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Brewery coming to downtown Johnson City

Nathan Baker • May 2, 2014 at 7:18 AM

Johnson City will soon join the Tri-Cities microbrewery boom with the establishment of a new craft beer maker in the downtown area.

Eric and Katherine Latham signed a lease Thursday for space on the ground floor of the King Centre, and are in the process of securing the proper permits to operate their new company, the Johnson City Brewing Company.

“We’re planning to be Johnson City’s brewery,” Katherine said Thursday afternoon. “We’re very excited to be getting started, and we’re hoping to stay true to the region’s rich history while producing some delicious beer.”

Handling the marketing and public relations side of the business, Katherine said the upstart already has a logo design based on the Lady of the Fountain, a prominent part of downtown Johnson City’s streetscape, and are planning to have a presence at the upcoming Blue Plum Festival, although it likely won’t be permitted to sell its brews by then.

Eric, a home brewer for years, said starting a commercial brewery has been a dream of the couple for years.

Even before the two met, he made beer as a hobby, forming relationships with other brewers locally and across the country. Some of his hobbyist contacts are investors in the Brewing Company.

“We’ve always talked about starting our own brewery, it’s a number of people’s dreams,” he said. “A while back, we were looking at local places in Johnson City, but nothing came of it then.”

Mitch Miller, CEO of the Washington County Economic Development Council and a friend of the Lathams, resurrected the dream this year when scouting for downtown anchor businesses.

“He came to me and said, ‘Hey, whatever happened to your brewery?’ ” Eric said. “Then we started walking around downtown and looking for locations.”

Miller said Thursday that a brewery will be a boon for downtown business.

“Breweries are definitely growing right now,” he said. “I think there was nearly 30 percent growth last year in microbrews across the U.S.”

Eric said the responsibility for the recent fermentation in the craft beer industry lies partially with a broadening of America’s collective palate and an improving economy.

“Most of the people starting these microbrews are coming out of their garages to start small businesses,” he said. “Now that things are getting a little better, more people are deciding to give it a go.”

Eric plans to offer an array of suds with broad appeal.

An online survey conducted with the help of the WCEDC showed an interest in light beers, so the JC Brewing Co. will brew a blonde ale, a lager and an IPA to start. One of the investors in the new brewery from Madison, Wis., makes a dunkelweizen, that Eric said would be a good addition to the taps.

Now that the brewery has a physical location, the owners can start applying for the needed local, state and federal permits.

Eric said he wasn’t sure that it is an exact timeline, but the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which handles new applications, claims an average approval time of 97 days.

“It could be less, it could be more, but we have to make sure we do everything by the book,” he said. “Of course, we want to get everything going as soon as possible.”

Follow Nathan Baker on Twitter @JCPressBaker. Like him on Facebook: www.facebook.com/jcpressbaker.

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