Brewery and Brewer Profile: Ben Bredesen and Fat Bottom

Profile by Ken Carman for professorgoodales.net

There was music in the background…

…no, wait, that was a saw, or a drill, or a grinder…

Maybe all three?

The air was filled with the scent of sweet hops…

Well, it will be, but on the day I visited Fat Bottom, the brewery had tanks, kettles and busy workers remodeling what had been Fluffo Mattress into Fat Bottom Brewing. Fat Bottom will sit on the south side of Main Street; probably THE major northeast conduit out of Nashville… turning into Gallatin Road a few miles from here. Yes, “Gallatin Road,” which ends up in, well, um:  Gallatin… eventually.

I’d been here before. No, not Fat Bottom. Fat Bottom was still under construction: not up and running for the public when I typed this. But a few months ago I wrote about The Pharmacy: a beer and burger place just north east of Fat Bottom… both are in a part of Nashville that’s been spiffing itself up since we moved here in the late 70s. We didn’t know. We had been mostly in “avoiding” mode since the late 70s. Back then all that lived here were grody vampires, werewolves who had been kicked out of London and an occasional visit by the Blob to wipe off excess blob-ery.

I’m joking! Let’s just say this part of East Nashville has come a long way, and places like The Pharmacy have contributed to one great “spiff,” and soon to spiff up the area even more: Fat Bottom Brewery.

Enter brewer and brew dreamer: Ben Bredesen.

Ben was born and grew up in Nashville, went to college in Rhode Island for a while, living in Providence and working as a carpenter in Bristol. He went to Brown University and majored in Computer Science.

“I had been working for a software company for eight years before starting this, and I had done all kinds of things, like sales and marketing work. It was great experience when it comes to running a business. But it’s definitely a big jump from software to beer.”

“I have found the beer community here phenomenal. Even though we’re competing for the same dollars we’re all trying to help each other too. I was talking to a distributor and he mentioned how if a brewer picks up the wrong keg he’ll bring it back. If this were the oil industry and they wound up with one of their steel containers they’d keep it forever.”

“Craft beer is only 5% of the market right now, so there’s obviously a lot of room for growth. People will spend money on items like cheese from France, luxury chocolates: the same thing happened to craft beer.”

Ben has no formal training as a brewer, not that unusual in an industry that seems to attract great brewers from many disciplines. He started homebrewing about 10 years ago: his wife got him a book and eventually the living room was filled with hoses, fermenters, kegs and other brew equipment everywhere. She had been “tired of me buying all that beer. So then I went out and got my first kit and she’s been ‘sad’ about it ever since.”

Now his investment in what was once a hobby: Fat Brewing, is “about mid-six figures.”

(And why do I hear an echo of “And We’ve Only Just Begun” in my head?)

For now it will keg and filling growlers in the taproom. He thinks he may bottle in two years or so, but that’s just a possibility. He seemed far more interested in the concept of filling homebrewer’s kegs, which would be great for homebrewers, great for Fat Bottom… filling cornies with great craft beer would be convenient for both: no deposit, since it’s their own keg and they could pre-sanitize.

They plan on having 4 beers opening day: Ginger (Wheat), Black Betty “Black India”), Bertha (Oatmeal Stout) and Ruby: an American Red Ale.

We discussed Bertha a little, my hesitation towards the thankfully disappearing moniker: Cascadian, because the new “style” (Yet to have its own category or sub-category.) …doesn’t necessarily have Cascade hops in it and Ben’s comment that “it doesn’t mean anything to people, but if you say ‘Black IPA’ they have some idea what they’re about to drink.”

Other than those four he said he has a hoppy Porter he’ll start brewing in the fall. And a Pale Ale.

“The only reason I’m not doing that opening day is everyone has a Pale Ale.”

They have a 15 barrel system with four fermenters which should be able to do 75 barrels a month.

His equipment came from Premier Stainless out of San Diego. He wanted all new equipment instead of used and said they have been fantastic.

“All the manufacturers have a big backlog now, so it took a while to get it. But we had to do so much construction, so that was fine. The day it arrived they had someone on site to do all the hard wiring.”

I did ask about the origin of the name via E-mail…

“The name Fat Bottom doesn’t have a great story behind it. I started by
writing down a list of 200 names, just anything that came to mind. Too
many breweries have names based on geography, so I eliminated those
quickly. With what was left, I tried to figure out which names
represented what I wanted to do with the beer, and which
had a good foundation for memorable branding. Fat Bottom was the
second name in the list and I still have no idea where it came from in
my head.”

However, later he did provide a hint…

“My intent is to create beers that are bigger, more interesting
and more fun than other options available. (Bigger flavor and appeal,
not gravity.) The name Fat Bottom with a retro pinup girl logo met
both the descriptive and branding requirements.”

I started this article intending not to start out with the question Ben must be asked again and again. You know, being the son of a well known political figure in Tennessee must be like, “Damn, not the spotlight on THAT again!” But I did ask what his father thought of the venture.

“He was skeptical at first. ‘You know that’s a tough business.’ And it is. There are so many brewers out there. He definitely looks at it from a business perspective, which has been very valuable to me, actually. Keeps me from being obsessed with just making beer, but selling. He’s supportive, he likes beer: good beer… though he doesn’t drink a lot of dark beer.”

Damn, now I’ll have to rethink my vote next time he runs for anything. Maybe find some… dark… horse to vote for?

Kidding!

I asked about regulations and he said the only real problem was, “The TTB (Feds)… and it was more they lost the application. It took me a lot more than their 90 day time period they posted.”

I asked if he was planning any one off beers, seasonals and such. Ben mentioned he had a Doppelbock that I made 5 years ago and I’m still drinking a shot glass at a time, I’d love to back that on a large scale.”

The problem being, as we both agreed, being a lager that could be a production problem… as in using up tanks for a longer period of time. “The time it would be in the tank I could make five batches.”

When I asked Ben about advice for homebrewers he mentioned water…

“When I first started homebrewing I had a lot of issues with water, so that’s important and then yeast: pitching appropriate amount of yeast, controlling fermentation and making it consistent.”

Ben said in the brewery he has a large charcoal filter to deal with water issues and he’ll be doing a little conditioning with salts.

“When I first started brewing I was buying bottled water. It was inconsistent. Then I started using tap water and that turned into a mess. I finally found a charcoal filter and it works great for what I’m doing. Once I get this all set up I’ll do analysis so I know exactly what I have in my water, and adjust accordingly. I would describe Nashville (tap) water as ‘needing a lot of work.'”

Some due to “seasonal” issues with algae.

“I want to take multiple samples because I know it changes over the year.”

We talked a little about how sometimes you turn on the tap and there’s a strong chlorine smell.

“We figure a three to four week cycle, so 8 or 900 barrels a year.”And I asked him about advice for those who might want to go into business he said, “Don’t forget it’s about selling beer, not just making beer. I was talking to a guy at a barbeque restaurant and he was talking about all these guys at a festival with their own smokers who make phenomenal barbeque but you really have to move a lot of meat and make it efficient, well it’s exactly the same thing with beer. You have to make good beer but you have to sell it, otherwise you won’t be making beer.”