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VOL. 42 | NO. 28 | Friday, July 13, 2018

Taprooms becoming important part of beer marketing

By Hollie Deese

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Sean Jewett holding the “Brut Willis,” a San Francisco style brut IPA.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Sean Jewett had an idea of what the East Nashville Beer Works taproom should be while he was building the business with co-founder Anthony Davis, drawing inspiration from trips to Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery, Founder’s Brewery and Dark Horse Brewery, as well as Delaware’s 262,000-barrel-a-year Dogfish Head.

What all of the taprooms had in common was good food that really complemented the beer. So, that’s the goal at ENBW, offering something that enhances the brewery without becoming a restaurant.

“We have to have something that’s not a cheese plate, and we can’t depend on food trucks, so what do we do and how do we try to manage those costs?” Jewett asks.

They ended up going with a very simple menu of pizzas and salads, and even some arepas, all good enough to keep beer fans around instead of looking for snacks elsewhere once they got hungry.

It was a good call since Charlie Bob’s, the nearest late-night bar, closed, and ENBW became an oasis in the neighborhood for a place to go drink and grab some food.

They ended up adding a wine license last November.

Jewett grew up in Southern Illinois and came to Middle Tennessee to go to school at MTSU, finished with a degree in recording industry management and then worked in IT for 13 years at Vanderbilt.

July 3 is the busiest day of the year at Tailgate Brewery on Charlotte Pike. Below, Wes Keegan, owner of Tailgate Brewery.

-- Submitted

While at Vanderbilt, he studied in the school’s masters of liberal arts and science program. It was during one of those classes, while reading “Botany of Desire” and “Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan and “A History of the World in 6 Glasses” by Tom Standage that he started thinking about making beer.

“It was nine years ago this summer, sitting in my friend’s kitchen and learning how to home brew, and then from there I just tried to figure out how to take it to where I’m at today,” he says. “The crazy part is, I was a teetotaler for non-religious reasons for the first 30 years of my life.”

Jewett and Davis, who now is a Metro councilman representing District 7 in East Nashville, began looking for space for a taproom and brewery. But the right space wasn’t easy to find.

They looked at the old Pop’s Automotive Garage at Birchwood and Gallatin, a great location but the ceilings where too low.

Then they came across their current Trinity Lane location, and after Steve Powell from Powell Design Studio in East Nashville worked up the floor plan of how to lay things out, they ran with it from there.

Powell Design is also currently working on Jackalope Brewery’s new WeHo location, opening soon.

“One of the neat things you’re seeing are more breweries, they’re just focusing on a certain neighborhood and having a pretty popular taproom but not really packaging a lot of their beer for outside sale,” says Linus Hall of Yazoo, whose first tiny taproom was in Marathon Village before moving to The Gulch. Next month, that location is closing as he prepares his new Madison expansion.

Taproom and cash flow

Nick Giordano is the Tennessee sales manager of the Nolensville-based Mill Creek Brewing Company, working on opening their 12South taproom within the week as a way to serve people from Nashville who don’t want to drive all the way to Nolensville.

“We have been amazed by the amount of support we get in Nolensville just from the locals, but we’ve seen the taproom model, and this is a really good way to drive interest in the beer but also revenue. We make a lot more off of selling beer in house than selling it to a distributor,” Giordano explains.

“There’s just so many added costs when paying a middleman. Unfortunately, the way the world works you have to go through a distributor to actually get anything done.”

Right now, 90 percent of Mill Creek’s business is distribution vs. taproom sales.

“The distribution is kind of our bread and butter,” Giordano adds. “But being a small business, having more cash-flow through a taproom is huge and helping us grow. So 12South was really appealing, and when that space came open it was a no-brainer.

“The neighborhood’s great. There’s so many people that live in the neighborhood but there’s so many people that come, tourism-wise too, plus walking traffic.”

Tailgate Brewery began business in Nashville July 3, 2014, and it has become a tradition when they ring in the anniversary with a huge fireworks show.

“It’s our busiest day of the year, period, in the taprooms for us,” owner Wes Keegan says.

TailGate is headquartered on Charlotte Pike, with a second taproom on Demonbreun opening a year and a-half ago in the old Dan McGuinness space that draws lots of tourists on their way downtown. Their third location is opening in East Nashville in a couple of weeks near the Nashville Biscuit House.

“I’ve always said with these new breweries that are opening up, it’s rising tide,” Keegan points out. “It’s good for everybody when more breweries are coming in because it challenges us to continue to make a better product, be creative, to listen to your consumers. Nobody’s able to be lazy.”

Keegan says TailGate has been pretty aggressive in the way they approached the market, investing in food and the tap and the customer experience, remaining open all week and promoting a kid-friendly, dog-friendly atmosphere. Now all that is almost standard in Nashville.

“All these kinds of things that have really made the market a much-friendlier place to go, experience craft beer, everyone else is doing those things, too, now. The challenge comes back to us to say, what are we going to do to continue to differentiate? That’s been pretty exciting for us,” Keegan says.

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