The growth of the brewery scene makes it easy to drink local in Chattanooga

Staff photo illustration by C.B. Schmelter / Brewer Bryan Harris pours a Lula Lake Lager at Five Wits Brewing Company on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

In the last five years, the Chattanooga brewery scene grew so much that one local entrepreneur decided it needed its own bus.

"Five years ago, Chattanooga had maybe four or five breweries - not enough to sustain a brew tour, but breweries kept opening," said Angela Smith Ballard, who launched the ChattaBrew Tour with her business partners in 2018. "As the brewery scene stands now, it's a wonderful number for tours because we can rotate all the breweries in our schedule and give customers a unique experience."

With a dozen breweries up and running, Chattanooga isn't about to unseat Asheville, North Carolina, or Austin, Texas, as meccas of locally made beer. But give it a minute, said Tony Giannasi, a local craft beer expert with a deep background in home-brewing and a career in alcohol distribution that puts him in the middle of the action when it comes to area craft beer trends.

Chattanooga area breweries

› Big Frog:› Big River:› Chattanooga Brewing:› Five Wits:› Heaven & Ale:› Hutton & Smith:› Mad Knight:› Monkey Town Brewing (Dayton):› Naked River:› Oddstory:› Terminal Brewhouse:› Wanderlinger:

"If you look at the number of breweries per capita, there's room for more," he said. "But if you come into this market, you need to bring your niche with you."

As they've built their businesses, local brewers have carved out distinct reputations, from the sours and pastry stouts at Oddstory and the lagers and Belgian beers at Chattanooga Brewing to the rock-solid IPAs coming out of Hutton & Smith, Giannasi said.

Just 40 miles up the road in Dayton, Tennessee, however, it pays to be a generalist, said Kirby Garrison, the owner of Monkey Town Brewing.

"We do it all," said Garrison, who opened his brewery in 2015 and quickly expanded into a full-service restaurant that features brick oven pizza, homemade gelato and a pool table. "We didn't have plans for a restaurant, but your market dictates what you do."

With the only brewery in the immediate region, many of his customers are people who come to the rural area to play outside, Garrison said.

photo Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Cory French, left, Ayla Sylver and Hara Paper, in the group Paper Mache, sing one of four songs during Open Mic night on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, at the Wanderlinger Brewing Company on King Street. Sylver is emcee for the Wednesday night weekly event, dubed as a "Reason to Linger," at the Wanderlinger Brewing Company on King Street.

"Most people who like the outdoors also like craft beers and going to breweries," he said.

Garrison also distributes his brews in Chattanooga, sharing them at Heaven & Ale in Ooltewah and at downtown bars including Pax Breu Ruim and Barley.

The thriving brewery scene in Chattanooga gives the traditionally family-friendly tourist destination another element, said Kathryn Winland, who owns Heaven & Ale with husband Joe Winland.

"Breweries offer a more rounded experience to visitors in our city," she said.

If anything threatens to flatten this frothy trend, it's not a saturated market for local brews - it's changing drinking habits and calorie-conscious consumers, Giannasi said.

"Some people are cutting out beer and transitioning to wine or hard seltzer," he said. "We don't have a local hard seltzer. There's a lot of money in that category."

Contact Mary Fortune at or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.

Cities with the most breweries per capita

(Breweries per 50,000 people listed in parentheses)1. Portland, Maine (18)2. Asheville, North Carolina (17)3. Bend, Oregon (16)4. Boulder, Colorado (14)5. Kalamazoo, Michigan (10)6. Vista, California (10)7. Greenville, South Carolina (10)8. Portland, Oregon (9)9. Pensacola, Florida (9)10. Missoula, Montana (8)Source: C+R Research