#55 – Saw Works Brewing Company in Knoxville, TN

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On the afternoon of Thursday, 2/20/14, we made the short drive from the library to Saw Works Brewing Company in Knoxville’s warehouse district where we met with their sales manager – Knoxville native and graduate of the local University of Tennessee – Will Sherrod. As necessary before any tour of a brewery, we began in ‘The Mill’, the company’s taproom, and started off with a taste of the current flagships – the English Pale Ale and Brown Ale. The business was started by President and Co-Founder, Adam Palmer, in partnership with his cousin, Johnathan Borsodi, after Adam moved to the area from Chicago in 2009. Saw Works is the city’s only current production brewery and is in a building that once housed the region’s largest industrial saw blade sharpening company, Wallace Saw Works. The brewery wanted a name that provided a sense of place and began operations in 2010 as Marble City Brewing Co. After a legal battle was instigated by Marble Brewery in Albequerque, NM, the company started over in May 2012 and rebranded themselves under the current name. This rebranding included a fresh start with a new beer line-up from a new brewer, Dave Ohmer, who had 10 years of experience brewing at Woodruff Brewing Co in nearby downtown Knoxville. With a focus on traditional English styles, their current motto is “Traditional beers brewed for today”, however, the brewing team also experiments quite a bit as I will discuss later. They made use of the equipment left by the previous tenants, New Knoxville Brewing Co, which was in operation from 1996 to 2007 and left behind the 25 bbl brewhouse that is the first we have seen utilizing insulation via two layers of brick.

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Aside from the two flagship beers, the brewery also provides some seasonal brews which, during our stop, was the Chocolate Porter. During the summertime, a session IPA utilizing Zythos and Warrior hops, Hop Battle, was in offering. Certainly keep an eye out for the Rocky Hop IPA which should be entering the year-round lineup in the near future. The Whipsaw series is a new addition, making use of spot purchased, or not under contract, hops and grains to create small batches for limited release. The beers will always be different, providing the brewers a creative outlet, and started off with a Black IPA. Offering another opportunity for experimentation is the Rough Cut Series which was implemented about midway through last year. Every Friday the brewers and involved brewery volunteers can make use of the 1 bbl pilot system to create new beers for the taproom. These beers can serve as a bit of research and development as feedback is taken from the taproom patrons and our visit saw winter offerings of Mole Stout and Breakfast Stout. Saw Works currently provides kegs to around 125 accounts throughout the Eastern TN region and hopes to can their beers in the future. The brewery also contract brews Flying Hive Honey Rye Ale and one of the Saw Works beers can be found alongside its tap in Tupelo Honey Cafes in North and South Carolina. Another contract brew, Dirty South Brown Ale, is made for the local business, The Causal Pint Craft Beer Market. The brewing staff have already done a big collaboration as well, showing solidarity between SEC (Southeastern Conference) rivals. Last year, Spike from Georgia’s Terrapin Beer Co (located in Athens and home to the University of Georgia) came to Saw Works where he partnered with Dave to create 35th Parallel Ale, named after the 200 year old dispute between Georgia and Tennessee over where the state border should lie, thereby determining access to the waters of Nickajack Reservoir which is fed by the Tennessee River.

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Saw Works also pairs with Century Harvest Farm, sharing spent grain for feed and fertilizer like many breweries. What makes this relationship different is that the grass fed, hormone free cattle who make use of the grains are slaughtered and sold only through the brewery. A membership in this circular affiliation gets one access to the freshest beef possible on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday each month as well as a special growler that entitles them to 45% discount on growler fills. Every Wednesday the brewery hosts a fun run in partnership with Central Flats and Taps under the name of North Knox Beer Runners. Participants will run roughly a mile and a half to the brewery, enjoy a short break with some beer to replenish those lost calories and electrolytes, then run back to the starting point. The group even held a fundraiser, Spectacular Testacular, to benefit Thompson Cancer Survival Center. Saw Works has also hosted silent auctions to benefit First Descents, an organization that provides cancer fighters and survivors the opportunity to travel and empower themselves while exploring the outdoors through a variety of activities. They were previously able to send 12 campers. The brewery makes use of their proximity to UT and hosted a charity car smash this past November. A $20 donation to the Pat Summitt Foundation, the UT women’s basketball coach’s charity supporting Alzheimer’s research and awareness, entitled UT fans to a t-shirt and two swings as a car painted In in-state rival Vanderbilt University colors. This sounds like a great way to get pumped up for a game and help a worthy cause all at the same time.

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The Mill is open Wed-Fri from 4-8pm and Sat 2-8pm with tours offered Fri and Sat at 5pm and 6pm. $10 will secure your place in an extensive tour of the brewery facilities, a souvenir tour pint glass, and the first pour when you make it back to The Mill. The brewers are prone to whipping up a cask every now and then for their accounts or for special events at the brewery. Last year during the holidays they offered both a peppermint and coconut cask version of their seasonal chocolate porter. Definitely keep an eye out for these opportunities to try some delicious new beers or stop in anytime during taproom hours to provide valuable feedback on the Rough Cut Series. Saw Works is definitely working to put Knoxville on the craft beer map. Thank you to Will for taking so much time out of his day to speak with us (rather than getting properly stretched and mentally prepared for the North Knox Beer Runner’s event), to the brewery staff for being so welcoming, and to Cynthia for setting everything thing up.

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Author: Brandon Wurtz

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[L-R: Michael, Will, Me]

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