Yazoo Brewing Co. owner/brewmaster Linus Hall never even really wanted to open a taproom. When he first started brewing in 2003 out of a small space in a decrepit former automobile factory north of downtown Nashville, his focus was on who he thought were his primary customers, the bars and restaurants that served his beers. He didn’t want to compete with his retail distributors, and most of all, he wanted to simply focus on brewing the best beer he could.
“I didn’t want to operate a bar,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to stay up until 2:00 in the morning and have to install a bunch of televisions!” It didn’t take long, however, for Hall to realize that the best way to sell his beer was to meet consumers directly and tell them about what he had been doing back there in the dark space in the corner of Marathon Village. Customers quickly took to Hall and his beers, and they returned weekend after weekend to take tours of the brewery and sample his wares.
Before too long, both the crowds in his taproom and the manufacturing needs of their demands exceeded the capacity of his original location, and Hall made the leap to open a much larger production facility and tasting room in the Gulch, an industrial neighborhood that wasn’t much of a tourist destination at the time he moved operations in 2010.
As the neighborhood grew up around him and Nashville residents and visitors alike discovered what was going on inside that attractive taproom with the painted silo marking its location on Division St., Yazoo hit a new gear. Suddenly, Hall found himself in charge of a destination brewery with hourly tours carrying scores of guests through the brewhouse every day. He expanded the hours that the taproom was open to keep up with demand, but still his success came with a price.
“I love meeting with our fans,” he explains. “But we had so many people coming in from states where we don’t even sell our beer in 90% of their markets. We knew they were just tourists who would never buy our beer again.” At the height of Yazoo’s success in the Gulch, Hall made a bold decision. He announced that he was selling the Division St. building and was moving his operations to the north end of the county in Madison along the Tennessee River.
“It was definitely a leap of faith,” Hall relates. “But when we found this spot, it checked a lot of boxes. It was important for us to stay in Davidson County because we’re a Nashville beer. We were looking all around the county before we found this space, and it was just what we needed.”
Conveniently, his distributor Lipman Brothers was also moving into the neighborhood, so that offered some real logistical advantages. “We have access to the major interstates here, and our delivery trucks don’t have to back up through our employee parking lot to pick up and drop off!” As part of the expansion into the 25,000 square foot building (2.5x bigger than their previous location,) Yazoo expanded from one truck dock to three, which should drastically streamline their shipping.
Hall brought all his brewing system with him, including his 40-barrel brewhouse and modern bottling and canning lines from Italy. Strictly by adding the extra elbow room, Yazoo should be able to expand their capacity by about 50%. “We weren’t brewing or packaging around the clock because we ran into production bottlenecks, like getting rid of our spent grain and finding cold storage for packaged products. We’ve added a much bigger walk-in cold storage and raw material space, and we left room for more big tanks,” explains Hall. This would be in addition to Yazoo’s current assortment of 40-, 80-, 120, and 200-barrel fermentation tanks already in place. “We learned some lessons in the old space,” jokes Hall. “This time we cut a hatch in the ceiling where we can drop in new tanks using a crane without having to try to tip them up with a forklift.”
In addition to the manufacturing efficiencies gained from the move, Hall is even more excited about the chance to be part of a neighborhood again. He’s only half-kidding when he says that one of the main criteria he had for a new location was that it be too far from downtown for people to be able to ride a pedal tavern to his taproom. “We wanted to be part of a neighborhood, not tourist-driven,” he shares with a smile. “I wanted the chance to sell beers to customers again, and Madison was hungry for local businesses to come into the neighborhood. They had been burned before and didn’t believe us until they could actually drink a beer in the taproom.”
The new Yazoo taproom is a delightful space, bright and airy, decorated with Mississippi Delta-style quilts and paintings from label artwork created by Hall’s wife Lila. They have doubled the number of taps to 24, and created excellent outdoor space for potential future events, food trucks and just hanging out with friends along the riverside. “This is something we wanted since we started. We see deers and turkeys and foxes, and a few of my guys swear there’s a bald eagle out there. Houses are still affordable out here, and I took my employees into account before we made the move. Most of them say that even though we’re out here on the edge of town, the commute is more convenient,” Hall shares thoughtfully.
Still, the crowds aren’t nearly as big yet on most nights as they were back in the burgeoning Gulch. Hall is optimistic: “We’ll grow the taproom business again. This is an area of town that’s poised to grow. I’m glad we made the move, because it was time. If you’re not passionate about what you do, you’ll probably get burned out.” Based on Hall’s past success as both a real estate prognosticator and darned fine craft beer brewer, it wouldn’t be wise to bet against this visionary.
Yazoo Brewing Company
900 River Bluff Dr.
Madison, TN 37115