The closing of the door to Tennessee is quickly approaching. We may visit to judge in a beer competition on a rare occasion. But after 44 years of mostly grand experiences living here, we are headed back to my long term chosen home: the Adirondacks where my family has had a presence since the 1800’s. Closer to where Millie grew up: Utica area and two sisters. Despite that much will be missed, like Emerald Dawn the 26 acre little valley we sold recently. Once almost 30 before the state decided we had to have a 4 lane in our backyard.
For one of my last to this area Brew Biz columns I could have chosen one of the newer breweries, like Southern Grist, Crazy Gnome, Czann’s, or Monday Night Brewing the last which, for now, actually brews in Atlanta.
I LOVE supporting small town breweries, especially close to where I live. And I knew John BEFORE my last Brew Biz: Marrowbone Creek Brewing.
Pleasant View isn’t even Ashland City big, which reminds me of Old Forge. Old Forge is where I graduated public school: just down the road from one of our new homes we have owned for a few years now. Pleasant View is more the size of Eagle Bay even closer to one of our two places. We will wake up to even more woodland sounds in the little valley we just sold, plus Alexandria’s doughnuts. And aromas far too tempting.
John Nelson: owner of Flyte; along with his wife Trish, is a delightful study in how great brewers come to the craft from odd angles.
John helped me judge cider for Music City Brew Off last year, and we visited his brewery several times quite a while before that.
John and Trish Nelson are the owners, John is a study in how great brewers come to the craft from odd angles. I have found off the brew school grid brewers are as good, or better, than brew college grads. Of the many reasons this is true, one is that they are more sensitive to the creative side to the craft. The other being they may be more concerned about what their customers want. A college trained brewer might just keep making a Dunkel as tradition demands. A college trained brewer might be hired to work for a larger concern where the owners are customer deaf, thinking they know best. I’ve seen it before: thinking they know better than both the customers and the brewer. Many a new brewery has sunk their brew ship on these rocks not long after it sailed.
And a classic education rarely encourages thinking out of the box, whether it be Julliard, Crane for music, or Siebel for beer. That can be limiting no matter what discipline we’re referring to, what kind of craft. When it comes to beer, over the years, increasingly people long for more adventure these days, less for one specific style only, and less one brand loyalty. Some appreciate classic German brewing and nothing more, but many remember when styles were so limited, when “adventure” WASN’T part of what was available. Thirsty crowds are getting more and more sophisticated. The days of just converting mostly Bud and Miller drinkers are dying, praise be to Dionysus, Silenus, Ninkasi…OK, just the ancient beer Gods, OK? And classically trained brewers may be less than sensitive to what the people in their area prefer.
One hopes brews schools at least offer marketing 101.
And when I mean “odd angle,” when it comes to John, I actually mean ODD angleS. Our story starts in California, then several places in the country. Wherever the military and work took him. John worked on marine precision airplanes and can even build them, had an aviation company called “Precision Aircraft.”
”My dad taught me how to build custom airplanes. He was a pilot in WWII, but found he couldn’t fly because he was color blind. So instead he worked on a lot of the ace’s airplanes during WWII.”
John was a police officer in Southern California. He was responsible for guarding President Clinton when he came to Southern California. He was also part of an antiterrorism unit and also did body guarding for actors and musicians: which brought him to Tennessee.
When he was in the Marine Corp in the 90’s he thought he didn’t like beer, but used to drive the guys when they wanted to go out for a night. A friend in his unit brewed his own beer which, at the time, he wondered how you do that and not be working for big beer. He was introduced to a jalapeño beer and that changed everything. He considers his specialties pepper beers, IPA and fruit beer. He also credits it to his love of cooking: more specifically baking.
He’s right: baking is real specific. As we chatted I told him about an exotic beer that was baked in an oven that I mentioned in this column once called Keptinis. Always intrigued by the unique; eager to venture forth into new fermentation experiences he wanted to know more. Here ya go, John.
I asked him his brew philosophy and immediately he filled my story writing palette. John said the base of your beer is the most important: water. He said filtered water from the machines should work. Don’t buy or use old ingredients. Take exacting notes of any brew if you want to repeat a successful recipe, or even perfect one. OK, just take exact notes! And exact measurements.
John mentioned that he measures everything out in preparation for each batch. Make one mistake and it won’t be the same beer. Consistency is crucial. Yet to remember that mistakes always seem to happen. Don’t answer your phone. Don’t go on the internet. FOCUS! In your balance don’t forget beer flavor. Too many brewers seem to miss that in the balance, John said. And…
If you open a brewery you will have two homes: the brewery and where you sleep. Always greet people when they come in.
I assume for some unmarried brewer/owners it’s one in the same!
Right now John is brewing beers for the group Country Three, like an amber and a slightly fruity lager. Flyte will be in the Ryman. Plans are to get a canning line.
Millie and I sampled some of his brews so we could offer casual comments. At the same time John and I chatted. I admit I tend to talk more than write, so I missed a few. Sorry, John.
Breakfast Brown- Imperial Brown Ale Maple Syrup. Pecan. Coffee. The coffee and the pecan were slight, maple syrup sense a little stronger. The alcohol not as strong as one would expect. I told John this was the one that impressed me the most. While I tend to prefer Russian Imperials and Double IPA, as a judge I preferred this because, for a brown, it was quite complex. Being an imperial, the alcohol was well hidden. But it was the 8 grain malt bill that really made it special.
Dirty Nutz- A coconut Irish Red. No diacetyl noticed. Pleasing, but I kept moving back to the Brown. Millie got slightly more coconut in the aroma and a hint of caramelization. Would be great on St. Patty’s Day!
Dark and Frisky- Chocolate, raspberry, habanero, Imperial Stout. Raspberry and chocolate there, but slight. What was the most impressive here is the burn to the habanero was quite slight, at best: roof of the mouth and back of palate. Impressive. I’ve worked with peppers too, and it’s too easy to get too much.
Charlemagne- A hefty Belgian beer with a proprietary yeast that was probably closest I’ve had to a true Belgian beer. The usual off taste provided by a little pepper, bubble gum and clove. Like all of John’s brews the balance was superb. Millie picked up some cracker sense to the malt.
My phone recorder gave up recording after 9:44. So much was missed! The quality beyond pathetic. Small digital recorders always die on me and have worse quality. My preferences lean more towards 1/2 track, 30ips, Studers, and Ampex 1000 24s. The trend always seems towards worse quality recording for consumers.
Much like my preference in older formats for recording, I appreciate John’s preference for old fashion sanitation and balance. Like me he rinses anything, even when dipped in Star San. One of his favorite phrases: “Fear the foam.”
The superb evidence is in the results: all at a little brewery in tiny Pleasant View.
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 addresses various beer/mead/cider related topics, from the brewing business to fermentation.
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