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Water source springs new life for local brewery

Johnson City Brewing Company is pursuing using an on-site water source for their beer-making process at their Boones Creek location in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Eric Latham and Dane Scott snap a picture outside the day of testing the water source. Contributed by Eric Latham.

After patron and chemist Dane Scott ran some tests on the natural spring water on Feb. 3, he concluded that the water would likely be usable for brewing. Scott was asked to check out the source by Eric Latham, co-founder and head brewer at Johnson City Brewing Company.

“When I found out that he was opening another location, I thought that was really interesting,” said Scott. “So when I was at that location, he brought up the idea that you would be using some of the spring creek water there on property to use for his beer and I said, ‘You know something I can probably test that water to make sure that it's okay for that purpose.’ He agreed to let me collect a couple samples, and I've been able to do some preliminary testing to see if the water is usable for making beer.”

As Johnson City Brewing Company enters its seventh year as an established business, Latham stated that he and his wife and co-founder, Kat, explored the Boones Creek area after wanting more space. Before settling on the nearly four-acre property, they spent almost two years looking for the perfect space.

“We're currently the longest running brewery in Johnson City,” Latham said. “Ever since the beginning, my wife and I started this as kind of a local mom and pop shop brewery. We wanted to be able to own our own property as a company and have a little room to spread out.”

Co-founders Eric and Kat Latham pose outside the Boones Creek location. Contributed by Eric Latham.

With that space they hope to accomplish four things: build a production facility, have a tap room, offer food and have a live performance venue. Latham also believes that the potential use of spring water is an exciting prospect for the company.

“That's pretty exciting because, as you know, in brewing some would argue that water, of the four main ingredients, water is the most important ingredient in making beer,” said Latham. “That's pretty exciting as a brewer and as a property owner just thinking about all the possibilities that could happen there.”

The tests only took three days to return results, in which he found that the spring water has a neutral pH level and was very clean for an environmentally exposed water source. His tests compared the spring water with tap and Brita filtered water, yielding notable differences. The other samples had less than 14 milligrams per liter of chloride, while the spring had approximately 70 milligrams per liter of chloride. According to Scott, this is well under the Maximum Contaminant Level of 250, which is the legal threshold for drinking water.

He mentioned this process would be more sustainable and green in comparison to using the city’s tap water.

“Normally city tap water is collected and then it is filtered and it is disinfected with chemicals,” Scott said. “So by taking naturally occurring water compared to processing tap water, the brewery can take the naturally occurring water and they disinfect it by boiling rather than using chemicals. From that aspect, it is perhaps a more environmentally friendly process, because the brewery isn’t adding chemicals to disinfect the water.”

Latham was passionate about integrating more sustainable practices into their Boones Creek spot. According to the 2015 Brewer’s Association Benchmarking Report for Sustainability, breweries producing 1,000-10,000 barrels of beer per year used 232,171 kilowatts of electricity on average annually. The average home produces 10,800 kilowatts a year, which is almost only 4% of that total. That same report shows that breweries in that demographic use 1,052,306 gallons of water a year.

“We're excited to be involved and we're very excited to talk about important issues like the environment and sustainability and how we can take interest at the minimum, but maybe move forward green entrepreneurship,” said Latham. “We're pretty excited to be involved in all that and happy to help in any way.”

The spring water will only be used in 10-15 gallon increments to start to make sure their extraction of the water is not too strenuous on the source. Latham hopes to use the water for a special drink specific to that location.

“What's pretty cool is that it has some added minerals that kind of makes it unique, and we've actually going to try and attempt to use some of the water to brew a Boones Creek Lager,” Latham said. “We will probably brew that beer within the next month or so. It's just one more kind of fun cool project that's another chapter in the history of our company.”

Contributed by Eric Latham.

Although the Boones Creek location currently operates on an off-premise permit to sell beers to go, they are hoping to follow through with the next two development plans to get an on-premise permit and build the production facility.

“The second phase that we're working on right now is to gain our on premise permit,'' said Latham. “That means we can serve people glasses of beer and ciders. They can enjoy those on the premises there, find a place to sit down maybe by the creek or by the spring [...] just a kind of a nice place or for people and families to come together.”

In their third phase, Latham aims to implement sustainable and green protocols to be a better steward of the environment. Even as COVID-19 restrictions continue to impact local business, his goal is to still allow for a degree of normalcy and human connection with an outdoor setting.

”What we're hoping to do is find a way to pair up the times we live in which people tend to want to have some space, they want to spread out and we got plenty of room out there,” Latham said. “Combine that with what I believe to be a natural human tendency, which is people like to come together. We think that craft brewing and the craft brewing culture is one that is a conduit to do exactly that: to bring people together and sometimes to have a pint of something to tell funny stories and sometimes to discuss some very serious and challenging issues, like the environment and climate change and sustainability.”

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