Progress: Craft beer industry still chugging along in Johnson City, community is the center

Hannah Swayze • Mar 2, 2019 at 11:35 PM

On a leisurely stroll through downtown Johnson City, one thing is impossible to miss: craft beer. 

Every year since 2014, at least one craft brewery or tap room serving local craft beer has opened in downtown Johnson City. Around every corner, someone is selling it, drinking it or serving it. Talking to any locals, you’ll find it’s a stark contrast from the way the area was 10 or even five years ago. 

“We’ve got ETSU crowds that come into our taproom and they say ‘oh my goodness, in the ’80s and ’90s, this place was like a war zone!’

There was nobody down here,” said Eric Latham, owner of Johnson City Brewing Co. 

Excluding restaurants, there are six beer-focused taprooms in the area serving locally made craft beers in Johnson City. From the large selection of the marketplace in Barley Waters to the restaurant-based business of Great Oak Brewing, local beers — and people consuming it — are around every corner.

This is not unique to Johnson City, either. According to the Brewers Association, in Tennessee, independent craft brewers altogether produced 253,782 barrels of beer in 2017. Additionally, the number of craft breweries rose from 66 in 2016 to 82 in 2017. As a whole, the economic impact of craft brewers in the state was over $1.2 billion.

Now, the breweries and taprooms in Johnson City are not just spots to get a beer. The excitement of the new idea of local craft beer has made way for a new cause: community building.

As one of the founders of the Johnson City Brewing Co., Latham has been around for all of the changes and growing pains the downtown area has experienced. Johnson City Brewing Co. opened in downtown in 2014 and is now the longest-running craft brewery in Johnson City.

The brewery, founded on the idea of celebrating community, specializes in experimental flavors and styles and once a month creates a community brew, where local beer makers come in and contribute to the process. 

He said that he’s seen taprooms and breweries attract a lot more people downtown, helping along the revitalization process that the city has seen. He said there were a lot more boarded-up storefronts when they opened then there are now. 

“It’s come a long way,” said Latham.

Today, not only are there more businesses downtown, there are a lot more people. 

On any given night, at least one tap room in that mile radius has some kind of event happening. Almost every single one has a trivia night or some kind of workshop or beer and food pairing event. 

JRH Brewing Co., 458 W. Walnut St., hosts a weekly yoga event and bicycle workshops, and even hosts the Southside Neighborhood Organization’s monthly meetings. 

Owner John Henritze said that while running a business is hard work, their focus remains on the people around them and their mission of doing what you want to do and not what you have to do. 

What is important, Henritze said, is that at the end of the day, everyone can come together and have a beer.

“The community here that we have is more has turned into more of a family,” said Henritze.

Timeline of craft beer-centered businesses in Johnson City. 

2014 - Johnson City Brewing Co., Atlantic Alehouse opens.


2015 - Yeehaw Brewing Co. opens.


2016 - JRH Brewing Co. opens.


2017 - Barley Waters opens.


2018- Great Oak Brewing opens.


Future - Watauga Brewing Co. opens.

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