Blackberry Farm Brewery | A Shiny New Brewery!

It was late one evening as a few of us gathered in the back of The Market in Maryville. The store was closed, but we had been invited to a private tasting. Scattered about the tables of the Beer Den were several bottles, some with polished labels and some marked by hand with markers; test batches of varying degrees. Roy Milner explained each beer as the cork popped, we sipped, we talked, we laughed. It wasn’t my first time being exposed to Blackberry Farm Brewery and it certainly wouldn’t be my last.  However, it was my first time with Roy and you could quickly see the passion he had for the product and the art around the beer. He was looking for feedback and we were more than willing to give it. Towards the end of the evening I was able to spend a little time one on one with Roy and as I knew the onsite brewery was having enough trouble meeting the demand of onsite guests, I asked what his vision was. Roy painted a picture of a much larger facility that would not only meet the onsite needs at the farm but also allow expansion throughout the southeast. Not just any expansion though. In true Blackberry Farm fashion this would be a purposeful, intentional and selective expansion. He spoke of top chefs that would pair their dishes with this beer, select shops and some of the best craft beer bars and destinations in the region. The first time I walked into Edmund’s Oast in Charleston, SC two years ago I remembered thinking to myself, Blackberry Farm beer will soon be found in places just like this.

BBF_brewhouse_resizedOver the holiday I saw Roy one evening and after catching up briefly he invited me by Blackberry’s newest acquisition in Maryville – a building that has been built out to brew. You wouldn’t know it on the outside but inside you can easily tell that a lot of the hard work and vision that Roy has put in is coming to life. He told me that it had been a vision since 2007, on paper since 2010 and now it was a reality.

There were a fair number of people all over; electricians, an individual bringing the boiler online, contractors and several individuals from Sprinkman who were responsible for all the fancy metal sitting on the floor. These gentlemen were there for one reason and one reason only; to get this equipment ready to brew. As these gentlemen worked, Roy gave me the grand tour.

Several things stood out as we followed the process of grain to glass. First of all, 1400lbs of grain can be moved out of the grain room in about 15 minutes. The brewhouse is a 20 barrel system and the fermenters will hold 40 barrels. In the picture you’ll notice short, squatty fermenters on the left. These are the result of an R&D trip to Belgium where Roy learned that hydro-static pressure can have a negative effect on Belgian yeast. Often these brewers will run through two fermentation processes and, depending on the style, most fermentation will occur in the shorter, squatty vessels. This should help in keeping true to the Belgian styles they’ll be brewing. Even though they are small and wide, they too can hold 40 barrels.

BBF_bottling_resizedAt this point in time about 80% of what is brewed here will go into the familiar 750ml bottles we are used to seeing with corks and wire cages. As these are bottle conditioned beers and meant to have some age on them, I don’t think any of us are surprised that this will be the primary focus. However, 20% of what is done here will be a new keg-only style – more to come on that.

Not only is this space and equipment all shiny and ready to go, Roy’s got a great team assembled as well. Daniel Heisler of Michigan and Tim Moore of St. Louis will be heading up brewing responsibilities and John LeQuire will be working with Roy on the many other items that are necessary to keep a brewery going. I’m also confident that they’ll all be experts on the bottling line shortly.

Hopefully by the time you read this the equipment has received it’s first cleansing, any leaks and tweaks have been addressed and the first brew has gone through the system. If you’re wondering what they’ll be brewing, Saison is on the menu for the first three months of brews. This will allow the team to further learn the system and dial their recipe in. I’m also hopeful this will create a lot of “test-batch” Saison that they’ll need my help taste testing. Hey, it’s a hard job but I do what I can.

You may be wondering if they’ll have a tasting room or something for the public to interact with them. At this point the focus is purely on producing the product but Roy didn’t count this possibility out in the future. In the mean time, keep your eyes out for announcements from these guys on what they are making and we’ll be sure to pass them along as we get them.

We’re excited for these guys and for East Tennessee as a whole. Excellent work. We’re definitely looking forward to raising a glass of beer brewed from this team.