Things are slowly but surely coming together for Marble City Brewing Company.
This past April, word broke that a new brewery and bottling operation was coming to town. Since then, the start-up's founders, Johnathan Borsodi and Adam Palmer, have been working to bring their facility up to the point where substantial renovations could begin. Marble City's building, located on the outskirts of the Old City beside the railroad tracks on East Depot Avenue, is the former home of the New Knoxville Brewing Company, whose doors closed in 2007. In the past few months, the building's been mostly gutted, much of its carpeting, walls, and ceiling ripped out, along with the mold that had invaded it. Pallets of cardboard packaging left by the previous owners are now being carted off, and the large metal casks, which until recently were still half full of long-soured beer, are being given a thorough cleaning by the recently arrived brew master, Jennifer Muckerman.
"We knew it was going to suck, and it's sucked," Borsodi says of the process so far. Without a doubt, there's still a lot of work to be done to bring the building up to code. But with their eyes on a mid-October/early November debut of their first product—possibly a pumpkin ale in time for the Oct. 16 Brewer's Jam—Borsodi, Palmer, and Muckerman are looking to the more enjoyable side of opening a brewery.
Having a master brewer around helps. Hired in May, Muckerman, 39, rode into Knoxville this past weekend on her motorcycle from her native St. Louis, a town steeped in brewing culture thanks to Anheuser Busch (now Anheuser-Busch InBev). Female master brewers are pretty rare—Muckerman says there are about 15 who belong to the Pink Boots Society, a global group dedicated to bringing more women into the brewing and beer-drinking world. "It's kind of like the motorcycle," Muckerman says, referring to the other male-dominated culture she's part of. But, she says, "It's pretty well proven that women have better sensors," meaning they can better identify individual ingredients in brews, a key skill in composing new creations.
Muckerman says her father and grandfather both dabbled in brewing, but she found her way into the business starting as a restaurant hostess at age 16. She ended up going to school to study to airplane repair. "In order to finish school, you got this broken-down helicopter, and your helicopter had to start. If your helicopter didn't start, you didn't pass," she explains.
"Your helicopter didn't start," Palmer jumps in, teasing her as an older brother might.
"No—it started. Shut up!" Muckerman laughs. "It ran like a really shitty lawnmower, but it started." Working in the heat, on the blacktop, convinced her this wasn't the career for her—but the knowledge of hydraulics and pumps would come in handy.
During the mid-'90s, as the craft-brew craze was spreading, the restaurant owner she'd worked for opened a brew pub called Trailhead Brewing Company, and she worked her way up . Then in March of this year, she graduated from the Siebel Institute of Technology & World Brewing Academy's master brewing program, a prestigious brewing program in Chicago. Shortly after, Borsodi and Palmer offered her the job, and she says she couldn't pass up the chance for creative license with a start-up in a new town. "I guess I'm a Volunteer now," she says of Knoxville. "I love it. There's so much to do."
One thing that will present a challenge is the fermentation setup. "We have open fermentation, which is really exciting," Muckerman says. This is more common in Europe, she says, because Europeans prefer the "funky" results this process sometimes yields. "Everything has to be very precise," Muckerman says. "Otherwise, you'll get a good beer, but it won't be the beer that you started out to make." Muckerman's mother is from London, so she has the affinity for funky beers in her blood, but she's never tried open fermentation on commercial level. "It's a little more of a challenge," she says. "Sanitation is just paramount." With 25 barrel casks, contamination can be costly.
As far as flavors, Muckerman says she plans on producing a pale ale, an amber, a raspberry wheat, and a honey wheat—the honey wheat likely arriving next summer once she's found a local honey provider. She wants to make use of locally grown ingredients, particularly hops, as much as possible.
In addition to having Muckerman on board, the owners have now secured a logo. Like Marble City's name—a throwback to the history of Knoxville and its extractive industry—the inspiration for it is local: It comes from the old Marble City saloon on Central Avenue. T-shirts will be forthcoming.