600 beers in six years. Just to save you the math: that’s about two beers a week. Two unique beers a week that Crafty Bastard Brewery has put into the world and into our mouths since it opened its doors in downtown north in 2015. Just by the numbers, Crafty Bastard may be the best brewery in Knoxville for experimentation, but there’s no doubt it’s the scruffiest. In its stripped-down nano brew setup, Crafty creates a whole vibe—a celebration of substance over flash (basically the very essence of scruffy).
In all of its brewing, Crafty’s only committed to two mainstays: Hop Candy and Tessellation, both American IPAs. Oh, they have their frequent fliers—Earl Grey Pale Ale, Mayan Chocolate Chili Porter, Big Bastard Double IPA and Imperial Milk Stout to name a few—as well as some unique seasonals like the Picklebier (a Bailey Rose favorite), Pineapple Radler and White Arrow Pine Ale (oh yes, it’s made with real pine sprigs).
But let’s face it, folks. Of 600 beers, there’s less than 20 on repeat. That’s a Whole. Lot. Of. New. Beer. to try on any given week. It’s downright FOMO-inducing. And while that massive number might make it seem like Brewmaster Aaron McClain must be just throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, there is a method to his madness.
Photo from craftybastardbrewery.com
“It all works in trials. We often start by muddling ingredients into different beers to see which beer is the best match for that particular ingredient,” Aaron says. “If the flavors work then we begin to dial in the exact proportions and ratios. Generally, once something actually makes it into a keg it’s pretty tasty.”
We made sure to check and this one was indeed tasty.
Aaron says ‘generally’ because there is an infamous pizza beer they still keep a keg of to hook up as a party joke every once in a while. Another wacky experimentation: the Smoky Mountain Shroom Ale, a beer made to mimic a dish of white-wine braised pork tenderloin with chantarelle mushrooms. Apparently, for better or for worse, it accomplished just that.
“Half a dozen people said it was the best beer they’ve ever had. The same amount say it’s the worst,” Aaron says.
Iteration compliments this experimentation, however, as evidenced by their beer Main Squeeze. Originally part of a series called Stratosphere, it took 18 versions before the Crafty crew settled on a New England IPA they were ready to make a serious commitment to and move in with.
“It’s juicy, fruity, hazy, all the things New England IPAs are supposed to be,” Aaron says. “But this particular batch was not just another number. So, Stratosphere 18 became our Main Squeeze.”
Our aesthetic here at New2Knox is decidedly sunshine-based. As Xul Beer Co.’s social media aesthetic is darker and more, well, skull-esque, imagine our delight when we walked into North Knoxville’s newest brewery (though already known around town for their fruited sours and pastry stouts) and encountered an unexpected airy mid-mod dream.
A bay of floor to ceiling windows graces over half the space and the furniture basically begs to be photographed. I fought the urge to curl up on a gorgeous hunter green sofa and instead, sat down in a (still adorable) chair like a normal grown-up to talk to Brad and Bentley of Xul Beer Co.
“Dark and elegant,” Brad said, describing their vibe. He’s exactly right. The furniture and overall space itself (those windows!) lends to a more elegant aesthetic. On the flip side, details like their front doors (the Xul logo is made out of iron and serves as the hardcore handles), nostalgic art, and faux concrete walls give a nod to the dark side. (You heard that right – faux concrete. Eugenia Almeida of “A New Hue” outdid herself by creating highly believable faux concrete, textured walls, even some faux brick hidden in plain sight.)
From believable brick to unbelievable beer, for Brad West, Bentley Blackshear, and Tara Thacker every single detail of Xul matters… and that mindset has culminated into a really cool brewery. Granted, we’re of the opinion Knoxville has nothing but cool breweries. So what sets Xul apart? Well, among other things, their love for the Scruffy City is paired with major inspiration from a slightly larger metropolitan area: New York City. You can sense that inspo in those aformentioned “details.” The colors, soundtrack (90s hip hop, anyone?), even the beer recipes themselves lean a little Brooklyn.
Xul Beer Co. is willing to push the limits on ingredients (in terms of both types and sheer amount of ingredients), doing whatever it takes to brew the absolute best beer. We’re talking beer you want to write home about and travel across state lines for and stand in a socially distanced line to receive.
I sipped on one of their fruited sours coined “Tech Noir” during the interview and confirm I would write, travel, and stand for that tart raspberry goodness.
In fact, if Bentley (Xul’s head brewer) could be any beer, he’d be the Tech Noir. It’s the beer that took his home-brewing to another level. It has endless combinations of flavors to play with. And best part of all – people just love to drink it. (Again, can confirm.)
If Brad could be any of Xul’s beer, he’d be the HYFR. HYFR stands for “Heck Yeah Freaking Right.” (Except for not “heck” and not “freaking” and just use your imaginations, kids😉). HYFR is the kind of double IPA that initially turned him on to “this kind of craft beer” during his frequent trips to Brooklyn.
What is “this kind” of craft beer? Well, if you ask me, it’s just really freakin’ good. These guys are pushing limits and dreaming big with this new brewery – creating beer you’d travel for in a space that has a little something for everyone. But good news, Knoxville: we don’t have to travel. We get to sit back and enjoy the benefits of Xul Beer Co. right in our own backyard – and skulls or not, that feels like sunshine.