Photos by Brinley Hineman // Assistant Lifestyles Editor
Tucked away in Nashville’s Germantown and represented only by a simple but bold floral logo on the outside wall, Bearded Iris Brewing strives to cultivate variety through original and artistic beer.
And cultivate variety it does. Named after Tennessee’s state flower, every beer the brewery crafts reflects one of the thousands of iris flower varieties. From a dark English mild called Suspicion to a petit saison dubbed Lady Friend, each of the six beers in circulation has a story and a purpose behind the name.
“Crossing two irises to get color patterns is a lot like crossing hops to achieve a new flavor,” said co-founder and 2011 MTSU graduate Paul Vaughn. “It’s a blending of art and science, just like beer is.”
Opened on Feb. 6 by Vaughn and University of Tennessee graduate Kavon Togrye, Bearded Iris is the culmination of a longtime friendship and a passion for beer. Friends since fourth grade, Vaughn and Togrye, both experienced in brewing, would meet up in Murfreesboro throughout college to spend time together and discuss ideas. One of these ideas was starting their own brewery.
“We’d come back to town and shoot pool and drink beers and just kind of talk about what we’d do if we were going to open a brewery,” said Vaughn. “What we’d like, what we didn’t like, how we’d do things. Just dreaming. It’s cool to actually have it.”
The dream came to fruition in the form of a 10,000-square-foot brewery accompanied by a 1,500-square-foot taproom. The machinery and barrels wound around to a now-empty cooler, previously double-stacked wall-to-wall with kegs before their most recent shipment. Almost the entire establishment is visible through the front door, a conscious decision by Vaughn and Togrye. The open-air interior is designed with clarity in mind; only a low wooden wall and a swinging door separate the taproom from the humming fermenters. Vaughn stressed the importance of customers being able to see exactly where their beer came from.
Decked out with mismatched, bought-over-time furniture, the taproom has a distinctive prohibition-era atmosphere that gives friends a comfortable setting to drink and relax. The prevalence of wooden décor, a glass chandelier, high-backed chairs, tall paintings and sparkling glassware on display harken an old-timey ambiance, a mood that coincides with Bearded Iris’ respect for old-fashioned brewing techniques. Seamlessly integrating classic and contemporary, the taproom also plays host to special “Sunday Funday” events such as Super Bowl parties and bracketed video game tournaments. With patrons sitting just steps from the bar, they’re strongly encouraged to discuss the flavors and styles with the owners to nurture learning and growth within the craft brewing scene.
“Come talk to us and engage with us, because we love talking about beer,” Vaughn said, explaining that they only give out samples instead of flights to ensure the customer stays at the bar and discusses the product. “Education in the craft beer industry is how we can innovate and try new things. If they don’t know what they’re tasting, it doesn’t help anybody.”
And when it comes to discussing beer, it’s clear within minutes that Vaughn can educate anyone on the subject.
“I know a little about a lot when it comes to beer,” he said with a laugh.
A little about a lot might be an understatement, though. When asked about his preferred brew, he was unable to choose a favorite, saying he had spent a lot of time around all of them. He initially said he was partial to Local Color, a bière de garde, and Habit, an IPA, but was able to describe each of the six varieties in detail. Color, body, alcohol content, aroma, style of hops; the beers were described down to the last drop without hesitation, and his enthusiasm and passion for the craft was infectious.
While his interest in brewing was self-driven, he attributes some of his inspiration to his family. With his father a business owner and both sides of his family dabbling in the food and drink industry, Vaughn had a strong foundation for his brewery. He also attributed his success to his Business Finance degree, saying that he was thrilled to be able to combine his education with his love of beer. He looked back on MTSU and Murfreesboro fondly, able to recall specific professors and organizations he worked with.
Despite the brewery’s Nashville location, their beers can also be found in Mufreesboro; the Green Dragon, a Middle-Earth themed pub, is one venue carrying the innovative beers of Bearded Iris. While they currently circulate in Middle Tennessee, they’re soon to expand to Chattanooga with plans to later extend to Knoxville. Music festivals, specifically Bonnaroo, also provide ample opportunity for awareness and distribution. There’s also plans in the works for several styles of beer to come, though their names are being kept secret till their release.
With the expansion and progress of Bearded Iris thus far, it’s hard to imagine the company was run by only Vaughn and Togrye until the founders recently hired their first employee. The stress of owning and expanding the business wasn’t absent, but Vaughn had a simple solution.
“At the end of the day, if you get stressed out, you make beer,” he said with a shrug and a smile. “You can’t really get stressed out then.”
To contact Lifestyles editor Tanner Dedmon email firstname.lastname@example.org.