In Suds & Sounds we turn the spotlight on breweries, focusing on the role of music in that brewery’s history, packaging, tastes, and in its city or town as a whole. The idea is to get beer and music lovers to connect with a side of the brewery that may often go overlooked, but one that we think is absolutely vital. To accomplish this, we are talking to the brewers themselves about their own love of music and the role it plays in how they approach their beer. And who knows, maybe we’ll even talk to a musicians from time to time to give a perspective from the other side.
The Nashville of 2016 is a vastly different place than the country music loving town it once was. Sure, Music Row is still going strong and churning out country pop trash, but that is far from the true identity of Nashville. These days Music City is home to a diverse spectrum of bands with rockers like Diarrhea Planet, Turbo Fruits, Blank Range, Natural Child, All Them Witches, and the venerable Third Man Records all calling it home. As Nashville’s music scene has grown and diversified, so has the beer scene. One brewery that seems to fit right in with the Nashville of yore and that of the present day is Tennessee Brew Works. Besides their tasty brews, which often pay homage to the city’s vibrant musical culture, TBW features live bands in their tap room five nights a week. I don’t know about you, but Wednesday night bluegrass jams with 2-for-1 pints sounds pretty damn good. Recently we talked with TBW Founder and President Christian Spears about, you guessed it, beer and music!
For people who may have never heard of your brewery, can you give us a little background on how it started and what kind of beers you specialize in?
Our brewery sprouted roots over a home-brew in 2010 with a friend of mine. Back then there there was only 1 production micro-brewery in the entire state of Tennessee. Our goal was to create traditional styles of beer with our own Tennessee interpretation or twist on them. We often tap the local farmers to give the brews some local flare; our beers showcase local farms in our beers whenever possible.
How long have you been brewing and what do you consider your greatest triumph so far as a craft brewer?
A friend of mine introduced me to homebrewing in 2006. And while the company origins truly began over a homebrew in spring 2010, it wasn’t until August 2013 that we achieved our first professional brew. We’ve come a LONG way since then. My most triumphed moment wasn’t grandiose or the achievement of brewing some new and outrageous beer. And, I have credit to our head brewer Matt Simpson and his tremendous talents for the moment. I was drinking the Witbier from the beloved Allagash Brewing Company – I think they’re top-of-class with their White – and it was awesome as always. But, then I grabbed our “Southern Wit”, which is our own interpretation of the Belgian-style Witbier, and enjoyed a followup pint. I had this “wow” moment when I realized that, although the two versions are slightly different, the quality of our current Southern Wit was right there with them. It was a very proud moment.
A lot of breweries seem to incorporate their own musical tastes into their packaging and presentation, whether it be a collaboration with a band, a tribute label, or a beer name that references something they like. Has your brewery ever done something like this, and if so can you tell us about it?
I won’t admit that we’ve named any of our beers after a specific song or band. But we have all kinds of musical themes in our beer names: Basil Ryeman, Country Roots, Walk the Lime, Wildwood Flower, Farmer’s Beat, Cutaway IPA to name a few.
In your opinion, is there a particular band or genre that is ideal to listen to while brewing beer?
You’re gonna cause trouble for me if I try and pigeonhole us to one genre! Music is a very important element to our culture. It’s inherently part of Tennessee Brew Works, Nashville, and Tennessee as a whole. On the brew pad, our head brewer is probably more of an indie fan, but he likes some good old rock too. Our warehouse manager is an actively performing country music singer though. And, lately he’s got the brew team listening to all kinds of solid country music. On the bottling line we have 3 other working musicians who package beer for us in their off-days. In our taproom, we have members of 2 different active bands (one heavy-metal, one rock/alt) serving brews; 4 of which are graduates of the Berklee College of Music in Boston (arguably one of the best music schools in the country).
Is there a hierarchy or system to which employee gets to pick the brewery playlist?
We actually have a part-time music coordinator on staff! So, she has creative direction for our live music gigs. The taproom general manager and I will certainly provide our two-cents too.
Has your brewery ever brought in any bands to play?
ALL THE TIME! We have live music here 5 nights a week; including an open mic on Mondays. We have an annual Block Party that is a live music event too.
In your opinion, what is the absolute best band or kind of music in general for drinking beer?
Again, you’re gonna cause problems for me if I exclude any genre…we have folks working at Tennessee Brew Works that are active musicians spanning multiple genres. Music and beer go hand-and-hand, I wouldn’t recommend discriminating with any particular genre.
Some breweries have gotten more into music through sponsoring tours, festivals, or even throwing their own versions of those. How do you think live music fits into the fabric of craft beer, and is this something your brewery has done?
We have an annual Block Party that is a live music event. In the past we did the Pilgrimage Festival in Franklin, Tennessee. However, we generally find it too costly to pony-up with the likes of big beer companies to sponsor major concerts. We often sponsor record releases for members of our own team by supplying the beer for the event, wherever it may occur.
Do you have any musicians or noteworthy people that you can say are fans of any of your beers?
To be clear, nobody famous has officially endorsed any of our brews, but…I did get to serve Reba McEntire our Southern Wit…and, respectfully, I’d also like to mention that she came back for more. I hold her in the highest regard. Quite a compliment.
Tennessee Brew Works is located at 809 Ewing Avenue in Nashville, TN. Find out more at www.tnbrew.com.
Photos by Laura Roberts and Laura E. Partain
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