By Joan Garret
Men radiating the glow of new fatherhood scooted in and around a crowded bar in the dimly lit Tremont Tavern in Chattanooga.
Gathering in pockets of conversation and laugher, they held red plastic cups and eyed the unmarked silver kegs that hung over the wood bar.
The group of seasoned home brewers, aptly called the Barley Mob, had gathered to salute some of their own. Three of their members were leaving the basement and going commercial.
Forty-three-year old Chris Hunt, one of three local men founding Moccasin Bend Brewing Co. in St. Elmo, will tell you the birth of a brewery is painstaking.
In an industry in which specialty and craft beers are attracting critical tastes and beer snobs are akin to wine snobs, creating a brew that is both marketable and distinctive requires sober navigation.
"It's a tightrope you're walking," said Courtney Tyrand, a partner in Moccasin Bend Brewing. "You want something marketable but something you can be proud of, too."
Staff Photo by John Rawlston
Duncan Guy, right, serves Moccasin Bend Brewing Co. beer to Paul Thomas, one of a group of aficionados of home brewing gathered at the Tremont Tavern. Moccasin Bend Brewing is marketing its product to local bars.
Mr. Hunt, who runs Moccasin Bend Brewing in a space adjacent to Chattanooga U Brew in St. Elmo, left his job as a loss prevention specialist at Kmart a week ago and took a job as a security guard and a pay cut so he could have more time to market his beers to local bars.
So, far he has been on and off the tap at Market Street Tavern. This week, he said the beer will be on tap at Taco Mac, he said.
The brewery's staple beers are Centennial Celebration, a malty, citrusy ale named for its use of centennial hops, Juniper Pale Ale and Pumpkin Seed Pale Ale.
"The hops hit you on the front of the tongue then swirls around to the back of the tongue where you taste the sweetness of the malt," he said, sipping the Centennial Celebration, which approaches the legal limit at 6.4 percent alcohol.
At the meeting at Tremont Tavern, Mr. Hunt was also sampling a summer seasonal called Watermelon Wheat and Smoked Porter, a winter dark that tastes like gouda cheese.
Mr. Tyrand and Mr. Hunt are part of a growing group of beer drinkers who were drawn to home brewing and later microbrewing by their dissatisfaction with what they call the watered-down, drink-to-get-drunk beer culture.
"When people say 'I don't like beer', to me that's like saying 'I don't like food,' " Mr. Hunt said. "Beer can be smoky, malty, light, fruity. It can taste like a good steak."
Navigating the Tennessee three-tiered system of alcohol is tough, he said. Distributors can add 25 to 30 percent to cost and retailers add 10 to 15 percent, Mr. Hunt said.
"We have gotten a good reaction but the reality of the tap handle is very different," he said.
He and his partners are not discouraged, though they jokingly refer to themselves as the nano or shoestring brewery. They aren't in debt and are pursuing their passions.
A lot of brewers, such Dogfish Head in Delaware and Sweet Water in Atlanta, have followed their model, starting as small brewing systems.
"You can limp along and self-finance and hope you hit it big," Mr. Hunt said.
The brewery plans to hit the beer festival circuit hard this year -- last year its principals attended festivals in Chattanooga and Florida.
Festivals offer the potential to develop a following of drinkers who will being requesting bars for their beer, Mr. Hunt said.
Tony Giannasi, a 31-year-old stay-at-home dad and president of Barley Mob, said he likes Moccasin Bend beer but mostly appreciates the local brewery's attempt at creative brewing.
"Chattanooga is a good coffee town. I think it could be a good beer town," he said. "Chattanooga needs it."
Beer afincianadoes drink for taste, but they also care about freshness, something only a local brew can offer, Mr. Giannasi said.
"Fresh bread is better than grocery store bread, right," he said.
E-mail Joan Garrett at email@example.com