I still remember the day I met Aaron McCain and Jen Parker. They found me through my blog, Knoxbeersnobs.com, and invited my partner-in-beer Don Kline and me over to hear about their plans to open a nanobrewery, in which they would brew high quality beer in very small batches.

It was a cool evening as we sat on the front porch of their apartment. Aaron never missed a beat as he brought beer after beer for us to sample and discuss. Their excitement was contagious, and Don and I later remarked that the beer was not only polished but incredibly unique. Little did we know the impact that this nanobrewery would have on our East Tennessee beer community in such a short period of time.

The brewery’s name is certainly a point of curiosity as it can raise eyebrows in some circles or cause gentle laughter in others. While the true origin may forever be lost to history, Jen maintains she suggested it as the two brainstormed at the Thirsty Monk in Asheville while Aaron insists that its roots emanate from playful banter between he and a friend during their high school days in which they would often call one another a crafty bastard. Whatever its derivation, the name certainly doesn’t describe Aaron or Jen.crafty-bastard2

Crafty Bastard can be found in what is affectionately known as Emory Place just north of Downtown. The area is buttressed by Central Avenue and Broadway just south of where these two streets intersect. Here you would find an area that could be described as “in transition” as these beautiful buildings from the 1800s are brought back to life. “Vibrant”, “energetic”, and “alive” are simple descriptors of how this little slice of Knoxville feels when the brewery doors are open and beer is flowing.

When you walk in the door, the brewery is open, tall and deep. An aged shade of white adorns the brick walls which proudly bear the scars of time. A record player consistently plays familiar tunes from a bygone time and yet perfectly suited for this place in the here and now. Patrons come and go by foot, bicycle and car. Laughter, celebration, support and sustenance add to the sense of community found here simply through the people who arrive and shake hands or share a hug with one another. Food trucks and community events are regular occurrences as are frequent visits from both patrons’ dogs and children. A monthly artist features her work on the walls and live music is regularly scheduled to add color to an already rich tapestry that has been created in this space. While it has been just over a year since Crafty Bastard began calling this place home, it feels as though it has always been here. Jen is the heart and soul of this vibrant canvas to which Aaron adds his own color in the form of malt and hops.

Roughly 6 years ago Jen presented Aaron with a home brewing kit for Christmas. Little did they know that this was the beginning of a significant adventure in their lives. Aaron began consuming all he could as he researched styles and techniques while seeking feedback on his creations. As he dialed in his various beer styles, he began getting creative with his recipes often deriving inspiration from culinary experiences as he strove to identify curious flavors and whether or not he could naturally recreate them in his beer. At the same time both Aaron and Jen found inspiration from various beer destinationsaround the country. It was during a visit to San Diego while enjoying a beer at Intergalactic Brewing Company, that the two decided they wanted to open their own place. As many brewery owners can attest, the journey from this point wasn’t without its challenges, adjustments and setbacks. However, there were others who believed in their dream and were willing to lend a hand and Crafty Bastard sprung forth.

crafty-bastardWhile there are certainly initial overhead considerations for choosing a nanobrewery over a larger setup, creating a nanobrewery affords Aaron and Jen a fair amount of flexibility. All of Crafty Bastard’s beer is served in-house. “From the time the raw ingredients arrive to the time the finished beer is placed in the glass, we’ve controlled the beer the entire time,” Aaron shared with me. Crafty Bastard can also brew different batches of beer more frequently which allows for a constantly rotating tap list.

Crafty Bastard also regularly looks to collaborate with other local businesses as they brew their beer, specifically through locally sourced produce. Jim Smith of Rushy Springs Farms often provides chili peppers as does Beardsley Farm with beets, muscadines and paw paws. Coffee from Jarrett Vance at Epiphany Coffee Roasters can often be found in a beer on the board and Dan DeRidder, a local mushroom hunter, often swings by with his latest “chicken of the woods” findings which is an edible mushroom found in the area. Aaron enjoys getting to engage with individuals like this as it highlights other local artisans and broadens the spectrum of his creations. He will often go out into the community to locally forage for items such as pine sprigs and bitter oranges.

Aaron readily admits that while fermentation space is limited, half of it is dedicated to IPAs as they are not only one of his favorites but also a best seller. Names like Passionfruit Double IPA, Big Bastard IPA and Tesselation IPA are frequently found on the draft list. Aaron and brewer Jeff Adams use the other half of the fermentation space for other creative beers such as a black gose, Hawaiian BBQ Smoke Pale Ale and an Old Fashioned Ale. They’ve also gotten creative with some beers making several versions such as a gose that came in dry-hopped, cherry and passionfruit varieties. Perhaps one of the most surprising creations was a Flanders-style sour that was aged in a gin barrel. It was similar to commercial examples however the gin barrel added an extra little pop of pepper in the back of the taste – fantastic. Crafty Bastard has also done a number of collaborative beers in a very short amount of time with breweries such as Alliance Brewing Company, Blackhorse Brewing Company and Saw Works Brewing Company. Homebrewers are also welcome collaborators and one brew in particular, the White Wolf Stout, which was brewed with homebrewer Luanne Bourne Rounds, not only won an award but is also still one of the brewery’s highest rated beers on Untappd.

A combination of the location, sense of place and the creativity behind the beer has set Crafty Bastard apart in the East Tennessee beer community. In a day and age where craft beer abounds and breweries open with frequency, a combination of both product and experience are essential in order to stand apart. Through Crafty Bastard’s connection with community, sense of place and eye towards innovative, memorable and quality beer, I know I speak for many when I say we are proud to have this brewery, and the people who are a part of it in our fold.

Contributed by Rob Shomaker