Brewer Profile: Tom Vista

Written by Ken Carman

I met Tom Vista: aka; Hop God, aka; Hop Tyrant, a year or two after I joined Music City Brewers, if I remember right. A bit tall, crew cut, slightly large ears and probably the only voice that can compete and win over my admittedly loud stage voice. That was shortly after we joined Music City Brewers. Back then Hop God wasn’t quite a deity yet. Maybe a semi deity. I suppose he didn’t have enough “minions” yet to worship his deity-ness, lick his deity toes, kiss his…

Should I stop there? I suppose I should.

But Tom is so much more than Hop God, but let’s cover our deity bases first.

So my readers may ask, “Hop God has ‘minions?'” After Hop God declared February 28th National Hop Day, which oddly coincides with what some tinfoil hats claim to be his birthday… (After all, aren’t gods eternal?) Hop God also declared…

A HopGod BEER you ask, minion, what are these? Well…

If you think Mead, Cider, Wine and like are nothing more than HOPLESS CRAP…

You might be a minion.

If you have tasted a IPA and thought there should be MORE HOPS…

You might be a minion.

If you have tasted an Imperial IPA and thought there was too much alcohol and not enough HOPS…

You might be a minion.

If you have dry hopped a bock beer or any decidedly malty beer…

You might be a minion.

If you have ever brewed a recipe and decided to add MORE HOPS…

You might be a minion.

If you have added more than a pound of HOPS for a 5 gallon batch…

You might be a minion.

If you have 10 lbs of hops in the freezer and get worried that won’t last very long…

You might be a minion.

If you have ever brewed a HopGod BEER…

You’re definitely a Minion!


Tom under rates himself. He is much more than “Hop God.” Every year, in the fall, we do a BJCP competition. Last year we had 401 entries. Hop God has organized Music City Brew Off for seven years. He created most or the organizing system we use: based around milk crates. At two bottles per entry you can imagine sorting bottles alone is a major concern, not to mention labeling, taking off anything that might identify the brewer during judging and not breaking the buggers. Having helped many times I am surprised how little breakage there is. I seem to remember very, very few. He also checks in judges, helps assess and decide where competition will be, assigns tables… well, I can’t think of anything he isn’t involved in.

He’s more than competition organizer. Together with several club members he started the Bunker Brewery over at his house. The Bunker is in Tom’s cellar, so when the Allies drop the bombs he and the Bunker-ettes will be safe. I’m kidding, of course, but Bunker brews do share the motif: adding words like “Buster” and “Bomb” to the names of brews brewed at the Bunker sometimes. But: don’t forget, before you go down there, stop, and say “hi” to Tom’s father, Don… up the stairs to your left and to the back. He’s a marvelous man, especially when he puts up with yours truly when I interrupt his favorite TV shows or dinner just to say, “Hi.” Then go back to the back of the living room, take a left and head down the stairs. Careful! It’s a short trip and a sharp drop.

They brew almost every other Wednesday… sometimes more… and the list of what they have brewed is long and impressive.

Here are just a few…

Chop Chop Porter

Hopapcolypse

Citra Ass Down

4 C’s of Christmas Day

Darkside of the Schwartz

Hump the Cat Pale Ale


Bunker stories are legend, including the origin of the Hump the Cat beers they have brewed, and they sometimes include Tom’s dog; QB. (As is “Queen B…”) Here’s QB watching over visiting brewdog Scout as he eats, camera lens looking up and out the back door of the Bunker.

Here you see the Bunker taps. Above this is where they write what’s on each tap. You might see some version of “Chop Chop,” or “Hump the Cat.”

“Chop Chop” refers to Karen Lassiter, brewer at Boscos in Nashville. Karen brewed at the Bunker long before she started brewing professionally. She kept running around the Bunker trying to get her fellow Bunker-ettes to work a little faster saying, “Chop, chop!”

The name, “Hump the Cat?” Blame QB. Enough said!

Here’s Tom with fellow Bunker-ite, Jonathan Adams, at GABF in 2009. Where there’s beer, Tom and his fellow Bunkers go.

Music at the Bunker is unique: all beer songs. I never knew there were so many and I make my living off of music to a certain extent. But don’t let that music put you to asleep when you’re at the Bunker. Take it from me: you may find yourself with some unwanted “tattoos.”

One of the missing and very much missed members of the Bunker Bunch is Ed Tate, former President, who died in 2008. He was a personal friend of mine as well. Ed knew how to be very technical in his brewing yet relate to those members who were more into the less technical, “fun,” side of beer. He also listened very well to club members and tried his best to make the experience of being a member of Music City Brewers the best it could be. We all miss him.

Some Bunker-ettes stay there all day and brew some days. Some members have been added over the years; one unfortunately gone. The current group include Jonathan Adams, Phil Snyder, Karen Lassiter, Jim Craig, Adam Hardgrove; and Brandon Jones. Brandon who? Oh, our current club president.

I asked Tom what advice he might have for homebrewers and those who might want to start a brewery like the Bunker…

(As for…) trying to start a group effort, I would suggest that the group live in approximate close proximity – not necessary but makes the effort a lot more logistically feasible, and understand that those who might initially agree will need to realize that there has to be both a dedicated space – one person’s brewery/house/garage and the dedicated time. Also some basic rules of operation, costs and such need to be addressed. With the (Bunker) Bunch we basically share the cost via bulk orders of materials, person contributions to recipes, tip jar to fund fuel and co2 and the fact that I am not married and can dedicate my disposable income to the effort. Also need to establish some kind of timing – if it does not occur often enough, it may not last very long – we brew two times a month every other Wednesday and on the off nights get together some of the times to rack, keg, bottle or otherwise do some kind of maintenance or just drink a lot. Obviously that is a general rule and can be altered to meet individual needs and allow different people to brew a desired recipe when time allows. Also some kind of standards for doing things (that) need to be addressed. An on going problem here at the Bunker… is sanitation… especially the ‘post fermentation’ which seems to be our problem – we have had excellent pre-fermentation sanitation but our kegging and distribution seems to be our problem.


Here are some of the improvements Tom would like to see at the Bunker…

…more automation, more stainless specifically quick disconnects and finally; and most importantly, some way to identify our kegging/souring issues that continue to occasionally cost us.


There’s so much the Bunker-ettes do, and so much has happened, the only thing I can think of that they need to do is dress up some night at the Bunker and show how well they can compete with the Rockettes. I’m waiting. Of course QB must join the dance line. Kick those skirts up high.

QB in a skirt… hmmm.

We have so many great brewers in the club. I do have plans for further Music City profiles in the future. But I picked Tom first because when it comes to creating happenings like the Bunker, organizing events and getting the club moving forward, I can’t think of a more consistent, constant motivator in the club than Tom. I would type, “Pain in the…” but that’s my job.

Tom’s passion for brewing is something many share in the club, but his passion for hops has moved Music City Brewers and Nashville brewpubs towards a trend before highly hopped beer became the trend in Nashville, in the South and maybe even in many American brewpubs. For this, Tom Vista deserves bragging rights.

So next national Hop Day: February 28th, 2011, raise a glass to more Saaz, more Cascade, more Centennial, more Mount Hood, more Fuggles, and more IBUs; whatever the bittering and aroma source!

And may the hops be with you, too.


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Brewer Profile is a column by Ken Carman honoring those who brew beer and their craft. Brewers featured may be homebrewers or professional brewers.
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