It had been over a year when I finally returned to interview Chris Morris again at Marrowbone Creek Brewing, Ashland City, TN. While the exterior looked deceptively the same, there were massive changes inside. A far cry from the stripped down former showroom of a car dealer, among other businesses. The former home to so many businesses is filling up with the brew-dreams of Chris, his wife Julie and fellow investor/owner Ryan Jensen. Pushed forth during COVID.: jobs were lost, life in limbo.
Oh, MY, how the brewery has grown, changed. I appreciate all the thought going into what once was a show room for a car dealer I appreciate all the attention to detail that keeps being added.
The perfect time to make a mutual dream come true.
From a fire pig out front with deer antlers, to a unisex bathroom area: good size lockable stalls, communal hand washing area, separate sinks. So much added by staff or local craftsman. Every time I come back there’s some new touch.
That’s the magic in these small town breweries: small businesses working together.
Large backroom, where a lot of the brewing equipment used to be. Now a great space for customers. More tables always better for growing restaurant/brewing concern. I asked about out back and Chris said…
”There is a sizable beer garden in the back. We look forward to fixing that up with landscaping and fire pits little by little.”
On the Nashville side of Marrowbone is the brewery now. Equipment close: distance is not the friend of a brewer hauling grain bags, making quick changes and assessments. Helping with that Chris’ cool tool, a Tilt. A Tilt floats as the beer ferments: both a hydrometer and a thermometer. According to Chris, “Most useful during fermentation so you can track sugar conversion to alcohol.” All he has to do is put his iPhone above it to read important brewing stats.
It’s amazing how much they have packed into one building and not have that crowded sense.
I complimented him on his sloped floor drains. He said he wanted to get it right: the perfect tude. I have been to too many retrofitted buildings turned breweries where they had to back pedal due to the drains not being right. A brewery; in Worcester, Mass, where they had to build little walls to hold back the leaked liquid. When I did that interview I kept having visions of the brewer, high boots, standing knee deep in pools of hot wort.
Not exactly what anyone brewing had in mind of what should be part of the boil! I can hear comments from the judging table now, “Yum! What is that added flavor? Cooked brewer boot and a whiff of foot?”
First visit we sat with Chris and he brought beer to us so we could try his brews. To be honest my mouth tends to get the best of me so I talked too much to take comprehensive notes. Hence the need for a second visit. More on the second visit later.
Considering all the possibilities in the learning curve, I asked Chris if he ever had to dump a brew. He said once, but there was another he dumped simply because he wasn’t happy with it. Chris and I pondered a possibility, “What if a brewer at Bud had to dump?” The loss must be incredible, and one can be relatively be certain that brewer would not be a brewer with Bud for long.
The taproom and bottle shop opening was February 2021. They started as a taproom and bottle biz while still working on the brewery. But that was brief.
“We opened as a brewpub format. Our goal was to get beer to the floor as soon as possible. Our brewery wasn’t quite there. Despite the cost of quickly getting the brewery ready right away made it worth the cost.”
I asked Chris what brought him to craft beer and brewing…
”“There’s that one beer that makes you realize that there’s more to this. For me one of those beers was Celis White. I was in Philadelphia and I ordered that beer and it really made an impression on me. So crisp. So white, yet had such a depth, such a character.”
I asked what suggestions Chris may have for homebrewers…
“Look into edible roots, things you might find out in the forest.
Great Idea but; for all those considering opening a business on that model, no nightshade brews please? Or breweries named, “Socrates’ Last Suds?”
Chris said they do about 24 barrels a month.
I asked Chris what lessons he had learned over the year and he mentioned bottlenecks he had had. Production-wise: cold room storage. Then how finishing off the brewery shortly after opening; despite expense, simply made sense. Another community-based bottleneck: apparently winter is a slow time for business in Ashland City. Having been in business myself for over 30 years, I have had firsthand experience with how there are a lot of things like that in an area, in a small town, that people who live there may not even realize.
The main cast of characters…
Chris Morris: head brewer, part owner with a “safe is death” motto when it comes to brewing.
Julie Morris: no relation except they’re MARRIED (chuckle), finances, compliance, kitchen. CFO kitchen, menu. We got to talk with Julie more on the second visit. And the conversation pretty much confirmed my notes and added an extra perspective that has been integrated into this column.
Ryan Jensen: oversees everything related to events, business development, and part of Chris’ brain trust when it comes to the menu, opening new revenue streams or events and co-owner/invester
Chris wrote me and said…
“What they contribute can’t be understated. The unique skills they bring make us a much more rounded group.”
Our sample tray had PFG, Blackwatch, Vakantie, and Smores. Bear in mind, this is no BJCP judging session, just more casual assessments.
Blackwatch: Scottish Ale
Vakantie: Winter Spiced Belgian
Puzzle Fool’s Gold, Golden Belgian Strong.
(Named after Puzzle Fool’s Creek: goes by the brewery. Chris: “Some locals don’t know the name of that creek..”)
None of the samples were heavily carbonated. The most carbonated was Puzzle, not that they really needed much. Puzzle and Blackwatch had great clarity. Winter and Smore were hazy, but no visible float-ies. Most had no head except on the cordon (edge of glass area). Smore had the best: light but perfect pillow foam. All four were exactly what they were supposed to be, except the Scottish was a little dark for the style (Not much, and obviously covered by “Blackwatch.”) and Smore Brown was more a deep copper. All had light-ish medium body to moderate.
We got exactly what we expected out of each brew. Great chocolate sense out of the Smore Brown with a hint of vanilla. Puzzle: firm Belgian Strong phenols, like pepper and clove. A little overwhelming for the untrained palate, but should satisfy geeks like us. The 8% is well hidden. Blackwatch’s aroma followed through to taste: as all his brews did. Not quite a Strong Scottish. Vakantie: Winter Spiced Belgian also had great Belgian yeast characteristics: only milder than Puzzle. The spices were a tad muddled: so indistinct. Not a criticism, really. Combined with the yeast it was perfect, well integrated. 7.2? Once again: well hidden. All Chris ’ brews we had were at 7 abv, or more, yet the fact they are that high is surprising. You’d never know.
No real hop sense except the slightest bitter in all, except Smores which seemed sans hops. Again: no problem due to the nature of the brew. It wouldn’t be all that Smores-like with a firm bitter, would it?
I was glad the first time we visited I started out with Fog Trip Hazy: Chris’ double hazy IPA. Second visit it was gone. The balance was superb: great hop fruit sense and enough IPA bitter to back it up. Chris said…
“Coming from the Belgian/European perspective I am not a fan of the overpowering high alpha, acidic flavor. “
I told Julie, his wife, during our second visit, that I was blown away that in a mere year his brews were so good. Usually it takes a year or two from the first jump into pre-brewing. Chris told me he only has has to dump one batch because it went bad, another he dumped because he just wasn’t happy with it.
We left with their Italian Hoagie. We had it for supper. Wow: packed with meat. Seemed small, yet it was a solid meal for two.
Marrowbone’s Tuscan Bread. Looks wonderful.
Brew Biz: Werts and All: a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing, and commenting on beer-related topics written by Ken Carman: certified beer judge, mead judge and pending cider judge. Brew Biz: Werts and All, the columns, addresses various beer topics related to the business of brewing and fermentation.
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