Nashville bluegrass festival

Brewgrass, a bluegrass festival in Nashville hosted at Little Harpeth on May 31, 2014.

Nothing is better than an ice cold beer on a hot summer’s day.  Except perhaps a handcrafted German-style lager that is smooth as mother’s milk.  Situated on the east bank of downtown Nashville’s Cumberland River , Little Harpeth Brewing crafts an outstanding beer. Founders Michael Kwas and Steve Scoville strive to make tasty local beers in a eco-friendly way.  At Little Harpeth the mission is to preserve the past, enjoy the present, and sustain the future of brewing in Nashville, TN.

While sustainable practices is a critical piece of their business plan, the beers also take center stage.  Michael Kwas explained a bit about the history of each one of the fabulous brews.

Steve Scoville at Little Harpeth River Brewery

Head Brewer, Steve Scoville presides over the latest brew.

Kwas notes that they brew German inspired lagers.  Everything they do, they want to keep in mind their Tennessee heritage and how it interacts with the community, whether local or global.  The beer names are even inspired by local attributes.  For example, Chicken Scratch American Pilsner was inspired a brewing style that was popular before prohibition.  Pilsners were made primarily by German immigrants.  As these early Tennesseans were brewing, they could not always rely on the supply chain from Europe.  This meant they could not depend on getting their barley.  What these German immigrants found was the local corn could take the place of barley. The brewers at Little Harpeth used this historical fact as a guide to creating Chicken Scratch which is also made with local Tennessee corn.

craft beers in Nashville

Left to right; Chicken Scratch, Upstream, Highwater, and Stax

Another Little Harpeth favorite is Upstream-a San Francisco Lager.  Though technically it is a “steam” beer, they cannot call it such since another company has trademarked  the name.  My personal favorite is High Water Dunkel Lager.  It is a Dunkel Munich Lager. They also have a black lager called Stax. Do not be deceived by the dark color, it is a very light beer. Their most high gravity beer is the Double Paddle Doppelbock;  a German style which translates to two goats which inspired the logo of two goats paddling in a canoe.  Each beer has its own unique flavors and characteristics that reflect the individuality of the brewery itself.

Now here is a section for the beer nerds out there At Little Harpeth, they take special care in creating beer by methodically using the decoction brewing method.  For those of you who have no idea what that is, let John Palmer, author of How to Brew explain it to you. Palmer explains it is a way to conduct multi-step mashes without adding additional water or applying heat to the Mash Tun.

It involves removing about a third of the Mash to another pot where it is heated to conversion temperature, then boiled and returned to the Mash Tun. First, the addition of boiling hot gruel to the main mash raises the temperature of the mash to the next rest. Second, the boiling process breaks up the starch molecules of the unconverted grist and produces a higher degree of extraction from moderately-modified continental malts.

In other words, Little Harpeth takes the extra step to ensure their beer has just the right flavors.  As Kwas puts it, they want their beers to be approachable, sessionable (able to consume many in one sitting), and balanced.

beer mash

A view from inside the lauter tun. This is where the mash is separated into liquid wort (baby beer) and residual grains that are usually discarded.

They take the extra time to make sure you come back for more. Not only does it make great beer, Little Harpeth is a brewery that is also as unique and resourceful as the owners themselves.  Michael Kwas is originally from Bellevue, TN where he grew up playing in the Harpeth River.  These memories drawn from the banks of the river were the inspiration for the name of the brewery.

Though he has only been brewing for five years, his business partner Steve Scoville bring wisdom and experience to the team.  Steve started in construction and has been brewing for 15 years.  Michael fell in love with Steve’s German-style lager, and they decided to go into business together. While the name was inspired by childhood memories, the logo was inspired by a friend’s NYU paper. The paper noted the human eye is most attracted to red and white/yellow and black, plus human shapes like stick figures.  So, the owners of Little Harpeth modeled the logo after traffic signs.  This resourcefulness emanates through all their business practices.

residual grains from beer brewing

The residual grains are used by a local pig farmer as feed.

The logo design is not the only place where wise use of resources can be found. When starting the brewery, Scoville used the knowledge gained from his construction background to save money and resources.  The building where they are now was once an office, so they re-purposed the existing walls, floors, framework etc… to create their own office and other necessary structures.  They also in the process of constructing a taproom.  Part of the construction process involves ripping up the existing concrete floor.

Instead of throwing the concrete blocks out, they are saving them to use for a back patio.  Steve’s background in construction gives him the ability and knowledge to re-purpose old materials in a Macgyver like fashion.  Their mission was to keep as much out of a landfill as possible.  As Michael Kwas boasts, “During construction they used one dumpster for three months.”  That was just the beginning of their commitment to sustainable practices.

upcycled building materials for brewery

The future patio at Little Harpeth that will be made from the old floor of the taproom.

One of the major challenges regarding day-to-day sustainability in a brewery is over-consumption of water.  In Little Harpeth, they address this problem by recapturing the water and reusing it in a different process.  For example, the water used to cool the wort is reused in the next batch saving both water and energy to heat up cold water.  According to Kwas, Little Harpeth saves approximately 20% saving in both water and energy.

In addition to their commitment to conserving water, they source they strive to infuse sustainability into all areas of their business plan.  They use locally sourced corn for Chicken Scratch lager and source their barley from Rahr Malting Co., a company dedicated to fossil fuel free malting.  Their beers are also made with non-GMO ingredients.  Besides sourcing  elements in a sustainable manner, they have robust recycling program. Kwas is the recycling whisperer.  He says “there is nothing he cannot recycle.”  They do not use a pick-up service, but instead sort everything themselves.  This extra commitment ensure no recyclable material is wasted.  Their commitment to sustainable practices goes so far that they even reuse paper, printing on the back of old memos, invoices, etc.. Kwas jokes that he hopes nothing inappropriate or a trade secret goes out to their customers, but that it the risk you task when fully committed to conserving resources. Though there are many responsible practices already in place, Scoville and Kwas also have visions for the future.  This includes the addition of solar panels and a rain harvesting system to the roof.

4th of July fireworks in Nashville

The view form Little Harpeth on The Fourth of July. The Nashville Symphony’s live concert synced with the fireworks.

Along with great beers and sustainable practices, they also host periodic events.  Conveniently located next to the Cumberland River, all attendees get an incredible view while listening to bluegrass music, watching the fireworks, or just enjoying great times with friends in Little Harpeth entertainment area.

This is beer you can drink with pride, and there is no need to hang your head in shame while drinking this lager.  These beers are no grocery store swill.  Instead, they are precious brews made with care and the confidence. Little Harpeth works in a way to ensure, “Mother Earth herself could peer into their work with pride.”