Moccasin Bend Brewing Company is located in the basement of a St. Elmo building used during WWII for K-ration packaging. The mortar between the bricks shows, and the ceiling's cedar planks can prove a little intrusive of the overhead light.
The Tennessee Avenue brewery and tasting room runs a bit like your favorite uncle’s basement. Business partners Chris Hunt and Greg McCort hobnob with customers. Hunt’s wife is often pouring beers behind the bar.
His son is often in the office watching Disney movies, and the family’s friendly dog is just as often roaming the room. There’s a foosball table and a light-up jukebox in the corner. The stage features local musicians, including an Irish music circle on Sunday.
The brewery equipment is located on the way to the restrooms, giving patrons an inside glimpse into how that New South Chocolate Stout or the Unbalanced IPA made its way from loose hops and malt to their pint glass.
But make no mistake, Hunt and McCort like it that way, and so do the crowds of devoted MBBC fans and drinkers.
“I think people are surprised by the diversity of the beer, but once they get familiar with us and the beer, they can understand our creative process better,” Hunt said. “We’re serious, but we want to have a good time with the customers.”
The evolution of the home brewer
The brewery began as a few different ventures. McCort owned the building, and as a consummate multi-business owner, was using it for a brew-on-premises business to cater to home brewers looking to move their system out of the kitchen or garage.
Hunt, Duncan Gray and Courtney Tyvand were all members of the Chattanooga home brewer club, the Barley Mob Brewers. Working first with Gray and then adding Tyvand in the mix later, Hunt and his fellow beer enthusiasts were interested in a business model that avoided the bottling process at all costs.
As Hunt explained, there is a process a home brewer typically progresses through. First, he boils syrup on the kitchen stove, and his kit consists of plastic buckets. He then moves to glass carboys and maybe even outside to the garage. Next, he might switch over to all-grain brewing, and somewhere along the way, the task of filling individual bottles becomes too much of a pain.
The home brewer switches to kegs.
Hunt admitted that he and his compatriots set out to pursue off-site sales through kegs without understanding the beer industry. The route of learning the majority of the ins and outs of the beverage world led them to one conclusion that Chattanooga is all the richer for: MBBC needed on-site sales, too.
Thus, the tasting room was born.
McCort began playing a larger role. Gray and Tyvand made their own exits. Now, Hunt and McCort man the business and the on-site pub, which is a true tasting room. There are no other beverages available but MBBC brews. Curious patrons can sample pours from the eight to 10 taps before selecting their pint, and each sample is accompanied by a thorough explanation of the beer, its brewery process, and its taste and style.
“That’s something that nobody does,” McCort said, referring to the plethora of beers always available at MBBC. “Most people have five to six [beers on tap], but that’s what our reputation is.”
The evolution of the nanobrewery
The Brewers Association, a national brewers organization, reports that, in 2011, 250 breweries joined the ranks of America’s craft brewpubs, microbreweries and regional craft breweries, which are 1,063, 789 and 88 strong, respectively.
MBBC considers itself a nanobrewery. Hunt said that Tyvand was the first to style to operation as such, and at the time, the group thought he had coined the term for the small production brewery attached to a pub or tasting room.
Having the brewing system right off the pub allows Hunt and McCort to give anyone who is interested an in-depth tour of the St. Elmo facility. Though part of the fun is marveling at the copper tanks, the refrigerator of ingredients, the tools and the collection of kegs, the tour is also about sharing the love and knowledge of beer.
“Anyone who asks gets a tour,” McCort said. “It can be as in-depth as they want—if they keep asking questions, I’ll keep answering them.”
A trip to MBBC is a worthwhile investment of an evening that will involve samples, flights of beer and hourlong conversations about craft brewing. On tap now are the core brands—Belgian double Ded Ned; New South Chocolate Stout; witbier St. Elmo Smartass; traditional German dark wheat beer Homeslice Dunkelweisse; and West Coast IPA, the Unbalanced IPA.
Additions to the menu may include the Smoky Mountain Porter; the single hop IPA, Centennial X5; the Sour Ned, a sour take on the core namesake beer; the Baloo Brew, a tropical Thai-infused Belgian wheat; the Rockin’ Chakra, a black IPA; and the Golden Rod, a Belgian strong.
Hunt explained that he often begins with the name and then builds the beer around its moniker. The Rockin’ Chakra materialized on a trip back from Atlanta. Hunt knew he wanted to try a black IPA and liked the hard and soft sounds that the name brought together. Similarly, the beer pairs the hoppiness of an IPA with the darker notes of a porter or a stout, for which Hunt drew some inspiration from a Roggenbier.
The complexities of MBBC recipes show through in the developed, layered tastes of each brew. In fact, the St. Elmo brewery is the only brewery in town churning out high-gravity beers.
“We have the reputation of being the most creative brewery in Chattanooga, period, and so I think our customer base is extremely devoted,” Hunt said. “That’s why our motto is, 'Keep Moccasin Bend weird and weird is good.'”
Besides the tasting room, MBBC beer is in the tap rotation at Tremont Tavern, O’Heiney’s, Fork & Pie, Brewhaus, Urban Stack and Community Pie.
Hunt and McCort are investigating more locations for off-site sales and the possibility of having food trucks stop by the brewery during tasting hours.
MBBC is open Thursday through Sunday, with service running 6 p.m. to late evening on Thursday, 6 p.m. to midnight on Friday, 1 p.m. to midnight on Saturday and 2 to 8 p.m. on Sunday.