“Put out good beer; everybody likes you,” Bailey Spaulding, co-owner of Jackalope Brewing, told me as we pick at the pieces of some saran-wrapped cheese from The Bloomy Rind.
It’s a sentiment Spaulding and friend/co-owner, Robyn Virball, both felt once they opened their doors in Nashville back in 2010. And, it’s true; who’s going to hate on two smiling girls pouring you freshly brewed craft beer?
Jackalope was the first female owned brewery in the state of Tennessee, and even now, two years later, it’s still one of only a dozen or so breweries in the country that is owned by women. (Although, to be fair, Steve Wright is a kind, hardworking, and talented brewer who also shares a stake in Jackalope). It was a big deal when they opened their doors — people had trouble wrapping their heads around the idea of a brewery run by two people with breasts.
Except that’s not the point.
It’s not that these two women have somehow managed, despite their estrogen, to open a functioning brewery; it’s that they are making consistently good beers in a town that (still) has a severe lack of craft brews.
“I moved out here in the fall of 2006, and there wasn’t a lot of beer at that point in Nashville. And there wasn’t a lot of craft brew coming in from other states either. There really wasn’t a lot of craft beer [at all] so I started homebrewing,” Spaulding said. She fell in love with homebrewing and started mixing up her own recipes, testing them on friends and taking the bad batches to parties.
A Vermont native, Spaulding came from a place with a rich beer history and “grew up” enjoying a lot of East Coast micro and nano brewery batches.
“The most breweries per capita of any state are in Vermont. I think we have a brewery for every 20,000 people,” Bailey said, going on to explain that Vermont and Nashville are pretty much the same size, with Vermont having some 30 breweries and Nashville having, well, quite a few less than that.
Soon after her arrival, Spaulding realized that needed to change. She enlisted the help of a friend she’d made while studying abroad in Scotland (Virball), and the two agreed to give this whole mess a shot in Nashville.
“I had gotten the feeling of Nashville’s love for Nashville-made things,” she said.
After arriving in 2006 to attend Vanderbilt Law School and making a few observations about the city and its residents, she realized a simple truth.
“There’s a really active social scene; there’s a lot of drinkers, lots of tourism, a little bit of everything —and a lot of people who wanted to drink craft beer and wanted to drink local beer,” she said.
Spaulding is right; Nashville is its own biggest narcissist. It’s a city obsessed with its own culture, its own people, and its own products. Nashvillians hear the word local and they simply lose themselves while they wait in line for whatever it is that came from only ten miles away.
So, the homebrewing continued. Spaulding continued testing out beers and Virball helped work on the more discreet behind-the-scenes things like accounting, number crunching, etc. With a science background and a penchant for experimenting and exploring, Spaulding started testing out different recipes in her house, brewing away her law school days.
“With homebrewing, I think it’s good to experience, because, you can buy a pale ale. You can buy a way better pale ale than you can make….So, do what you can’t buy, basically.”
This is still how Spaulding operates when it comes to trying out beers for Jackalope: Getting creative with the brew recipe for the seasonal beers while keeping a handful of staples always on tap.
“I think it’s really important as you write your own recipes to know what goes into the standard kind of beer styles,” she said —some great advice for aspiring homebrewers and future brewery entrepreneurs .
“[Jackalope beers are] all based on homebrew recipes, the staples are. For Thunder Ann [the brewery’s standard APA], I had kind of nailed down the malt profile, and I wanted to decide what hops we were going to use,” she said. “So, I brewed two identical kegs except for the hops that we used and then had friends come over and vote on which one they liked better.”
Calling the two kegs Mary Kate and Ashley, Spaulding let her friends do the decision-making. Who better to decide which beer is better than the people who are going to be buying the beer? And no, it wasn’t just a bunch of a girls sitting around painting their toe nails pink and sipping on the beer samples in between episodes of Scandal. And, a visit to the taproom won’t find you in the midst of a vagina-only empire.
“We probably have more women come to our taproom, or at least when we first opened, because there was a lot of buzz about us being a woman-owned brewery. I think we definitely had a lot more women come in, and that’s cool; it’s getting more women into craft beer…”
When Spaulding and I sit down to talk beer specifics, I begin to stand (eh, sit) in awe of her knowledge. Duh, she knows a lot – she’s a brewer. But, there is something still sort of wonderful about having a girl only a few years older than myself tell me about what I’m drinking instead of some pretentious penis holder who looks like he just crawled out of the beer vat.
Spaulding set me up with a tasting with one of their staples, two of their seasonals, and one of the experimental homebrews Spaulding was working on for an upcoming fall rotation.
And so, without further ado, the beers:
Ohmygosh. It’s a hefe that I don’t hate. Unfortunately, I typically can’t stand hefeweizens and find them all to taste vaguely of bananas regardless of whether or not they actually do.
One of Jackalope’s summer seasonals is this strawberry raspberry hefe, which Virball inspired, asking Spaulding to brew her a pink beer for her birthday. (I promise, this is like the girliest this place gets).
The beer uses a different yeast than a traditional hef yeast —a “cleaner” one —which is why its base taste veers a bit from a hefe you might typically drink. And, they use real fruit puree (as opposed to extract), pouring 200 pound bags into each batch.
All that to say, it gives this beer a refreshing, sweet, drinkable taste. For an IPA-purist like myself, it was a relaxing divergence from my usual overload of hops, and I could have easily found myself drinking two or three of these at a summer party/bbq/frat house/sex emporium.
It’s a Jackalope staple: a maple nut-brown ale that has 5 gallons of real maple syrup in every batch. It’s one of those perfectly fall beers that you’re practically required to drink while sitting in a pile of leaves thinking about Thanksgiving.
It’s sweet and nutty, and from all of my experiences with it: consistent.
Dire Wolf IPA
It smells like a hundred flowers shoved in your nose, which means it’s perfect. There are very few IPAs that can do wrong in my book, but the Dire Wolf is one of them. ONLY BECAUSE IT’S A SEASONAL WHICH IS SUPER LAME.
Hoppy and aromatic, it tastes like summer bitterness in just the right way.
Mustard Green White IPA
Okay, this one doesn’t have a clever name yet, and it’s still under experimentation. But, Spaudling grabbed a growler for us (by this time in the day, her boyfriend had joined the tasting) and let us give it a try.
This will be on an early fall rotation, and when you get that bad boy right up to your nose, it literally smells like a salad, but in the best possible way. It’s made with real mustard greens, and it tastes earthy in a shockingly palatable way.
Spaulding warned us that it might taste a bit funky (she’d left the growler in the car overnight and she was still working on the recipe), but it was fresh and balanced, with a strange bite to it that felt healthy as opposed to boozy. It’s a bold recipe, and it works.
But, so is Jackalope. Spaulding and Virball came into this town to make great beer for great people, and they’re doing it. So what makes them different than other breweries? Is it different because they’re girls?
“How’s our beer different? I don’t know? We make different beers,” Spaulding said laughing, taking a sip of the mustard green white IPA.
And she’s right, they do.