Garr Schwartz’s guest bedroom is stacked with kegs, siphons, coils and gauges. In the adjacent bathroom, 60 gallons of fermenting beer emit strong fragrance of sugar and yeast.
Schwartz acknowledges the chaos.
“Brewing beer was not always my wife’s favorite hobby of mine,” he says.
But this summer, with the help of his longtime friend and business partner, Christian Spears, Schwartz will get his beer out of his Franklin bedroom and into a Nashville brew house. Their combined effort, TN Brew Works, will open a 25-barrel brew house on Ewing Avenue, just blocks away from the new Music City Center.
More than 15 years ago, Schwartz and Spears worked at the now-defunct investment bank Lehman Brothers in New York City, and the high-stress work and heavy-hitting hours almost made them bitter, unfriendly co-workers. “Instead, we became drinking buddies,” Spears laughs.
At the start of their friendship, they never planned on making a business out of their mutual love for beer. But in 2005, Lehman Brothers transferred Schwartz to Nashville. Back in his hometown, he developed a knack for home brewing. Though he started with a small, 2.5-gallon stew pot, Schwartz quickly upgraded to a 5-gallon, 11-gallon, and then a 22-gallon pot. He used freshly ground coriander, orange zest, and extra special bitters.
The result was “approachable by a novice palate but appreciated by a sophisticated palate,” Schwartz says.
And by the time Spears visited Nashville in 2010, neighbors were offering to pay Schwartz for his concoctions. That’s when the former finance experts started to crunch the numbers.
“You don’t just follow your fancy, especially when you have a wife and a son,” Schwartz says. “And I didn’t want to ruin a good hobby. But we talked about it, and we looked at every angle very methodically. I thought, if I’m going to commit my life to this, and before I follow my dreams, it has to make sense financially.
“But the barriers to entry were much higher than we think a lot of people had realized.”
Schwartz and Spears explain that Tennessee has one of toughest tax laws for craft brewers. Even with Tennessee’s recent Beer Tax Reform Act, Spears says, there were still state and federal laws to consider. Still, the two soldiered forward, scaling each financial hurdle. All the while, Schwartz perfected his recipes. And the beer, they say, will make it all worth it.
Schwartz is particularly proud of two brews: Basil Ryeman, a Farmhouse Ale that employs a subtle basil infusion to awaken earthy and spicy notes, and the Extra Easy Ale, with a lighter taste.
“At our tastings, so many times people try our beer and say, ‘I didn’t know this was beer!’ ” Spears says. “Once you know there’s a difference in quality, you don’t go back.”