’t be more grateful to a lot of these larger companies that have helped us out, as we’ve expanded and saved us from some really painful lessons. We’ve learned quite a bit from them, so it’s been really awesome.

What was the first sour beer that was released by Wicked Weed?
It was Black Angel Cherry Sour. Walt had brewed that at another brewery and was aging it at the warehouse before Wicked Weed was even open. So, when we opened, we had two sour beers on tap. We had such a limited supply, that we would tap one keg every week, at 3 P.M. on Thursday. People would wait at the top of the stairs for us to tap that beer and that’s when we realized sour beers were viable. Black Angel is a really special beer. It’ll never leave the state of North Carolina. We only sell it here. It’s one of our favorite flagship beers. We built a whole beer series based off Black Angel, that we released throughout this year. We had Red Angel (a raspberry sour), Golden Angel (an apricot sour), White Angel (a Scuppernong and muscadine sour) and we’re about to release Angel of Darkness (a boysenberry, blackberry, raspberry and cherry sour). It’s been an inspirational beer for us.

Can you tell us about your upcoming release, Angel of Darkness?
Angel of Darkness is the culmination of our Angel Series. It’s a strong dark sour that’s aged in Oloroso Sherry casks for a total of 14 months with a pound and a half per gallon of boysenberry, cherry, raspberry and blackberry. We then pull it out of the casks and we pump it into a bright tank, where we add an additional pound and a half per gallon of all of those same fruits and it ages an additional two months, for a total of 16 months and it’s about 11 percent ABV. It’s a big, assertive truly unique beer. We wanted to experience what we experienced, the first time we all tried Black Angel. We always want to push those creative boundaries and using Sherry casks adds an incredible flora and flavor. I’m really happy about the way it turned out.

What are some of the most interesting ingredients you’ve brewed with at Wicked Weed?
We’ve used frankincense, we’ve used 14-carat-gold flakes in a beer once, chestnuts were a nightmare, figs are a really interesting one. I made a Saison with gummy bears, once.

How many sours, would you estimate, are released by Wicked Weed each year?
That is one of the really unique things about Wicked Weed: We are not afraid of variety. Most breweries have a much different blending and production program. That’s one of the things that Walt and I work well together on. I’m a very production-and-process oriented person. Walt’s a great conceptual person. He’s got a really good flare for what people don’t even know that they want, yet. He’s always ahead of the curve. This year, we are on track to do about 42 separate brands. Next year, we’re paring down to about 35 or 37 brands. It means a lot of work and a lot of management, but there’s no replacement for that sort of innovation. It keeps us happy to come into work every day. It’s exciting.

One of my main jobs is sourcing crazy ingredients and cooperage from all over the world. We have sherry casks from Spain, we have rum barrels from Barbados, Italian puncheons, Kentucky bourbon barrels, red wine barrels from Napa Valley and others from all over the place. It’s really cool to bring all these different ingredients and different inputs into one place and create a different feel for each beer.

What are your flagship sour beers?
We have several flagship sour beers: Amorous (dry-hopped sour IPA), Black Angel (dark sour aged in bourbon barrels with cherries), Medora (blonde aged with raspberries and blackberries), Oblivion (sour red ale aged with blackberries and dates), Genesis (tropical blonde sour aged with papaya, mango, pineapple and guava) and Serenity, which is a once-a-year release. It’s a 100 percent Bret beer that won gold at GABF. It’s a really beautiful, delicate, balanced, difficult-to-make style of beer and we love it.

Please tell me about the Christmas sours for this year.
Our Moeder Series is something we do for Christmas. They are a nod to the Old World. They’re really traditional-styled Belgian beers that are barrel aged over the entire course of the year. We produce and release them right before Christmas. The Tripel is 9.2 percent. It’s really dry since it’s aged in white-wine barrels with candy sugar for a year. It has a proprietary strain of yeast that Walt and Luke ‘borrowed’ when they visited Belgium, that we propped up in the lab. We mix that up with our house Bret. The dark strong has picked up a little more mixed culture in the barrel, over time. It’s a little more acidic. It’s a much bigger-bodied beer, but it drinks really nicely.

Is Wicked Weed beer currently distributed in Nashville?
Not yet. We’re not currently distributing in Tennessee. The legislation in Tennessee has been up in the air. It seems like it’s going in a really positive direction, but we’re kind of waiting to see how the dust settles, to see what that will mean for us.

Is the brewery waiting for the state’s new high-gravity law to go into effect?
That’s going to be a big thing for a lot of craft breweries in Tennessee. Having to deal with that restraint is kind of not in the spirit of what we do. It’s not something we want to have to consider. That being said, we make plenty of beers that could work out, but for now, we’re just seeing where the craft scene is going go.

Has Wicked Weed collaborated with other breweries, on the sour side?
Oh, absolutely. We just did a collaboration with Jester King Brewery, out of Austin. We’re working on a year-and-a-half-long collaboration with The Lost Abbey, out of San Marcos. We are going to be collaborating with some other really big hitters out of the West Coast. The Rare Barrel will be coming up next year, that’s going to be really fun. Jay Goodwin and Alex Wallash are a huge inspiration for our program. We’ve done one with Funkwerks and New Belgium, out of Colorado and collabs with local breweries. We’ve done one with Burial Brewing. We get around (laughs).

What upcoming events will you be participating in and/or hosting in the near future?
We’re going to be at the Craft Brewers Conference this year. We’ll have 14 or 15 entries for the World Beer Cup, so we’re going hard for that. Our third-year anniversary will be on December 28th, so that will be fun. Coming up in the summer, we always throw one big festival ourselves, it’s the Wicked Weed Funkatorium Invitational. It’s a sour-beer festival of about 50 breweries happening on July 16th. Literally, we bring the best sour breweries from around the country and they bring some of their best sour beers.

What’s the one thing people need to know about Wicked Weed?
If I had to say one thing about Wicked Weed that I’m proud of and that I appreciate is that we take really good care of our people. The people who work for us never, ever cut a corner, when it comes to beer. We have a lot of fun, but we take our beer really seriously. I trust every one of my guys to do the same thing.

For more information about Wicked Weed Brewing, visit their website here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Grand Opening of Mantra Artisan Ales

By Matt Kelsey

On Friday, November 13th, Mantra Artisan Ales held its grand opening and welcomed customers into its Franklin, Tennessee brewery. Guests were welcomed to try the different spice-infused craft-beer selections and by looking at the snaking line of customers that led from the bar and out the front door, spilling into the parking lot and remaining there throughout the evening, they were enjoying what they were drinking, continuously coming back for more.

Mantra’s taproom is open five days a week (Wednesday through Sunday), and offers an incredible selection of beer styles. Customers can expect at least 10 different taps to be available at any given time, in addition to the brewery’s seasonal offerings and nitro coffee. Original craft sodas will soon be added to that list as well, along with unique packaged snacks of the brewery’s global munchie bar that were hand selected by Chef Maneet, both of which are created at the brewery. Visitors can soon expect an upcoming food menu, which is currently in the planning stages, to be available in 2016.

After being open for business for one week, the brewery hosted a media mixer event, where founders Maneet Chauhan, Derrick Morse, Vivek Deora and Kaleigh Morse discussed the brewery’s vision and craft-beer offerings that are currently being served at the taproom and available to go from the growler-filling station. Brewer Chad Frost was the only business partner missing, who was conducting a tap takeover at a nearby bar.

Derrick Morse admitted that brewing 14 different beers and putting them on tap within 45 days was a bit of a rush, but ultimately, it was a successful venture. Looking ahead, you can expect to see quite a few additional sour beers appearing on the beer menu, in the near future.

Several Flagship Beers:

Battleground: Pays homage to the Battle of Franklin, but also refers to the multi fermentation of two yeast strains.This light beer has a little spicy characteristic on the back end and just happens to be Derrick’s lawnmower beer.

Nouveau: This is basically a Belgian session beer. Its medium-sized body reveals a plum-raisin characteristic and a banana-clove flavor, with
a taste of toffee on the back end that’s not very high in alcohol. This is Derrick’s favorite beer style.

Saffron IPA: This is the beer that started the idea for the brewery. With the price of Saffron being around $300 per ounce, this was the most expensive beer that Derrick has ever brewed. Its flavor profile includes a taste similar to a shortbread cookie with citrus and floral characteristics, which pairs well with extremely spicy foods.

Japa: This milk Chai stout is extremely viscous, getting the roasted chocolate colors from its dark malts and a Chai tea flavor on the back end. It is served served both on CO2 and nitro (which gives more of a flavor characteristic like a cask beer). Easily one of my favorite dark beers, ever.
Other craft-beer offerings include a rotating Randall, ReinCownation, Citra Saison, Tart la Blanche, Sun Salutation, Summer Salt, Tamarind Pucker and Revolutionary.
The journey for Vivek and Maneet to open a brewery began in a friend’s New Jersey garage, while they tried to pair wine with Indian food, before ultimately deciding beers paired better. When meeting Derrick, they immediately knew they had the same mindset for creating great spice-infused beers. Derrick and Kayleigh have been in the beer industry for almost seven years now, having contemplated opening a brewery for a long time. Offering eclectic, fun beer flavors, they view their brewery as a hub for business and for the community.
Each of the founders was gracious to give me a few minutes of their time to ask them a few questions about Mantra Artisan Ales:

Vivek Deora

Please tell about your future plans or dreams for Mantra Artisan Ales.
This brewery was my dream, come true. We couldn’t be more ecstatic. I always wanted to do it. Maneet and I moved here from New York and we were working with a brewer from New York, but then, as karma would have it, our son was born here, on the day we opened our restaurant in The Gulch.

When he was born here, it gave us ample time to get used to the place. We started loving Tennessee and Nashville, so we moved here.

Mantra is a globally inspired boutique brewery. We provide highly intellectually provocative offerings to the people. They are unique in their own right. We would like to go regional by the end of the coming year. The state of Tennessee will be covered by February or March and then we’ll hit the neighboring states by the end of next year. I have a background where I spent a lot of time running a chain of restaurants between Singapore, Indonesia and China, and I have a lot of people reaching out to me now, because craft beer is a craze, worldwide. Those are some dreams — if you want to call them plans, great — but those are the dreams.

As a fan of spicy foods, discuss marrying spices with beers and future possible combinations.Derrick and I have often spoken, and what we have right now, the Sun Salutation, is a mango-chili beer. It’s phenomenal. It’s got the acidity and the freshness of the fruit and the chili’s actually a combination of primarily habaneros and a bunch of different other peppers. So, we juiced them, and then we induced the chili juice at the last level. So, it’s a fruit-forward beer, with a back heat. I do want to work with Derrick on getting some of the Trinidad scorpion and ghost peppers, anything which is 1.4 million to 2.5 million Scoville Units is what we’d like to work with. It’s in the process. We’ll soon surprise everybody, once we come out with it by the end of this year.

What does Mantra mean to you?What’s your mantra? A mantra for success, a mantra for reaching your dreams, a mantra for stars aligning together allowing you to contribute and give back. To give you an idea, we are giving 10 cents back for every pint we pour of Battleground to the Battlefield Society. We are starting off with the taproom and we’ll see how it goes, with bottling.

My mantra: Thank God for beer. Cheers.

Derrick Morse

What did you think about the grand opening?I loved the grand opening. We had an excellent opening night. We had excellent opening weekend. All these tap takeovers are going great. I don’t really know, exactly, what we’ve done to deserve this, but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. It’s just good stuff.

What does Mantra mean to you?We wanted to make it a holistic, green, very yogi, very kind of Boulder. I grew up in Boulder, my wife grew up in Denver. We grew up believing the environment is very important. We want to represent that with in not only brand, but also our logo and the way we do business. When people see our package design, it’s going to have a very warm feeling to it. Two of the five members of the company are female. We very much want to embrace the fact that we are multicultural, that we have various different degrees from the molecular biology side, all the way to the hospitality side.

How do we marry all that into one cultural feel? We felt that our logo almost embodies all five of us into one beautiful logo that is easily identifiable and has an upward feeling. If you look at the logo, you see the lotus flower pointing up, the hop cone pointing up and the yogi in his lotus pose pointing up, meaning growth. This brewery is an ability for me to show my roots, of where I grew up. Mantra gives me an ability to express that, but in a way that isn’t overtly ‘Let’s hug trees.’ We’re making beer. It’s not quite as holistic as everyone thinks it is.

Kaleigh Morse

What were your thoughts about the grand opening?I am extraordinarily overwhelmed with the amount of love, support and community that we received from the people of Nashville, the hipsters of East Nashville, to our new neighbors we’re choosing to build our family with. Everyone is utterly surprised and it’s one of the few times I’m speechless.

What does Mantra mean to you?For our family, it’s to be present in the moment and that’s the most basic ingredient of our beer, along with the atmosphere of our taproom. We want people to come here to celebrate togetherness, celebrate community and to enjoy the love and attention that was brought to the beer and the space, creating a relaxing, new environment.

To what do you attribute the booming craft-beer scene of Nashville?Nationally, the craft-beer market — even on what can be perceived as a wide scale — is really a small community. We’re good friends with people in Colorado, in Asheville and on the West Coast. Everyone is growing, supporting each other. The boom, right now, in Nashville, kind of piggybacks the foodie scene, all the chefs coming here and the restaurant explosion, which is blowing up the scene with flavor and ideas that have never previously been here, begs for pairings with craft beer. I think Phase 2 is coming, where transplants like Derrick and myself and other breweries are opening, where the kids are getting into town, getting their toes wet, being a little more radical than the parents, but so grateful and interconnected with everyone. Obviously, my background is with Black Abbey and to have the love and support system from them from the ground up, having seen what they’ve encountered and to apply it to us, is a gift.

What direction would you like to see the local craft-beer scene head into the near future?I would love to see everyone continue to grow and take direction of their own niche. Nashville is getting a great start, through the three-and-a-half years I’ve been here. Obviously, to see the acceleration pattern and the whiplash of the market is amazing. To see everyone get their toes wet, while at the same time grow as brewers and as professionals, everyone is supporting each other and building up the craft-beer market, as a whole. We’re all pushing the limits to change the laws, to allow for even more experimentation. We’re on a good path. It’s very cool to be a part of the beginning of a market.

Maneet Chauhan

What were your initial thoughts of starting a brewery?It started off as a conversation, but the brewery idea is Vivek’s brainchild. It’s his baby. I kind of came along for the ride, so to speak. It seemed like such a lofty thought, but you don’t realize everything that goes into it. At the end of the day, it’s not about what you’re doing, but it’s about the people. You know, like what they say: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. To us, just finding Derrick seemed like the stars aligned, it was something which was meant to happen, it was kismet, it was destiny and that’s what happened.

What does Nashville mean to you?When my local partners first approached me for opening a place in Nashville, my first thought was, ‘Who the hell goes to Nashville?’ And then I landed in Nashville and I realized I go to Nashville! To me, it was love at first landing. The Southern hospitality is so charming, you feel welcome here. Beyond that, it’s such a sophisticated group of people. A place like Mantra is doing so well in Franklin because of the clientele. They appreciate this. Also, the culinary scene is so exciting, over here. There are all of these young chefs who are showing off their culinary skills, instead of pulling each other down. That’s what I love about this community.

What does it mean to you to promote Nashville as a place everybody must visit?With our new concepts opening, we have convinced three more people to move to Nashville and the only reason we’re doing it is because we love the city so much. When I told everybody I was opening a place in Nashville and then I was moving to Nashville, people couldn’t believe I was becoming a Southern girl. Your heart finds a home and you stay there. That is what Nashville means to me.

What does Mantra mean to you?My mantra is: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Mantra is a labor of love. The amount of hard work that I have seen, being put in by Derrick, Chad, Kaleigh and Vivek… there is so much passion which has gone into this place, it’s more than a business. It’s life. That, to me, is the most incredible part about Mantra.

What does 2016 bring for you?At the present moment, we are looking at opening two other concepts right next to Chauhan. 2015 found me wearing a chef’s hat, a restaurateur’s hat and a brewer’s hat. For 2016, I’ll be wearing more of a restaurateur hat, with us giving flavors to Nashville, which people are still craving, but still aren’t here.

For more information, visit Mantra Artisan Ale's website here.