"It is so easy for thru-hikers to make a quick stop here..." We caught up with Noah McIntee, Brewmaster at Lazy Hiker Brewing Co. about the newly opened brewery in Franklin, conveniently off the Appalachian Trail by Winding Stair and Wayah Gaps.
BACKPACKER: How did you get your start in the microbrew scene?
Noah McIntee: Well, most people who brew these days started off with home-brewing and worked their way up from there. I, personally, have been home-brewing for a very long time. My manager at my first job ever (when I was 16), taught me how to home-brew and I have been doing it ever since. So, without giving you my age, I will just say I have been brewing for quite a few years. When I was living in Buffalo, I was working at Pearl Street Grill and Brewery, then at Pan American Pub and Brewery, and that is where I really got started, working from the bottom all the way to the top. My first real job in the beer industry was cleaning tanks and watching the brewmasters work. Then, by the time I left there, I was the Director of Brewing Operations, so it was a pretty steep climb.
BP: Craft beer is an art itself. After working from the bottom to the top, were you just bubbling with fresh concoctions, or is there more to it than that?
NM: Craft beer, to me is an art, but it is also a team sport. Everyone learns from the people you work with. I took a program called Brewery Technology at the Siebel Institute of Technology as well, so it wasn’t just taking my 5-gallon bucket system from home, then just saying, "all right lets make 500 gallons." You have to go and get some quality training done first. Joining different organizations and just listening and learning from other people in the industry and also making friends with all the other beer nerds that you meet—because they are the ones that know it the best.
BP: So is the Lazy Hiker brew crew already organized and ready to open?
NM: To make it in the startup scene, everyone needs to know something about everything. Not just how to brew the beer, but how to boil the beer, and how to run the draft lines, and what merchandise you are going to invest in. You have to have one eye open on everything all the time, but we are currently doing as much as we can to hire local and really use our resources. Brewing is something you can really get into and can really learn a lot about, so we want to find folks locally that really want to do that, and put them in a position to learn it all. That does, however, involve hiring a lot of folks that don’t really know as much about the process in the beginning. Our end goal is to have a local crew that really values the learning and training and skills that it takes to work on something they’re passionate about.
BP: Have you already decided which beers to brew and when everyone can start guzzlin’?
NM: We are working on some pilot batches right now, working on what we all like and what we don’t like. We already have a great idea of which beers we are going into the system with, and we are working hard to get everything going. I’ve got people here every day that are crawling around the place because every single component we have requires an input, so it is going to require electricity, it is going to require gas, it is going to require heat, and steam, and air, and measuring devices for carbonation and for temperature, for fluid flow rates, for changes and things, and then it is going to have an output on it, too. So everything in the brewery needs five or six different tradesmen to get it all hooked up and ready. We are finally getting to the very end of that and will be doing some test runs in the brewery by the end of [March]. We are hoping that the first batch will finish up on Easter, and then we will brew all through April and be ready to launch by May. [Editor's note: They're up and running now.]
BP: Do you have any favorite beers to drop on some hiking beer connoisseurs?
NM: Honestly, it is too hard for me to pick a favorite beer. Everyone is so hop-crazy right now so having incredible IPAs at your brewery is a big thing. There are new hop varieties coming out every year, new yeasts strains you can put them in to really alter the beer, there are all kinds of stuff that we can do to alter the beer. The variety just in the new IPAs continues to impress me, so I really enjoy playing around with different types of IPAs because there are so many new pieces you can use and put together in different ways that make it so exciting to do.
BP: Why is Franklin the perfect spot for all these lazy hikers to come enjoy a cold beer?
NM: It is so easy for thru-hikers to make a quick stop here in town. I can see the local post office and grocery store right through the front window of the brewery. Not to mention, we are just a hiker-friendly town, with nice places to stay, friendly people to meet, lots of awesome places to hike, and fun stuff to do [like drinking fresh craft beer at the Lazy Hiker, which Noah was too modest to state]. Our connection with the hikers coming through Franklin is, honestly, less about marketing and more about getting to know the hikers and their experiences and really getting involved with the hiking community in town.
BP: How do you feel about drinking while hiking (D.W.H.)?
NM: Ha, I feel like drinking on the trail has certain limitations. Definitely don’t want anyone to be drinking if they are doing something that involves needing to use your brain quickly or safely, but if you are not out on some rock face or in a crowd of people where you’re going to embarrass or hurt yourself or someone else, I say go for it. I mean, don’t go breaking the law by any means if you aren’t supposed to, but we, for sure, understand that people coming through Franklin want to go out and enjoy and relax in the woods. Maybe that means bringing a beer or two with you—you just got to be smart about it. We also have plans in the works to bring in growlers and things that people can take out of here and haul in and out and reuse. Helping people avoid taking out any glass containers into the woods is another big goal.
How is the Lazy Hiker? We still haven't been. Tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.