Johnson City Brewing Company

Story and Photography by Rob Shomaker, Certified Cicerone®

It all began quite innocently. Eric Lantham joined his wife, Kat, in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia. In an effort to connect him with the community, they began hosting monthly gatherings where Eric would share his homebrew. The Peyton Street Beer Club was formed. “We’d be in a movie theater and he’d engage someone,” Kat recalls, “and he’d say, ‘We do this thing once a month, do you want to come?’ and they would show up. Eric is the kind of person that joins people together and makes them feel good.”

When the couple messaged the monthly group asking if they wanted to join a startup brewery, the response was overwhelming. Before they went to bed that night, they had hit their capital goal. “We looked at each other and said, ‘I guess we’re going to do this!’” Kat shared.

In 2014, Johnson City Brewing Company was born on a 1-barrel system that was spun up on nights and weekends inside a space that doubled as a tasting room. The logo for the brewery contains a gas lamp that serves as a gentle nod to the co-owners in Winchester, Virginia, who helped make it all possible.

Johnson City Brewing Company is known for their creative approach to beer. Eric’s approach revolves around exploring flavors and determining how they could be incorporated into a beer. Examples include a carnival series of several beers that included a habanero bacon bomb, a kettle corn beer, a deep-fried snickers beer, a cotton candy, and a corn dog beer.

“They were great beers, except for the corn dog,” Kat laughs. “It tasted like a corn dog, but that’s not what you want in a beer!” There was also a donut series that went quickly, and a series devoted to Girl Scout cookie flavors that also helped raise money for the local Girl Scouts. There are also sorghum-based beers for those that are gluten-free, ciders, and fun seasonal series. There’s something for everyone and frequent new creations that keep people coming back. Behind each beer there’s also a story, as there is so much of Eric and Kat in everything they do.

While Eric acts as the creative force and the producer, Kat makes it all happen. “She’s the one that focuses on the details from events to the books,” Eric says of Kat. “Kat makes the engine of Johnson City Brewing Company run.”

Just a short drive from their tasting room on East Main Street in downtown Johnson City is the next chapter. In a former night club, construction is in progress, plans have been made, and Eric is at the helm of the 7-barrel system. Just to the right of the new brewhouse sits the 1-barrel system that began it all. “We still use it,” he notes.

The construction on the property will continue with a tasting room, a stage, a patio, an event space, and eventually, down the road, a kitchen. For now, the focus is on the beer. Elements of the new space can also be found in the East Main Street location. The brewhouse now sits where the old stage once was. The wood was repurposed for table tops. The pipes from the old sprinkler system now serve as kick rails at the bar. These elements blend wonderfully with other local elements from the community. On the counter there are products from a local bee keeper, reclaimed local barn wood in the bar, and local art on the walls.

Johnson City Brewing Company continues to push the same tenets that Eric and Kat put forth with the Peyton Street Beer Club. The space they have created is one where people can connect with one another; where they feel like they belong. It’s a place where newcomers to the area can connect, bring their dogs and children. Small touches beyond the décor give evidence that they mean it. From a cooler in the corner that contains apple sauce and juice boxes to a water dish out front for furry friends.