Brewmaster Chris Meadows, Partner-Manager Nick DeVore and Executive Chef Jesse Rossbach, Elkmont Exhange, 745 North Broadway, Knoxville, January 2019
It’s been just over a year since Elkmont Exchange Brewery and Eating House opened its doors. During that time, the business has produced some of the area’s best beer, has seen some turnover and a learning curve among its owners which has produced changes. Those changes have just begun.
On January 14 the business will begin a beer distribution program with over 50 bars already on board. A Tap Takeover at Scruffy City Hall which starts today kicks off the new effort which is headed by Johnny Miller, who has held several positions at Elkmont and is current serving as Sales Director. At the base of the effort is the beer on which the business has built its foundation from the beginning.
Chris Meadows in the current Brewmaster. He and his wife were working at Sweetwater Brewing in Atlanta where he was a brewer when the opportunity to leave Atlanta (something they wanted to do) and to make his own beer at Elkmont presented itself. He’d been brewing for eleven years prior to his arrival at Elkmont where he took the position as Head Brewer a year-and-a-half ago.
He says that where Elkmont has tried to keep twenty-four of their beers on tap at the restaurant, they are now moving toward only supplying twelve while leaving the others for their friends at other local breweries. This takes the pressure off to have so many beers in production at once and allows them to focus on a smaller number while ramping up production to support the new distribution effort, though he promises, “We will still be making crazy beers.”
With fewer beers to produce at any given time, he says it will allow them to focus on making those beers consistently excellent. He said that instead of making more beers because of the demand to have so many, they can focus on “making strategic decisions based on passion.” He says the focus on making unique craft beers that surprise people will continue. He also noted that with their unique (in east Tennessee) forty-barrel foeders made of French oak, they can produce beers that are allowed to mature, like the sours currently aging in those barrels.
Most significant for the restaurant itself, is the realization of the vision of Chef Jesse Rossbach who joined the team just last July. He’s made slow changes to the menu, but he’s wanted to incorporate more pairings while adding more unique offerings to the menu moving beyond simple pub food, though he’ll keep some of that. For his more developed entrees, he hopes to have “flavors that you know, done differently and executed well.” He’s adding flavor to some of your favorites.
He says he’s gotten a lot of requests for healthier entrees and in response, he’s added one entre salad and there will be three more on the upcoming menu. He’s also adding a vegetarian entree that should get demand from non-vegetarians, while making ordering healthy food more straightforward, as opposed to picking and choosing and making special requests as healthy-eating customers have been forced to do from the old menu. He feels, on a simple local level, that a healthier menu will appeal to the neighborhood.
Jesse started his career in Denver and worked in a butcher shop in Aurora, Colorado for two years. He traveled for several years for a company that culminated in three years in Austin, Texas. There he helped open Lonesome Dove and later moved here shortly after the opening of our local Lonesome Dove as the Chef de Cuisine.
He was there for nearly two years before taking a break. Having been buried in his work here, he’d never had enough time off to visit the mountains. After a short break, the opening at Elkmont Exchange offered a chance to be creative and develop his own menu. He says he loves doing that and seeing how people respond and then shaping the menu accordingly.
Another recent change is at the top. Nick DeVore was brought on as a managing partner who says his role is to allow the accumulated talent to do their jobs while he keeps the business end in line. He grew up in Fountain City and worked with his family at Littons. Eight years ago he set out to try new things and see if the industry was really where he wanted to make his career.
He worked with the Regas family for a time, building one of their concepts and opened Echo Bistro as a founding partner. He joined Elkmont in October and has focused on upgrading equipment and giving the staff what they need to succeed. He recognized that the brewery side had much more capacity than was being utilized and set out to maximize it through the distribution program.
I asked Jesse for some examples of new menu items. The salad pictured here features a bed of barbecued black-eyed peas with seared pork belly and grilled lemon salad with bread from Flour Head Bakery. The greens are locally sourced from Green Owl (hydroponic) Farms which exclusively grows for the restaurant.
He’s adding a seared trout dish featuring North Carolina mountain trout, served on a bed of caramelized onion and sauteed spinach and roasted butternut squash with a lemon butter sauce. It’s a dish he introduced using chicken instead of fish at a recent Beardsley Farm dinner, but switched it to fish to have a healthy fish item on the menu. They will continue to have brew-pub favorite fish and chips, their private Vienna Coffee blend, and they have a cocktail and wine program that will be expanded with the new menu.
Lipman Brothers from Nashville are the distributors for the beer expansion and Nick says they have been great to work with. The tap-takeover and introduction of the new beer program will be at Scruffy City Hall because of the Wests, Nick says he’s “spent the vast majority of my adulthood in their establishments, and they have been as good a partner as we could have.” He says they plan a dedicated Scruffy City branded beer to be released in the future.
For the tap takeover starting today and running for the next three days, there will be live music at Scruffy, lots of swag giveaways and they’ll feature their core lineup of beers (which is what you’ll find as they begin distribution): Old Gold, Elkmont Light Lager, Legion of Haze (multi-grain IPA), Recluse Brown Ale and Winter, as well as two food beers showcasing their foeder program.
They see these new moves as a natural progression of the original vision articulated on their opening and they invite you to join them at Scruffy City Hall for the next three nights, to look for their beers on tap at establishments region-wide and to join them at the restaurant starting next Wednesday to begin exploring their new menu.