Lee “Ozzy” and Pamela Nelson are on a mission to open a commercial brewery right here in Murfreesboro. Below, the couple tries out their keg-o-rator, a modified refrigerator for kegs of beer. (Photo by M. Hudgins)
Beer has been brewed and consumed since Biblical times, and now it’s coming a little closer to home.
Lee “Ozzy” and Pamela Nelson are on a mission to open a commercial brewery right here in Murfreesboro.
“He’s been home brewing for 18 years, well, since we first got married,” Pamela said of her husband.
“We thought this might be an exciting challenge,” Ozzy continued.
The couple has transformed their garage into a mini-brewery of sorts, complete with an impromptu fermenting chamber, and planted a backyard garden of hops plants.
Most noticeable is the older model refrigerator with four draft spouts coming out of the door. To the right, a dry erase board with the names 111, ‘Boro Blonde, Angry Redhead and Evil Octopus numbered one through four. These beers are constantly being perfected, including one another, Velvet Hustle, a pale ale.
“We want to make beer that you want to drink more than one of,” Ozzy said. “It’s an easy-to-drink, balanced beer.”
Pamela told of one time when a batch of beer began to spill over.
“I yelled, ‘You’ve got a mayday over here!’” she said. “And the name stuck.”
Such was the birth of Mayday Brewery, which the Nelsons hope to open by next year. They plan to do things a little differently than other breweries, beginning with cans rather than bottles.
“It’s the way of craft beer,” Ozzy says, pointing out that oxygen and light can affect bottled beers.
Aluminum cans are also lighter, which translates into cheaper shipping and quicker cooling (doesn’t everyone like ice cold beer), and allows for more convenient recycling.
The Nelsons featured their brews at The Taste of Music City and ended up emptying three kegs worth into the bellies of attendees.
Their hope is to open a 30-barrel production brewery, which would produce some 405 cases of beer per batch, and feature four to five of their drafts with a couple of seasonal options.
So far Mayday Brewery has 111, a light beer with only 111 calories, ‘Boro Blonde, a blonde ale, Velvet Hustle, a pale ale, Angry Redhead, a red beer, and Evil Octopus, an India black ale.
While Ozzy created the craft beers, he won’t be the head brewer; that position has been filled by a brewer in Chicago, who will make the move once the business is further along.
The company currently has 10 investors – some from Smyrna and Nashville and a couple from other states – and will be governed by a board of member-elected directors.
The idea of crafting brews isn’t a novel concept and actually reached Nashville years ago with the opening of Yazoo, Blackstone and Big River.
However, the industry has exploded rather recently, according to Michael Semich, president of Mid-State Brew Crew, which meets monthly at Liquid Smoke in Murfreesboro.
“This is new territory, still,” he said. “Craft brewing only represents 5 percent of total beer consumed in America … but it is a movement that is really picking up. It’s the largest growth industry in America and has been for the last two or three years.”
“In my own memory from I when turned the age of 21 – it was only 11 years ago – the craft brewing in Murfreesboro was nonexistent. You had to work really hard just to find a Sierra Nevada. Now you go into Kroger, and you can get a beer brewed 30 miles away – Yazoo.”
Semich also pointed out that eight different brewery start-ups are looking for homes in Nashville.
“The amount of breweries in Middle Tennessee is set to quadruple in the next year or two,” he said.
But how do you get from home brewing to commercial brewing?
Semich likened it to “going from driving a Prius to driving a tractor-trailer.”
“One of the dreams of every home brewer is to open their own brewery,” he said. “It’s a tremendous amount of work, what with legal wrangling and proper permissions.”
But if, and when, Mayday Brewery is launched in Murfreesboro, Semich seems to think it could do well.
“(The industry) has been ignored by a lot of people, but there is a big community for craft beer in Tennessee, if you can play to that community,” he said. “Craft brewing in Middle Tennessee can be huge, if not only for our access to good water, because 75 percent of America is two shipping days away.”
Tennessee certainly isn’t California, which is known for its beer and wine production, but Semich says Rutherford County is full of craft beer advocates.
“Once you realize what you can actually get, above and beyond standard American lager, you get excited,” he said. “You go out to get a craft beer to enjoy it. It really brings the artistic side of a many-thousands-year-old tradition back to where it ought to be.”
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