Devin Rutledge, Depot Street Brewing

Story and Photography by Rob Shomaker, Certified Cierone®

Jonesborough, Tennessee is known as the oldest town in the state. Main Street is adorned with historical buildings and small porches and sprinkled with notes of reds, browns, and greens.

Just a short walk from Main Street, beside the train tracks, sits Depot Street Brewing. The brewery looks like a converted barn, but, upon entering, the all familiar aromas of a brewery come to life. A quick glance reveals small touches of creativity and artistry – from the wonderfully large, rough wood used to construct the building in a traditional manner with pegs to the way the doors open and close. There is more going on here than meets the eye.

Nine years ago, Michael Foster, the founder of Depot Street Brewing, needed a delivery driver. Through the grapevine, Devin Rutledge found out about the opportunity and stopped by the brewery. The next day Michael offered him the job. Today, Michael is enjoying retirement while Devin and his wife, Tanya, are enjoying sole ownership of Depot Street Brewing.

Six months after Devin started working at Depot Street, Michael brought him into the brewhouse and “let him go,” Devin says. A 10-barrel sits in the brewhouse. It’s a Bavarian brewing system from Hungary that took Michael a year to set up and get just right. After a few minor learning curves, Devin learned the system. He quickly mastered Depot Street’s mainstay beers, and in the last few years, Michael gave Devin more creative freedom, at which point, masterful stouts, explosive IPAs, and creative sours began to emerge.

Brewing and selling beer in Tennessee in 2004 was challenging, not only with the legal ramifications, but also in convincing both retailers and consumers to purchase the product. While beer was being brewed, there was no tap room initially. Depot Street Brewery could sell growlers. In 2011, a formal taproom was added.

Selling beer hasn’t been without its challenges though. “We were going blindly into bars,” Devin shares. “There wasn’t a big market for locally brewed beer. Some venues embraced us quickly while others just weren’t interested.”

Devin’s approach to Depot Street Brewing stays true to its founder’s intent. “We don’t want to be available to everyone. We want to be available to the right people.”

At 1100 barrels per year, Devin feels that they are where they need to be. He also understands the craft beer market and that beer drinkers often get “tired of the same old, same old,” he says. For those that know Devin, they know he’s not afraid to experiment.

From single hop IPAs to big, roasted stouts, there’s always something new and different on the tap wall. Recently, a Blueberry Milkshake IPA went fast. “I did it as a bit of a joke, honestly,” Devin shares. “There are so many big, cloudy IPAs, so I decided to do something extreme.” The 10-barrel batch was gone in a matter of weeks.

Many know Depot Street Brewing because of their flagship beer, Loose Caboose Lager. It’s a memorable name, a very easy drinking beer, and it even has a larger fermenter dedicated to its production. “We sell a lot of the Loose Caboose,” says Devin.

While he has a reverence and respect for the core beers that people expect from Depot Street Brewing, “It’s never a good idea to pigeon hole yourself,” he explains. “Floyd Mayweather adapts to his opponent in the boxing ring as well as the environment he’s in. Brewing is kind of like that. You adapt.”

Devin certainly adapts to the market and to the ever-evolving palate of the craft beer drinker, but he also has a genuine curiosity around ingredients and their incorporation into a beer.

The future is bright at Depot Street Brewing. While Devin says that, “the paperwork is understated,” when it comes to owning a brewery, the dedication to quality, consistency, and the craft is not lost on him. It’s not often that the same spirit and ethos stays with a brewery when the ownership changes hands. As a train rumbles past, “not much has changed,” says Devin. However, it’s evident that the creativity continues to compound at Depot Street Brewing.