It’s hard not to reflect on my childhood memories of 7am on Saturday morning, watching the Dukes of Hazzard, in syndication of course, pull another one over on Boss Hogg and Rosco P. Coltrane. Somehow the words, “Yee Haw” are wrapped up in that memory. Perhaps it is a truly southern phrase. One of euphoria and excitement that makes it difficult not to smile, just a little, when you say it. While many have questioned the name, it may be a better fit than we think.

I had heard the rumors. A top tier brewer who’s last stop was Lagunitas in Chicago. He had taken that facility from 0 to 300,000 barrels of beer in a matter of months while at the same time overseeing the facility in Petaluma, California. When my good friend in beer, Jeremy Walker, made the leap to Yee-Haw Brewing Company to lead the sales side, I knew it was legit as Jeremy had plenty of opportunities over the years; he chose this one.

Brandon stands at a medium height and build. He carries himself as one who could just as easily tote sacks of grain all day as he could push a pen. Currently, he also lacks the all-too-common brewer’s beard instead opting for the clean shaven look. I was told he could be a little gruff, a little rough around the edges and even Jeremy lovingly calls him “Oscar.” While I had met him once before, I could understand the impression. However, behind that initial impression there was more, a richness, a focus, a determination, a genuineness I couldn’t initially put my finger on.

Brandon hails from Unionville, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia with a background in organic chemistry. However, it was a trip to Prague in 1992 that changed everything for him. Brandon shares that he was staying in a hotel directly across the square from a brewpub. In the mornings he’d walk across the square and order a stone mug of beer to drink while reading the paper. He described it as dark, rich with the flavors of a warm chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven. It was unlike anything he had ever experienced and opened his eyes to the way beer could be.

Brandon Greenwood, Yee-Haw Brewmaster

Brandon Greenwood, Yee-Haw Brewmaster

A few years later, with a Bachelor of Science degree under his belt, Brandon began evaluating whether or not to pursue an advanced degree. He had also been home brewing a fair amount by this time. It was a conversation with his mother that led him to begin looking at brewing schools and in 1994 he selected Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh, Scotland, to pursue a masters in brewing, malting and distilling science. It was in Scotland that Brandon also got his first brewing job, Caledonian Brewing Company. He walked in the door and asked if he could work there while he studied, for free. The gentleman didn’t know quite what to make of this American so he told Brandon to come back at 4:30am and be ready to work. At 4:30am Brandon was at the brewery. Waiting on him was a jumpsuit and a pair of boots. While it was hard, very manual labor, this time had an effect on Brandon’s work ethic and perspective on beer. Working in the brewery also had an additional advantage in that it helped him decipher the thick Scottish accent which he was able to apply in the classroom as well.

“I cried the day I left Scotland,” he says. However, with his studies concluded and Scotland brewing jobs difficult to come by, it was time to come back to the states. Stroh’s in St. Paul, Minnesota was his next stop before returning to the Philadelphia craft beer scene. He setup Nodding Head Brewery and Restaurant and spent 5 years there before an opportunity at Genesee Brewery presented itself. Brandon spent 3 years with Genesee as an assistant brewmaster and technical brewer. He then moved to Mike’s Hard Lemonade providing both brewing and technical services for 5 years. As he tells it, Mike’s Hard Lemonade was a great gig that allowed him a multitude of opportunities. He also added that the focus on quality at Mike’s made an impression on him. While he enjoyed his time there, the travel kept him constantly on the go. That’s when he met Tony Magee of Lagunitas where he spent a brief 2 years building out Chicago and overseeing Petaluma.

Lagunitas was also a great gig, but with a wife, a young child and a travel schedule much more hectic than he had initially anticipated, it was time for a change. Brandon and Joe Baker, who was looking to start a brewery, crossed paths. Joe invited Brandon down to Tennessee to take a look around. Mountains, plenty of fishing, a slower pace of life and southern courtesy helped seal the deal. Brandon was in. While he knew the brewing business inside and out, it was time for his focus on quality of the product to intersect with his desire for a certain quality of life. Johnson City was the place, Yee-Haw was the beer. He adds, “I am all in on this one!”

Screen Shot 2017-01-23 at 5.38.30 PMWe began our visit with Brandon in the brew house which sits just to the left of the tasting room it shares in the historic “Tweetsie” depot in downtown Johnson City. Brandon designed the space to maximize flow, and it shows. Mill, brew house, fermentation, brite tanks, bottling/kegging then the door – all in a line from right to left as we view it. The space is immaculate with everything having its place. Brandon shows us the grain room while touching on the materials used to brew, “garbage in, garbage out,” he says with a smile. “You can’t make a quality product if you don’t start with quality ingredients.” This year the brewery will produce 11,000 barrels of beer with the ability to grow up to 17,000 which, at this pace, will come sooner rather than later.

There is also another element to the brewery that gives it an additional edge; a lab. “That was a condition of my employment,” Brandon says. “We had to have a lab.” Robbie Brooks acts as the QA Manager and as Robbie shows the lab space Brandon casually comments that each batch of beer has 36 separate tests performed on it. I asked for clarification – 36 is the number. While I am uncertain of lab to brewery metrics in the 11K-17K barrel range, I do know how many breweries I’ve been in and how many labs I haven’t seen. A lab is certainly a competitive advantage. Further, with four mainstay beers; Pale Ale, Eighty, Pilsner and Dunkel – going as far south as the Georgia line, as far north as southwest Virginia and as far west as Nashville, the beer has to be right – every time.

We retire to the tasting room where he pours a round of Kolsch. While not one of the mainstay beers, this was a beer brewed specifically for Jeremy Walker’s wedding. “I like this one,” says Brandon. “We may keep it around.” It’s sweet, light, fruity, thirst quenching. Each of Yee-Haw’s beers has a consistency and focus about them that is reflective of the man at the helm. While he may have seemed a bit gruff at first, as we walked through the brewery and I watched him interact with this team the sense of respect that each person has for him was apparent. I am reminded of professors and coaches of my youth who, while I may have been uncertain how to act around them at first, I knew I was in the presence of greatness.

The respect, admiration and appreciation he has for his team is also very apparent as he describes their enthusiasm and their shared commitment to making great, high quality beer. While Brandon may have assembled stainless steel and grain, he’s also brought together a dedicated, focused team who understands his insistence on quality. Quality in the materials, quality in the process, in cleanliness, in the metrics from the lab and in the consumer’s hand. “They make this place a success,” he says. His focus on quality extends further though. “Beer is meant to enhance an experience not be the experience,” he explains. Those experiences often involve other people, like it did during our conversation that August afternoon. While Brandon is diligent in his work, he genuinely cares for his team who makes Yee-Haw possible. He relishes in their success and in the fact that with Yee-Haw his weekends are free. Within 15 minutes he can be with his son, fishing in the mountains.

The right person in the right place can unleash an avalanche of change and create excellent beer. That person is Brandon and that place is Johnson City. I’ll say “Yee- Haw” to that.

Contributed by Rob Shomaker