Don’t let the crazy name fool you. Yee Haw Brewing Company in Johnson City, Tennessee, is as sophisticated a brewery as you’ll find anywhere in the country. A brewery doesn’t come out of the gate making lagers this good unless it has some very talented brewers and awesome equipment.
The verdict: Yee Haw Brewing is a killer addition to Appalachia’s craft beer landscape. Put it on the candidate list for your next craft beer road trip.
An easy road trip stop in Johnson City
On the drive from West Virginia to Asheville, I pass through Johnson City. A year ago and a half ago, I discovered a new brewery under construction there named Yee Haw. I’ll admit to being curious to learn just what kind of beer they would make with a name like that.
Well, this year I made my first visit to Yee Haw Brewing and I’m so glad I did. I was most impressed with the overall quality of their beer, their taproom, and the great-looking building they share with White Duck Taco Shop.
Touring and tasting its malty heritage
I was shown around the brewery by Christine Libby, Yee Haw’s Tri-Cities & SW Virginia sales rep, who goes by just her last name Libby. She said that the brewery officially opened in July 2015 and has been growing ever since.
“We mostly stick to more malt-forward beers,” she explained.
Yee Haw’s overall brewing direction comes from it’s brewmaster Brandon Greenwood. Libby said Greenwood is most interested in brewing traditional styles. He attended brewing school in Scotland, so that may give you a clue about his passion for malt-forward brews.
Using the best quality malts he can find, Greenwood hopes to create a “malt renaissance.” If the World Beer Cup is any indicator, he quickly found success. His malty Dunkel won the bronze medal for its style at the WBC competition last spring. That’s a mighty big accomplishment for a start-up brewery.
The story goes that Yee Haw’s Dunkel has its roots, years back, in Greenwood’s trip to the Czech Republic, during which he drank a Dunkel that convinced him he wanted to brew beer. It was one of those eureka moments.
Greenwood’s Dunkel has proven itself by being one of Yee Haw’s best-selling beers — and that’s in a market that previously had very little familiarity with the style.
Half of Yee Haw’s four flagship beers are lagers. It’s a bit contrarian but seems to be paying off for the brewery.
There’s a reason most small craft breweries don’t have lagers as their flagships. Lagers are difficult to make well, and they take considerably more time to produce than do standard ales. The recent surge of superb lagers from major craft breweries (think Firestone Walker Pivo, et. al.), however, shows that American-made lager styles can be incredibly great tasting beers that definitely have a market among craft fans.
A look at the first-class production facility
Looking inside the brewery production floor, it’s quick to see this is not your typical small brewery in our region. Well-designed, orderly, and spotlessly clean, it gives you confidence the brewers pay attention to details.
Yee Haw runs off of a 30-barrel system, brewing about 60 half-barrel-kegs-worth at a time. They have twenty, 60-barrel fermentation tanks. That gives them flexibility to brew different styles and quantities.
Yee Haw flagships and seasonals
Yee Haw keeps four flagship beers and one seasonal available year-round for distribution. The flagships and seasonals are available in both bottles and draft.
When I visited their taproom, nine different Yee Haw brews flowed from the tap towers. In addition to the flagships, I found several specialties and one-offs. And, yes, there were plenty of ales done well too.
The Dunkel was dark, chocolaty and delicious. The Kölsch and Octoberfest were traditional and superb. A tart Blackberry Berliner Weisse showed their brewing dexterity.
Going into the colder months, I’m told to expect even more dark and rich flavored beers such as bocks, porters, and IPAs in the taproom.
You will discover a nice selection of Yee Haw branded merchandise in the taproom store. T-shirts, hats, hoodies, and more.
Pair some tacos with your beer
When you visit don’t miss trying the tacos from White Duck Taco Shop, which shares the building with the brewery. Have some fun experimenting with taco & beer pairing. I loved the Korean Beef Bulgogi paired with the Dunkel and the Fish Taco with the Kölsch.
Beer variety is welcomed
While the big bold flavors provided by coffee stouts, hopped-up IPAs, sours, high-alcohol specialties, and bourbon-barrel-aged whatevers can also cover up a lot of stuff, beer-flavor subtleties shine through in lagers. There’s no place to hide an off-flavor in a Pils or a Helles. Making small-batch lagers well is definitely a pinnacle of the brewer’s art, and Yee Haw seems to master that.
Yee Haw also has several popular ale styles well-covered too, though most are quite malt-forward. Don’t go there looking for the latest New-England-murky or dried-out-San-Diego IPAs and you won’t be disappointed. Stop there to experience some superb malt-driven ales and lagers — beers that will put a smile on your face and have you shouting YEE HAW.
Beer fans will want to add this brewery to the itineraries of their next East Tennessee/Western North Carolina road trip.