The Neighborhood Brewery For Everyone 

By: Rob Shomaker

There’s something familiar here. Each time I enter the Last Days of Autumn, while the walls may be made of cinder block and the floor of concrete, there’s a warmness. Pictures of trees, leaves and trucks adorn the dark green walls, alongside antique beer paraphernalia and a shelf full of games. Mismatched tables and chairs are all around, as well as a few TVs for the obligatory autumn sport – football.

The bar boasts 15 ever-rotating taps that today have IPAs, Berliner Weisse and everything in between. As impressive as those taps are, they may very well be overshadowed by the massive pecan bar top, 5 pieces in a U shape — thick, colorful, deep and captivating. Outside the patio has lights strung about, tables, chairs and a wooden stage at the bottom of the parking lot which, as luck would have it, acts as a perfect amphitheater. There is a home-like quality that is emphasized even more by the faces I often find here. It’s not uncommon to see children running about on a Saturday afternoon as families gather to play, socialize and share a pint for just a moment of pause in this ever-busy world that consumes us.

 

In November of 2014, Mike Frede reached out to me via my blog, KnoxBeerSnobs.com, to invite me and my other half in blogging, Don Kline, to try out a few of his beers and hear about his plans to open a brewery. Don and I met Mike, his wife, Tracy and his close friend Lee Strange at a little spot north of town. While I remember his beers being clean and true, I mainly recall his energy, passion, drive and enthusiasm. They had what it took; they were going to open a brewery.

Perhaps it all began in the mid-90s when Mike’s father gave him a homebrew kit for Christmas. Mike said it was just one of those hobbies that stuck. I had a closet full of bottles, he tells me. I would brew and drink a few, then move on to something else. He eventually settled into the styles he preferred; blondes, pale ales and IPAs. He also mixed in some wheat beers and Belgian ales as those were Tracy’s preferred styles.

While Tracy is quick to share how much Mike loves brewing, there’s more to the why behind this brewery. Mike’s background spans from transportation to culinary, even including attending the culinary program at Walter State while working at FedEx. Over the course of 8 years at several employers, Mike went through multiple layoffs due to merges and acquisitions. He decided he no longer wanted to be dependent on others for his family’s future. At the same time Mike and Tracy found themselves immersed in the beer community, people from all walks of life who were involved in an open and engaging community. The stars began to align.

It was this same open community that helped seal the deal for the couple as it was a trip to Colorado that finally convinced Tracy that this was the path forward. People were so open with us, recalls Tracy. They went from brewery to brewery and asked owners, brewers, bar tenders about their story, what they learned and why they were doing what they were doing. They repeated this same adventure in Asheville a short time later which provided further guidance and solidified their plans.

Shortly after a trip to Charlotte to see the band Leftover Salmon, Mike and Tracy sat on their patio as the band’s songs played in the background. The two were discussing a name when Last Days of Autumnbegan to play. They both knew the name of the song was a perfect reflection of where they were in life; their eldest having graduated, their youngest a junior in college. They were in the empty nest stage of life and if they were ever to create something on their own, it was then.

As it is for many who travel down this path, the road was long with many setbacks, delays, twists and turns. After looking at countless locations, 808 East Magnolia became an option. It was large enough, industrial, a blank canvas in many ways with options to grow. There were, of course, challenges with codes and the design and after some lost time (and lost funds,) Mike and Tracy found the right people to push the job forward; Brent Honeycutt took the vision, ran with it and within 6 months, there was beer in the fermenters and the tap lines. The doors were open.

The crew at Last Days of Autumn is a close knit family. Head Brewer Daniel Delph has certainly made his imprint on the brewery. He’s a great match for Mike, Tracy shares. While I like the IPAs and blonde ales, Daniel enjoys sours and the darker beers, adds Mike. We make a great team. We’re fortunate to have him. He’s part of the family now. Daniel is known in the craft beer community for his technical aptitude. Mike shares that he can create a recipe and Daniel can quickly see what needs to be adjusted, then make it happen.

Both of Mike and Tracy’s sons are also part of the brewery. Stewart can often be found assisting with the morning brews and Alex is a frequent friendly face behind the bar, on deliveries and at special events. Close friend Lee Strange is also a familiar face as he has been a part of the brewery from the beginning and can often be found behind the bar.

Beer, bands, homemade food on the menu, kids, dogs on the patio — the arms of Last Days of Autumn are open to all. This family serves only the best and it shows by the accolades on their wall, the patrons that come through the door and the smiles on their faces. While this isn’t a brewery with grand aspirations, Mike hopes to one day graduate from a 3 barrel system to perhaps a 7 or a 10 barrel. The beer will stay local though, amongst friends.

Perhaps the familiarity of Last Days of Autumn that I sense is more familial in nature. Being at Last Days of Autumn is very much like being in your buddy’s basement, garage or backyard. Everybody is welcome here, Tracy tells me – and she means it