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Beer industry brews up good business in Knoxville

For the past decade, the Scruffy City's beer industry has exploded from just a handful in 2013 to dozens today.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — What started out as a grassroots collection of brewers a decade ago has turned into a multi-million dollar industry for the city.

It seems like no matter where you go in Knoxville there's a place to have a beer.

For the past decade, the Scruffy City's beer industry has exploded from just a handful in 2013 to dozens today. The growth hasn't gone unnoticed.

In February, a Johnson City-based brewery established itself in Knoxville.

"This is a project that's two years in the making, and we are super excited that we're able to finally open our doors and really welcome the community into this North Knoxville location," said Jennifer Podhajsky, CEO of Yee-Haw Brewing Company.

That excitement translated into sales for Yee-Haw.

"Probably about 60 kegs worth of kegs kicked over the weekend. It was a lot," said Chris Meadows, Yee-Haw's brewmaster.

Meanwhile, business is going so well for some breweries that they're expanding their reach.

Knoxville-based Xul Beer Company received critical acclaim for its work, picking up a gold medal at the World Beer Cup in 2022.

That kind of pedigree brings growth from adding on space at its home base on East Fifth Avenue to a new location out west.

"We're expanding into Hardin Valley, taking over the old Casual Pint location. So we just think the West Knoxville area is kind of underserved in craft beer. I mean, there's some great breweries out there, but it's not many," said Brad West, owner and co-founder of Xul Beer Company.

In Hardin Valley, Xul will be joining national award-winner Orange Hat Brewing Company.

Last fall, it picked up a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Orange Hat has built such a strong presence in the last three years that a co-founder said it's time to go east.

"We want to go to areas that don't have craft beer, that might be a craft beer desert. So we are expanding into an area here in East Knoxville that they don't have craft beer," said Rodney Ramin, co-founder of Orange Hat Brewing Company. "And we want to be able to impact that community the same way that we, and other craft breweries, have impacted communities such as East Knoxville."

The breweries' growth is attracting new business too, like the Nashville transplant, Prince's Hot Chicken.

"Prince's Hot Chicken is the first and the best Nashville hot chicken and so we're excited to be able to partner with them again. It's a great complement to hanging out and having beer and so it just provides more food options for people to find discover and enjoy," Podhajsky said.

Pouring a drink is pouring money into the local economy.

According to the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce, the breweries in the Scruffy City generate over $115 million every year and have created more than 300 jobs, while bringing new life into parts of the city.

"If you look north of Central Avenue, that whole corridor has kind of revitalized with some craft breweries. You look, Sutherland Avenue has seen some growth and revitalization because of some breweries popping in there. Certainly the south waterfront in South Knoxville. Downtown, Old City is experiencing growth," said Doug Lawyer with the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce. "It's interesting because it's happening in all areas of Knoxville right now, it's not just in one geographic location."

As for Knoxville's beer boom, business owners believe the best is yet to come.

"I hope the beer industry continues to grow. I think beer helps to create a sense of community, whether it's local flavors and tastes, whether it's places like a tap room, but it really is a conduit for bringing people together over things that they're passionate about," Podhajsky said.

The Chamber of Commerce also said businesses like breweries not only help add to the quality of life in the city, but they attract more people from outside of Knoxville to come and set up shop in East Tennessee.

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