KEN CARMAN IS A CERTIFIED BJCP JUDGE WITH A MEAD ENDORSEMENT. HOMEBREWER SINCE 1979, AND A CLUB MEMBER AT BOTH CLARKSVILLE CARBOYS AND MUSIC CITY HOMEBREWERS. KEN HAS BEEN WRITING ON BEER-RELATED TOPICS AND INTERVIEWING PROFESSIONAL BREWERS ALL OVER THE EAST COAST FOR OVER 30 YEARS.
Part 1: The adventure begins
The first edition is merely an introduction to a new brewery. Since they’re busy putting it all together I felt part one should be all about the promise of a new arrival to the Middle Tennessee brew scene. Expect part two to get more into the character and characters at the newly opened Marrowbone.
No more than 10 miles west of the city, on Route 12, you would never realize you were so close to Nashville. As you head northwest the hills rise and surround you, the woods get closer, denser.
In 1980 we bought 32 acres (now 28 due to a redirected, rebuilt highway) about half way to Ashland City for this very reason: reminded me of my Adirondack home. Plus we got to live in our own little valley. The Cumberland River to your left, high bluffs to your right, and then you slowly start to roll into Ashland City: classic small town Tennessee. Dead center is the traditional rural Tennessee brick building that usually starts as home to police, courts, DMV, public offices of all kinds.
But just before you reach dead center Ashland City, on your left, youâ€™ll find the beginnings of Marrowbone Creek Brewing. It wasnâ€™t that long ago finding beer at all was mostly an out of county experience. I have been hoping for a brewery in downtown Ashland City, Tennessee, for a long time. So one day when Millie Carman and I were coming back from a Clarksville Carboys beer club meeting and I saw a banner proclaiming that in an old past tense car dealership would be the home to Marrowbone Creek Brewing, I knew what my next Brew Biz would be about.
Very wise choice for a name, great local flair, perfect location.
The brewery; still in the works, is just a little past McDâ€™s and the old Strattonsâ€™ location; a passing of a business that Millie and I have both mourned. Steve Strattonâ€™s 50â€™s restaurant and soda/malt shop was an Ashland City icon, providing great local character. Soon more character will be added back in: Marrowbone. That alone is enough to cheer.
Chris Morris and I have been playing both phone and E-mail tag for a while until we finally got together via the net. Theyâ€™re obviously quite busy: Chris just sent a sample of their city water off to Ward Labs. Chris said he is expecting that he will have to do some treatment. Since a good portion of the rock here in Tennessee is limestone; which is why we have so many caves, mineral content is a concern. Limestone dissolves faster into running water than say granite. That makes mineral content a crucial consideration when it comes to different beer styles in areas where limestone abounds.
As of now Chris will â€œget things goingâ€ as the brewer, but they have entertained working with other brewers. The two caveats are â€œwe like their beer and they are adventurous brewers.â€ I know from his comments Chris is interested in brewing Belgians, a personal favorite, but he wrote they will have 16 taps including, â€œa pilsner (or lager), 3 for IPAs, hefe, sour, a West Coast, NE, High Grav and a low cal or session IPA. But at firstâ€¦ guest taps.â€ They have been doing tastings to see what people like, but reserving 4 of their taps for IPAs. They will be doing NEIPAs, generally a brew more hop fruity than hop bite.
They donâ€™t expect to be brewing sours at first. Sours usually need special treatment; from kettle sours, generally easier, to mixes of different cultures that are a concern because a good brewer doesnâ€™t want unintentional cross contamination. However, sometimes that leads to innovation. Itâ€™s just for variety no pro-brewer wants all his or her brews tasting the same.
Their equipment will be a mishmash with older equipment. Some from Alaska, that ended up in NY, and then Dallas, before finding its way to Ashland City. The brewhouse in Dallas unfortunately closed due to COVID. Sad, but a gain for Marrowbone. Their cellaring tanks are newer, jacketed units, 2 brights (hold the beer before packaging or serving) and 2 FVs. (Fermentation vessels) All 7bbl. (Barrels each at 31 gallons)
Local is definitely part of the plan: marketing and supply-wise. When I asked about yeast, and mentioned Bootleg Biology, Chris said they had already been in contact with them and seen samples. He loved the fact they were local. Bootleg has some of the most interesting strains collected from all over the world, including Oslo: meant to ferment in the 90s. Thatâ€™s high!
I asked about brewing a light beer: something that might appeal to the Bud/Miller crowd. Chris wrote that they will be serving a full spectrum and he will adjust their business model as they go along.
Chris addressed how COVID played a part in starting Marrowbone Creek Brewing…
â€œOur entire venture was borne out of Covid! Not to mention that we are in a bit of an unknown territory because our demographic is a wild card here. Our â€˜Phase 1â€™ taproom is designed to pay the rent, and our â€˜Phase 2â€™ is assuming the end of the pandemic by March 2021 or so. But if biology doesnâ€™t cooperate, our rear space could be converted to a production facility and we could jump into distribution. I really donâ€™t think that will happen here, but itâ€™s nice to have a contingency.
I asked Chris what attracted him to brewingâ€¦
â€œI think every beer enthusiast, and especially those who became brewers have a moment when they taste a certain beer and the light bulb went on for them. Beer became something more for them, and they embarked on a journey to understand the depth and lore of brewing, always craving new styles or old styles in a new way.
Another question I asked was if Chris had any brew philosophy. I loved his answerâ€¦
â€Safe is death. I believe if all you make are safe predictable beers, even if they are really well done, you arenâ€™t creating. I want to break the spell of the typical. I realize not everyone is into that, so we will definitely be pinning down some really solid staples. Iâ€™m a bit of a foodie as well. My cousin is Justin Warner of Food Network. He has always been a bit of a rebel in that space, and I can relate to that. Dogfish Head is a brewery that does a great balance of excellent standards and unusual standouts.â€
Probably one of my favorite brews is Dogfish 120, and even though it makes me cringe the fact they made a traditional South American beer by people chewing maize and spitting into the pot so the enzymes would start breaking down the maizeâ€¦ well, Iâ€™d try it. Hey, boiling sterilizes, right?
I did get to stop by, briefly, and meet Chris. Every time I’d stopped before they were unloading a semi, or getting the parking lot fixed. I didn’t want to get in the way. Chris is originally from State College, PA, which is in the middle of the ever rolling hills of Pennsylvania. Not unlike Ashland City area in some ways, or small towns nestled in the foothills of where I cam from: the Central Adirondacks.
Chris showed me through the tasting room, where the kitchen was going to be; something that had to have a lot of alterations because there were cubicles up front. He’s also a musician, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be some Celtic music floating forth from Marrowbone’s fine serving room. Chris did have me try one of his own brews: a Dubbel. A little dark, but otherwise a great head, some raisin-like sense, yeast driven clove: what I would expect from a style I love.
So Chris and I have a lot in common. Inventive? Creative? Pushing the craft to new heights? All this in Ashland City, Tennessee?
Letâ€™s just say, â€œI REALLY like where this is going.â€
Brew Biz : Werts and All: a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing, and commenting on beer-related topics. Including, but not limited to, marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives beer. Also: reviews of, and commentary on, beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the brew business, and discussions regarding all things beer.
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