Pint-sized profit: For Chattanooga’s Hutton & Smith Brewing Co., St. Patrick’s Day green means ‘black’

Photography by Olivia Ross / Matt Warren oversees production for Hutton & Smith Brewing Co.

Hutton & Smith Brewing Co. is always happy to celebrate the green during the month of March.

"For us, it's like Black Friday," says Melanie Kraustrunk, who owns the brewery and taproom with her husband, Joel. "(Retail) stores spend a lot to stock shelves for the season, and March is like that for us. We spend a lot in January and February to make sure we have enough product for March.

"There's St. Patrick's Day, but there's also spring break, and the weather's starting to turn nicer -- people are over the cold. They want to get out and meet up with friends. So we do see a sales spike in March."

The Kraustrunks opened Hutton & Smith's taproom on East Martin Luther King Boulevard in 2015. She says the brewery made about 300 barrels of beer, at 31 gallons per, in its first year. Eventually, she adds, the East MLK location maxed out at about 500 barrels annually.

"Then," Kraustrunk adds, "we started working on a business plan to expand to a production facility." She says their plan contemplated expansion to a production facility in three years. They wound up making the leap after a single year.

"Our demand was such that we were able to meet that goal sooner," she says. "We wanted to take advantage of the momentum we had so we just went with it."

That facility opened on Riverside Drive in August 2017. Kraustrunk says Hutton & Smith produces 5,000 to 6,000 barrels there monthly -- about 10 times what the original location could produce. Between East MLK and Riverside Drive, the brewery makes 259 different beers.

"We make smaller batches, speciality drafts and some one-time bottle releases here (on East MLK)," she says. "We make 10 products a year (on Riverside Drive), and all those are in cans."

And once canned, Hutton & Smith beer is distributed in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. She adds that Igneous, Hutton & Smith's "flagship" IPA (India pale ale), is the top-selling craft beer at Food City locations throughout Tennessee.

"Our first year, we self-distributed in Hamilton County only," she says, adding that Hutton & Smith was named one of the nation's fastest growing breweries of its type by the Colorado-based Brewers Association in both 2018 and 2019.

Matt Warren oversees production for Hutton & Smith. And while he's reluctant to brag on himself, Kraustrunk isn't, describing him as "probably one of the most knowledgeable brewers in Tennessee."

Warren says that while there'll be no green beer in their taproom on St. Patrick's Day, he does have a little something in store for later this year.

"We've got a couple of new sours coming out -- one with boysenberry and another with black currants," says Warren, who adds that he's been brewing for a dozen years. He says that while the typical craft beer needs two to three weeks after brewing, sour, barrel-aged beer can take two to three years.

"So we're planning right now for St. Patrick's Day 2025," he says.

Kraustrunk says it'll take a bit more figuring to map out Hutton & Smith's near-term future.

"The difference between pre-pandemic and post-pandemic," says Kraustrunk, "is that everything costs more post-pandemic. We took two 35% increases in the price of grain last year. Aluminum has doubled and freight is four times as much. Beer is heavy. It costs a lot to ship it.

"So the cost of raw materials has increased, and so has the cost of living," she adds. "We can't raise prices fast enough to meet all those demands, so we're going to keep evaluating. The challenge is to find creative solutions to those problems."