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East Tennessee’s Beer Scene Is Hopping

East Tennessee’s few but growing number of micro-brewers think they’ve put the tap on the reasons behind the still booming consumer craving for locally brewed beers.

“We hit it at a good time,” says Mark Marcum, brewer for the Chattanooga Brewing Company. “People are supportive of promoting a local business. Big companies produce products that are very standard or uniform. People are looking for something with more variation.”

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“There is a very strong push for local products and that goes beyond the beer market,” echoes Adam Palmer, president and founder of Saw Works Brewing Company in Knoxville. “Also, people have options now. These craft brewers, as soon as you think everything has been thought of, somebody comes out with something new and different. People like that.”

The results are there to behold as business continues to mushroom for those two breweries as well as the Depot Street Brewing Company in Jonesborough – the three micro-breweries I could find in East Tennessee. Micro-breweries differ from brew pubs – restaurants and taverns that make their own beer of which there are more than a dozen around here – in that micro-breweries must deliver at least 75 percent of their product to other retail outlets like bars, restaurants and stores.

Michael Foster, owner-founder, has been brewing at Depot Street Brewing Company for nine years, which makes him the veteran of this bunch.

“We have been trying to educate people that they should look for more variety and taste in their beer and they are starting to catch on,” he says.

Saw Works has more than 100 outlets for its beer and is on the verge of pushing its product to Chattanooga and the craft beer Mecca of Asheville, N.C. The Chattanooga Brewing Company is already in Nashville and Atlanta.

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“It’s really going well here,” says Mark. “We have had a steady climb up from the very beginning. Beer is measured in barrels and we sell about 70 barrels a month.”

Not bad for a guy who started brewing beer back in 2000 at his home. He says he and business partner Jonathan Clark are outgrowing their brewery on Frazier Avenue and on the verge of moving to a bigger place by Finley Stadium, the football home of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Adam’s place is on a little street called Depot just east of Knoxville’s quirky Old City. His company endured a battle last year over its name, which was Marble City at the time, the same as a brewery in New Mexico. Changing the name is more than just switching signs over the brewery with all of the branding, marketing and merchandising required, and Adam admits he considered getting out. But, he stuck with it and …

“Things are going great,” he says. “We started Saw Works in May 2012 and since then expanded into other markets. By the end of the year we hope to be in three new markets. We are doing a much better job (distributing) in Knoxville. We have about 80 locations here.”

Michael says he delivers his brews to 20 counties in Tennessee and 12 to 15 in Virginia. He said he has made a conscious effort to narrow the geographic area and keep his operation manageable.

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Saw Works has a slightly different approach than the other two breweries have. They limit their beers to two standard brews, English Pale Ale and Brown Ale, and a seasonal brew. Chattanooga has three regular beers but is hugely into seasonal beers. Mark explains that customers prefer darker beers in winter, lighter beers in summer and something surprising in the fall, which is the primo beer season.

The Depot Street Brewery sells six beers in bottles and offers as many as 12-15 depending on the season. Make sure to check out their website for what’s available.

The breweries also vary in the open hours. Saw Works opens “The Mill,” a tasting room connected to its brewery from 4-8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 2-8 p.m. on Saturday. Chattanooga lets visitors into the actual brewery for tasting and tours 5-9 p.m. Friday and 1-9 p.m. Saturday. Depot Street has retail hours 3-8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday and noon to 8 p.m. Saturday.

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Have you tried a brew at any of these East Tennessee micro-breweries? Let us know your favorites in the comments! 

Hi! I’m Linda Lange. As a travel writer living in Knoxville, I fully appreciate barbecue, bluegrass and Dollywood. My story...Read on

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