One of the most recent arrivals on the Music City craft beer scene, Tennessee Brew Works inhabits a former printing warehouse on Ewing Avenue in what appears to be becoming Nashville’s brewery district: other denizens of the SoBro neighborhood include Yazoo, Jackalope, and Czann’s. TBW took possession of the property in February 2013, began brewing last August, and opened their Tennessee Taproom onsite in October.
The brewery’s motto “Finely Tuned Craft Beer” and its branding and presentation of its beers evokes association with Nashville’s country music industry. The comparison is apt: both use advanced, state-of-the-art technology to create a mainstream product that resonates with rustic, roots appeal.
Tennessee Brew Works was founded by Garr Schwartz and Christian Spears, two friends and business associates who met in New York City when both were employed in the finance industry in 1998. While Christian manages many of the business aspects of running the brewery and taproom, Garr is TBW’s sole brewer. He led our small tour of the brewery on Saturday afternoon.
Dressed in a khaki-colored TBW work shirt, his dark hair streaked with silver pulled back into a short ponytail, Garr looks every bit the independent, 21st century craft brewer. “Every one of our beers started as a home brew I made on my back porch.” he says, as he leads the small group past each of the machines, describing their function in the brewing process.
Tennessee Brew Works is a pioneer in the adoption of the new Aegir Brewing System, a brew house made in the U.S. that is designed around the Meura Micro 2001 Hybrid Mash Filter, a wort filtering system produced in Belgium. Originally designed for large lager breweries, TBW uses a scaled down version of the Meura Micro 2001 designed for medium-sized breweries – the first in the U.S. to do so. Grain arrives premixed to TBW’s recipes from the maltster and are weighed and then run through a hammermill, where it is ground to a very fine flour – in fact, pulverized into dust.
“Homebrewers, don’t try this at home!” Garr jokes as he explains the economic and environmental advantages of the process, so different from traditional brewing where grains are milled enough to crack the grains but leave the hulls mostly intact and thereby more easily separated from the mash. By utilizing the Meura Micro 2001, the brewery claims their brewing process uses 50% less water, 20% less raw materials, and 20% less energy. Water is added to the flour produced by the hammermill, and after mashing run through the filter, which consists of 40 chambers, each a polypropylene mesh membrane that removes “spent grains” – the parts of the grain that are not (mostly fermentable) dissolved sugars. The Meura Micro 2001 enables an efficiency of 98-99% in the extraction of sugars from the grains. The resulting “liquor” that emerges from the filter is piped into the brew kettle where, with the addition of hops it becomes wort. The wort is then sent through a whirlpool to remove spent hops and other debris, and piped into fermenters where it is cooled and then, with the introduction of yeast, fermented.
TBW’s five fermenters each holds 60 hectoliters, or around 51 U.S. barrels, and utilize another innovation. The fermenters are covered with a glycol jacket that allows the beer to be chilled in the same vessel, removing the additional step of pumping the beer to a conditioning tank before it is kegged. TBW’s beers are naturally fermented in the fermenting tanks.
Most processes in TBW’s brewhouse are automated, including much of the cleaning that in a traditional brewery is done by hand. Hard-piping and “CIP” (Clean in Place) technology eliminates much of the clutter of hoses and buckets often seen about the floors of a brewery in production. One result of all the automation is that the brewery can be operated by a single person – indeed, Garr says, he can set up the ingredients the night before and start brewing the next morning from home, operating the equipment from his iPhone.
Southern Wit, Belgian Style White Ale, 5.15 ABV 14.5 IBU (7)
Extra Easy, English Style Pale Ale, 5.25 ABV 39 IBU (6)
Cutaway, IPA, 6 ABV 70 IBU (7)
Basil Ryeman, Saison, 6.25 ABV 28 IBU (8)
Country Roots, Sweet Potato Stout, 5.5 ABV 30 IBU (8)
(phirx ratings) are on a scale of 1-10.
The beers are all exceptionally clean and bright. Southern Wit is a Belgian style wheat ale hopped with Mt. Hood, Tettnang, and Saaz varieties. This light-bodied ale has a fruity bubblegum fragrance, a creamy mouthfeel, and a clean finish. Extra Easy is a malt-forward ale made with pale, Munich, crystal, and wheat malts. The caramel nose gives way to sweet malt and is reminiscent of Wells Bombardier – perhaps an inspiration for this beer?
Cutaway, which I have had at other venues around town, is TBW’s IPA: a citrusy beer with a slightly sharp nose introduces a beer that is moderately bitter compared to some of the more adventurous IPAs being promoted by craft breweries now. TBW includes rye in the grain bill which imparts a hint of spiciness, and uses five varieties of hops for this solid local IPA.
Described as a “Tennessee Farmhouse Ale”, Basil Ryeman is the brewery’s strongest regular selection at 6.25 ABV. A saison made with pale, rye, and wheat malts, this beer has a distinct basil nose and a remarkable, complex flavor, with some pepper from the rye and fruitiness from the yeast. In true saison spirit, it is very easy to drink! Country Roots is a sweet potato stout – Garr described it as his alternative to pumpkin beer – made with baked sweet potatoes sourced locally from Delvin Farms. A medium-bodied stout with a strong roasted barley aroma, Country Roots is sweet and malty with a slightly astringent finish.
Tennessee Brew Works has plans for seasonal and even high-gravity beers in the future. At present their ales are only available in keg and therefore either at their taproom or at some 75 venues in town, with distribution growing quickly throughout Middle Tennessee. The brewery sees itself as part of the local food movement, and is dedicated to nurturing a sense of community around good local food and beer in Nashville. As I left the crowded taproom on Saturday, the crowd there listening to a local band play Grateful Dead tunes seemed quite at home.