A few years, a brew shop and many test batches later, he and his wife, Brandi, will be opening their new brewery called Little Animals on Main Street in downtown Johnson City. With the opening of the Great Oak Brewing Company earlier this month, Little Animals will make the fifth brewery in the downtown Johnson City area.
Of course, four years ago, craft beer was not as prominent of a trend in the area like it is now. The brewery scene downtown was just in its infancy. There weren’t numerous brewers of varying sizes all within a mile of each other.
Intead of jumping right in, Cates started where he had experience: retail. The Cateses purchased a brewing supplies business in Kingsport, moved it to Johnson City, and renamed it the Edisonian Brew Shop. This gave them an “in” to the beer scene in Johnson City.
Cates soon got to work on his brewery dream, and that beer scene grew into what is it today.
The breweries in downtown all vary in sizes from the very small Johnson City Brewing Company to the 30-barrel system that is the Yee-haw Brewing Co.
The growing local interest in craft beer reflects a state-wide increase in independent craft brewers.
According to the Brewers Association for Small and Independent Craft Brewers Tennessee had, as of 2016, 66 breweries. This number has been steadily growing since 2011. The study says the state produces over 250,000 barrels of craft beer per year, which is 1.6 gallons per adult of legal drinking age.
Luckily, Little Animal plans to bring something different to the market, focusing on funky and unique beers like sours and saisons that are brewed with multiple yeasts and bacteria.
"There's a saying that says, 'a rising tide floats all ships' and that is definitely true in the brewing industry," Cates said about opening up a brewery around so many others.
The small craft beer businesses not only bring color and personality to the area, but also stimulate the economy in a interesting way with retail and industrial elements.
According to Dianna Cantler, director of downtown development, breweries bring the benefits to the downtown area such as bringing in local tax revenue, filling spaces downtown and providing jobs, among other things.
“It generates tourism so that people linger in your community. If there's a craft brewery, because a lot of people like to try different types of craft beer. So we're able to keep people here longer,” said Cantler.
Cantler says that she has not heard of any other plans for new breweries or tap rooms opening up, but has heard of interest in adding more to do in the area of entertainment.
Little Animals is scheduled to open in a few months with their small 3-1/2-barrel system. Chris and Brandi and their assistant brewer and good friend Jordan Sams will soon begin to share their passion for uniquely brewed beers with the downtown community.
"Breweries tend to be more collaborative than competitive with each other and as long as there are breweries down here making good beer, every brewery will see more business because then the town becomes a destination," said Cates.
To keep up with news on the opening of Little Animals, visit their website at littleanimalsbrewery.com or find any of the local breweries on Facebook and Instagram.