Zack Roskop is the owner of Knox Brew Tours and Knox Brew Hub, and while people might know him as a local craft beer expert, what many don’t realize is he’s also a natural-born marketer. On this episode of We Built This Brand, Chris and Zack discuss how Zack went from being a full-time musician with a crazy idea, to building out multiple successful businesses in his Knox Brew brand. Zack explains why his goal is to be a best friend to the local brewers in the Knoxville area, and how he has built a passionate community around his brands. Chris and Zack also explore the risks that Zack has taken to build his brands, and Zack shares why he feels that good brands and good beers can be polarizing.
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(01:00) Zack and Chris sit down at Knox Brew Hub to share a local beer and Zack shares a Knox Brew Hub secret
(02:52) Zack explains the goals of Knox Brew Hub
(04:02) How Zack started his iconic “Knox Brew” brands
(08:39) Why Zack decided to start a bar in 12 days, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic
(13:12) Zack describes how his parents’ career helped prepare him for the opportunities that Knox Brew Hub presented
(15:35) The two problems that Zack is looking to solve for in the downtown Knoxville area
(18:50) Where Zack’s passion for craft beer started
(21:20) Chris and Zack reminisce on the origins of Knox Brew Tours
(25:06) Why Zack doesn’t call Knox Brew Hub a pub, and how he’s built a community around his brands
(29:06) How Zack builds awareness for his events and draws people to Knox Brew Hub
(34:12) What brand Zack is intrigued by right now, and why he feels powerful brands tend to be a bit polarizing
(39:29) Why Zack feels the most important part of a brewery has changed over the past few years
Zack started Knox Brew Tours in the fall of 2014 to combine his love of people, the city of Knoxville and local beer! In 2020, the tour company expanded to a local craft beer bar in the heart of downtown Knoxville. Knox Brew Hub is not only the Hub for the tour company but also a visitors center for local beer!
- Knox Brew Stories: https://www.knoxbrewstories.com/
- Our Humble Beer Podcast Episode with Knox Brew Tours: https://www.humblebeerpodcast.com/tn-beer-run-part-1/
- Knox Brew Hub: https://knoxbrewhub.com
- Knox Brew Tours: https://knoxbrewtours.com
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- Subscribe to the newsletter & follow the podcast: https://www.webuiltthisbrand.com/
- Check out HumblePod: https://www.humblepod.com
Chris: Welcome to We This Brand. I’m your host as always, Chris Hill, and today we are going drinking. No, I’m mostly kidding, but we are here today at Knox Brew Hub to interview Zack Roskop. He’s the founder and also the creator of Knox Brew Tours, which you may know if you’re local, and we’re excited to have him on the show today. Zack, I think, is just a natural-born marketer and we’ll talk about his history in the Knoxville beer scene, we’ll talk about his background, and what even got him to the place where he thought, “Hey, a craft beer tour would be great for Knoxville,” and then ultimately what led him to probably one of the craziest, and dare I say, really good ideas of his career: to start a bar during the pandemic. And we’ll talk to him about why that was good and what that has done for his business here at Knox Brew Hub. So, join us as we go and talk to Zack Roskop.
Chris: Zack, welcome to We Built This Brand. Happy to have you on today.
Zack: Happy to be here. Cheers. Yeah.
Chris: Thank you. Happy to be, well, really here, I mean, at Knox Brew Hub.
Zack: Yeah. I mean, obviously, if we’re going to do a podcast at the bar, we have to have a beer while we do it.
Chris: Absolutely we do.
Zack: And so, I poured you ac—I poured the—our cask engine is back up and running.
Chris: Oh man.
Zack: A cask engine, for those who may not know, is basically a piece of equipment that serves beer the way beer was served prior to the invention of refrigeration, so when beer was stored in caves around 50 degrees, and how beer was served prior to the invention of carbonation, so it uses a piston to create suction to pull the beer out of the keg. And it’s just a classic ESB from Crafty Bastard and it’s delicious. And then I’m drinking our Hub Lager out of our Frankfurter mug. And most people don’t know this, this is kind of a Knox Brew Hub secret, but that beer in that glass, and this beer in this glass, is sort of our tribute to the foundations of the German history and English history of what makes American beer American. So cheers.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. Cheers.
Zack: Isn’t that fun? I think that’s a—
Chris: That is awesome, yeah.
Zack: —fun little fact that most people don’t know about.
Chris: So, when you say that, how is it attributed to each? So, you choose a different style of glass for—
Chris: —each beer?
Zack: So, the glass that you’re drinking out of is a traditional Imperial pint. So, that is a 19.2 ounce. You know, that’s what, if you went to an English pub, that’s the glass they’re going to serve it to you. And ESP is a traditional English-style beer, and yeah, so—and the cask engine is very English as well.
Where this Frankfurter mug, right, is a very common glass in Germany. We’ve got a light Pilsner in here and it’s crisp and tall and chuggable. And yeah, so that’s how we’re kind of paying homage to the roots of American craft beer.
Chris: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. And this is, I mean, delicious beer to begin with. I mean, you’ve got all Knoxville beer on tap.
Zack: Yeah. A hundred percent local tap beer wall.
Zack: Our thing is, we like to say every single beer that we serve on draft is made in Knox County or a county touching Knox County.
Chris: Yep. And I find that to be really cool. And obviously, it’s nice to come in here because I don’t have time anymore as an adult—two kids—to be able to go around all the breweries every day, and so I can come in here and pick from what’s best.
Zack: I mean, our goal in our tagline is we want to be local beer’s best friend. And the way we do that is that we promote them, right? You tell everyone about your best friend and how awesome they are, right? And that’s what we’re trying to do. And that’s being located where there’s a lot of hotels, a lot of free parking, Market Square, the city center, it really lends itself to people who are coming to Knoxville for their beer-cations as well. Our goal is to not be your only stop. We just want to be your first stop so we can point you in the right direction to explore all the awesome beer our city has to offer.
Chris: Yeah. So, this is We Built This Brand. We’re talking about the brand of Knox Brew Hub and, I mean, additionally, Knox Brew Tours, which you also run. How did all this come to be? I mean, it’s—honestly, like, I can say from personal experience, it’s really cool that we’re here today, but how did it get started?
Zack: Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s funny, you said Knox Brew Hub, Knox Brew Tours, we’ve also got this, like, weird podcast radio show called Knox Brew Stories. At one point, I thought about starting, like, an outdoors at, like, outdoorsy wing of this that involves, like, beer and outdoor activities. It was—we were going to call it Knox Brew Adventures.
And then at one point, we were making sandwiches and we called them Knox Brew Subs. So like, I need to just buy the domain name knoxbreweverything.com and it would just, you know, capture at all, which would be a lot of fun. But the way it all started was in 2014. I wasn’t sure what to do in my life, I wasn’t sure what was next, and I wanted to pursue my passions of loving people, loving Knoxville, and loving beer, and doing a guided brewery tour seemed like the way to do all three of them.
When it came to—you’re talking, I mean, specifically building a brand, right?
Zack: So, we needed to name it. And, you know, there’s always the temptations to be, like, Scruffy City Brew Tour or Rocky Top Tours or, like, you know, some version of that. And even in 2014, as much digital marketing has changed in the last nine years, even then I knew what SEO was, I knew a little bit how Google worked. I’m sure it’s changed. But when someone types in a brewery tour company, I wanted to pop up, so we’re like, let’s keep this simple. And we just named it Knox Brew Tours.
And it still cracks me up to this day, when people look at our bus and they go, “Knox Brew Tours. What do you guys do?” And I’m like, let’s work backwards. We give tours of breweries in Knoxville. So yeah, we did that for—we still are doing that. We’re going on almost ten years now.
And during Covid, the bar that was where all of our private and public tour started and ended decided not to renew their lease. We took the space over in the summer of 2020 and debated several different names. The one name I liked the most was Knox on Tap because I just said—like, it said it all in the name. But the word ‘hub’ just kept coming up. We wanted this bar to be a hub for the tour company, a hub for Knoxville breweries, a hub for people who want to explore Knoxville beer.
So we’re, like, why—we’ve already created a brand that has a strong following, that is well-liked in the community, and let’s strengthen that. And we decided to call the bar Knox Brew Hub. And we even rebranded the logos to match and so that they look like sister companies and have a lot of cross-promotion. And that’s kind of how it all happened.
Chris: Yeah. That’s really cool. And from there, like, I mean, it’s obviously grown into what it is today, but how did you get inspired to even start this whole thing? Like what was—was there a gap in the market that you saw? Was there something that you were like, oh, man, Knox Brew Tours is a really cool opportunity, or, “Hey, I know what’s a great idea. Let’s start a pub in the middle of a pandemic.”
Zack: So, that’s a good question. I would honestly say there was more—there wasn’t a gap in the market. I think there was a gap in my life if that sounds—and I’m going to go back to 2014.
Chris: Let’s do it.
Zack: So, I was in a band, I had committed my entire life to being a professional musician. And when I say committed, like, I was asked to be a groomsman in a friend’s wedding, and I said no because we had a big show that we had to do. Like, that’s how committed I was, right? I mean, if I got a job, I would mention in the interview, I’m a traveling musician and I will quit this job for a gig. Like it was crazy, okay?
So, when that all came to a halt in 2014 and I hadn’t finished my degree, and so I don’t have a bachelor’s degree, I don’t have a band, and I just don’t have any direction. I don’t know what to do next. So, I don’t think I had the maturity at that time to say, “Oh, Knoxville is missing a brewery tour company.” I think it was like, I don’t know what I want to do with myself. I love Knoxville, I love beer, I love people, and this is an opportunity that doesn’t exist, and it gives me that chance to pursue all of those.
So, that’s what really started it was just not knowing what I wanted out of my life at that moment. And little did I know, it would turn into something like this. As far as the Hub is concerned, the way that came to be was simply Covid made it affordable. I never had the dream or the plan to open a bar, but when that opportunity presented itself to us, and it was like, okay, we were getting a Covid-friendly lease—I mean, nobody was starting a business at that point in time. The future was very uncertain, and it just kind of fell into our laps.
And my dad always says that success is usually when opportunity and preparedness or luck kind of intersect. And thankfully, we—even though we weren’t planning to open a bar, we were in a position that we could open a bar. And it all just kind of came to be. It was kind of cra—and that all happened, by the way, in 12 days.
Zack: We went from being presented this bar to signing the lease in 12 days.
Chris: That’s insane.
Zack: It was totally insane.
Zack: And that was out of town for half of them.
Chris: Wow. Now, remind me if I’m wrong—or correct me if I’m wrong on this, but did you start this, like, knowing the pandemic was already coming?
Zack: Oh, yeah.
Zack: So, the day that we signed the lease was August 1st, and if you recall, August 1st was the exact day that the Knox County Health Board shut down every single bar and restaurant for two weeks.
Chris: I remember that. Yes.
Zack: And, of course, like, just like when I started the tour company, people are like, “You’re nuts.” And I go, “Am I?” Like, “Yes. Covid is a thing and it is a problem and it’s having a negative impact on business.” But is it going to in ten years? Is it in 20 years, you know? This was a long-term play, you know? It wasn’t, it wasn’t—it couldn’t last forever. And I also saw it as an opportunity to kind of get our stuff together because I wanted to make a good first impression.
If all of Knoxville showed up on our grand opening, that wouldn’t have been our best first impression, but because of Covid, people that didn’t show up until six months in, nine months in, twelve months in. I even had friends of mine who stepped in my bar for the first time a year and a half in because of Covid.
Chris: And I might have been one of those [laugh].
Zack: And I’m thankful for that because every day that went by, we got smarter, we learned who we were more, we learned who our customers were more, and I felt like it increased our chances of having a great impact on our people.
Chris: Yeah, I remember thinking, “Why is he opening a bar now?” Like, out of all the times to open a bar, this feels like either a really crazy risk, or maybe he’s sitting on piles of cash? I don’t know.
Zack: I’m definitely not doing that.
Zack: Well, if you recall, during that time period, banks were eager to write loans. It was a time in the market where they were trying to—
Chris: That's a good point, yeah.
Zack: Which, we got a small loan for to open up the Hub and basically just a remodel and inventory and some branding and stuff like that. So, that was a factor that helped. Another factor that helped is that there wasn’t a business to buy. It was previously a Casual Pint.
Chris: Oh yeah, that’s right.
Zack: So, they weren’t selling me a successful business. The business was just—by the way, the Casual Pint was successful. It just wasn’t—
Chris: [laugh] I was about to say.
Zack: It wasn’t for sale.
Zack: Right? The franchisees didn’t want it anymore. The franchisors didn’t want it anymore, so normally, when you’re buying a business, you’re buying the brand, you’re buying the email list, you’re buying the website, the social media, well, we didn’t have to buy any of that. And because the lease was just coming to an end, we were able to negotiate with the previous owner what he wanted for the stuff. I mean, we basically just bought the speakers, the furniture, the beer-serving equipment.
And then, the other factor was that our landlord is very smart, and knew that it would be tough to get a space filled in the middle of a pandemic. So, he gave us a very Covid-friendly lease. Year one was a percentage of sales with a one year out.
Zack: We couldn’t pass that up. So, I think from the outside, we look crazy, but once you see that there’s a friendly loan rate, a friendly Covid lease, I was able to acquire the assets for a very reasonable price, suddenly, now you’ll start to understand why I say I’m the luckiest person on this planet and I can prove it.
Zack: And this is one of the ways I can prove it.
Zack: I feel like the luckiest person ever.
Chris: That’s right. And to your point, like, there’s definitely luck involved, but you also mentioned preparedness as being one of those things. Where did the preparedness come from? Because you were a band member—
Chris: You were running a beer tour, you were in a lot of bars, but I don’t think you’ve been behind the bars much, so where did that come from?
Zack: That came from growing up in the restaurant business.
Zack: So, my parents have owned restaurants since I could walk. I learned how to roll silverware when I was, like, seven, you know? I have cut lemons when I was ten, I was peeling shrimp in the back at thirteen. So, I think growing up in the service industry was where the preparedness came from.
Zack: I also had a lot of different jobs throughout college and post-college, and most of those were in the service industry as well. So, the envir—this environment was very comfortable for me.
Zack: And there we are.
Chris: And you mentioned your parents being in the restaurant business. What kind of business within restaurants were they in? It sounds like you were lemons and shrimp, but it was probably more than that. What were they doing?
Zack: Oh, so they liked flipping restaurants.
Zack: And what I mean by flipping restaurants is they liked to take a space, say what does this part of town want? What does this building lend itself to? And then they would build it up over two or three years, sell it, and then do it again. So, in my lifetime, they probably had nine-ish restaurants, but they weren’t ever at the same time. They only had one at a time, and usually only for two or three years.
And I think a lesson that I took away from my parents, if you ever meet someone that makes something really good, like, they just make the best chicken wings ever, and they’re just convinced, no matter what, if they can just open the chicken wing restaurant, it doesn’t matter where it is, it’ll be successful. And you say, “Why?” And they go, “Because there’s the best,” right? My parents taught me that that doesn’t really work like that. Because every restaurant they owned was completely different.
It a barbecue, it was seafood, it was Mexican, it was a sports bar, it was fast casual. Because it was never about what my parents could do, it was about what did the community need? Or, what did the community want? I think sometimes business owners are too focused on their solution and not focused enough on their customer’s problem. And if you’re not solving a problem, then you’re not going to—I don’t—you’re going to have a hard time having a long-term successful business, in my opinion.
Chris: Yeah. So, with Knox Brew Hub, what problems are you solving for downtown?
Zack: [laugh]. I let—I set myself up—
Chris: Or creating, I should say.
Zack: —I set myself up for that one didn’t I?
Chris: A little bit.
Zack: Yeah. So, there’s two things we really pride ourselves on—and these are problems that I think we’re solving—one is that we take customer service very, very seriously. We want to be accommodating, we want people to feel welcome and comfortable, we want to learn your name, and we want to take care of you probably better than the average bar. I love the craft beer community, but I think one area of the craft beer community that needs improvement is customer service. I hate to use this term, but we call it hipster service where you walk up to a bar, there’s no, “Hello,” there’s no, “Welcome,” there’s no, “Glad you’re here.” There’s just a, “Do you know what you want?” And that drives me absolutely crazy.
Where here, we try to say, “Hey, welcome to Knox Brew Hub. Have you been here before?” “Oh, fantastic. Thanks for coming back.” “Oh, you haven’t been here before? Let me tell you about our draft wall. Do you have any questions? Would you like to taste anything?” You know, “What do you like to drink? I’d be happy to make a recommendation.”
You know, there’s sort of this, like, pretentiousness where somebody comes in and says, “What’s the closest thing you’ve got to Bud Light?” And the joke is, “I got bottled water.” I hate that. I want to say, “I’m so glad you’re here. You like beer? That’s a great place to start. Let me give you some local loggers to try and let’s talk about why they’re different.”
Zack: So that’s, I think one problem that we’re trying to focus on solving is making people feel comfortable and welcome, especially to a newer genre beverage that they may not have a relationship with already. And then the second problem is—you already mentioned it. We want to create—someone’s like, “I’m only going to be in town for an hour and I want to drink a bunch of Knoxville beer,” and they can’t go to six or seven breweries, they can come here and explore and drink a lot of great Knoxville beer in one location.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. And obviously for me, that’s the big advantage to coming here.
Zack: So, I think that my two answers is good customer service and local selection.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. And I think, you know, from what I’ve seen in the beer scene here, in terms of service, like, I don’t think anybody’s doing an awful job of it. You may have a different experience and I know you’re not going to name names, but I definitely think when I come here, I can tell, like, walking in today to set up the gear, you know, your employee that’s here today working the bar was like, “Hey, can I help you?” Like, immediately made eye contact and things like that, and I’m not used to that. And just you saying that and putting all that together, I’m like, oh, yeah. They didn’t ignore me. I didn’t have to come up to the bar and stare at them or flag them down. They—eye contact. “Hey, how can I help you?”
Zack: Well, I appreciate you telling me that. I think overall Knoxville’s beer service is better than most, but I’ve just been to nearby cities that end in the word ‘-ville’ and just left with an awful taste in my mouth.
Chris: Yeah, there’s a there’s an episode of Portlandia just called “The Shville”—
Chris: Shville, and I’m like, yeah, that’s the area we’re in. But yeah, I get you. That’s cool. So, talking more about the beer scene, you love the craft beer scene. You’ve been involved in it a long time. Where did that start for you? Like, where did the passion for craft beer start?
Zack: It actually started when—okay, so I was 20 years old and I was living in this house, and it had, like, five bedrooms. And there was just this, like, revolving door of roommates. And at one point, everyone in the house was underage except for this one guy named Nick. So, we begged Nick, we said, “Nick, will you go buy us beer, please?” And Nick was obsessed with [Yuengling 00:19:25], and he said, “I will buy you beer, but I’ll only buy you Yuengling.” And we said, “Why?” He goes, “Because it’s the greatest beer of all time.” And we said, “Okay,” so, “We’ll take it,” right? You’re 20. You’ll do whatever.
So, Nick would bring home a case of Yuengling from Walmart or something, and I acquired a taste for Yuengling and I really enjoyed it. So, I turned 21 and I’m trying to find anywhere in Knoxville that sells Yuengling on draft, and the only bar that I could find that sold Yuengling on draft was the Bearden Beer Market. So, I went to Bearden Beer Market and I wore it out until one day, came in, and they were like, “Sorry, the Yuengling keg blew.” And I was about to just turn around and walk out and the bartender says, “Have you ever tried Gaelic Ale from Highland?” And I was like, “No, I haven’t.” Well, now I have two beers I like.
Zack: Until one day I go in and neither of them are on. And he goes, “Well, have you ever had Fat Tire from New Belgium?” And as you know, it just—that was the spark, right? Oh, this tastes good. And different. Oh, this—oh, what’s a brown? What’s a porter? What’s a stout? What’s a pale ale? What’s this IPA thing?
Next thing I know, the next 20—age 21 to 25, it doesn’t matter if it’s a wedding, a funeral, a work trip, a whatever, if anytime I left the city of Knoxville, my mission became to get my hands on as much different and unique and local beer wherever I was as I could. And I just fell in love with the community. There was always this common denominator of being family-friendly, of giving back, of having an appreciation for a higher quality product. And it just, I was obsessed. And that all came to a head in 2014 when I started the tour company.
Chris: Yeah. And I remember when you started Brew Tours—I shared this—
Chris: —a while back, but um, it’s crazy to me that you went from, “Hey, get in my van”—
Chris: —or, I guess it was a bus. It was a short bus at the time. Get in my short bus. I’m going to take you—and I can’t remember, I think it were taking us back to our cars or something after Brew Fest, and you were like, “I’ve got this crazy idea.” And I want the Humble Beer Podcast, which I had just started with my buddy D.J.
And we were—you were like, “I’ve got this great idea. We’re going to go and go around to all these three breweries. We’re going to go to this little brewery that hasn’t started yet called Crafty Bastard”—which we’re drinking today—“And we’re going to go to Alliance Brewing, and Pretentious.” And I was like, “That sounds awesome. Are any of them open?” “No, they’re still working on getting open.”
Zack: They’re all under construction.
Chris: Yeah. And so, we got to go to all three, taste beer, and like that experience, man.
Zack: Is that episode still up?
Chris: It’s still up.
Zack: We got to go all the way back.
Chris: We’ll link it in the show notes.
Zack: Yeah, let's go. I got to re-listen to that. Because I remember Maxy was making beer in his bathtub at that point in time and bringing it down to—just to be clear, he wasn’t… there was no liquid in the tub. It was just a bathtub is a great place to make stuff. Because if it spills, it just goes down the drain.
Chris: Right. Right.
Zack: But he was making—he wasn’t even making beer on site. I mean, Pretentious didn’t even have a floor at that point. It was just dirt where the glassblowing studio is. And—yeah, man isn’t that crazy? Alliance was still using that 3 barrel Bubba’s Barrels system that had the open flame. It had the giant—it looked like a giant, like, wok basically.
Chris: And didn’t they—they had trouble getting open because of that, too?
Zack: Oh, yeah. It delayed their opening several months. Both Pretentious, Alliant—actually, all three of those breweries ultimately ended up opening as taprooms selling other people’s beer before they sold their own.
Chris: Yes, it did.
Zack: Which was a lot—was very common back then because they needed the cash flow.
Chris: Mm-hm. Yeah.
Zack: Isn’t that wild to think about?
Chris: Yeah. It’s, it’s—I mean, and that’s almost ten years ago now.
Zack: And those were, like, the fifth, sixth, and seventh breweries to open. That wasn’t even, like, the first four.
Chris: That’s true. That’s true. Some of the first four, though, have been around for decades—
Zack: A long time, yeah.
Chris: —prior to that.
Zack: Yes. Yeah, yeah.
Zack: And some of the first four are no longer with us.
Chris: That’s true. That’s true. We have, um… what is it, um, Knox—why am I drawing a blank on it?
Chris: Salt—not Salt—well, Saltworks is no longer with us.
Zack: New Knox? New Knox? New—New Knoxville?
Chris: New Knoxville Brewery is no longer with us.
Zack: Saltworks, Blue Tick?
Chris: Blue Tick. Yeah, Blue Tick’s no longer round.
Zack: Yeah. And Cold Fusion.
Zack: That was much later.
Chris: That was—that’s a whole other story. We could do a whole podcast on that [laugh].
Zack: [laugh]. Yes, we could. Yes we could.
Chris: That’s an interesting story. Um, but no, I was. I was thinking of the Smoky Mountain Grill and Brewery.
Zack: Oh, yeah. Smoky Mountain Brewery.
Chris: Yeah. So, Smoky Mountain Brewery. I always say, “Grill and Brewery,” because that’s what I’m used to.
Zack: Yeah, yeah. And they’re still around. They’re actually—most people don’t know this, but Smoky Mountain Brewery is the eighth largest brewpub in the United States.
Chris: Oh, I didn’t know that.
Zack: So, they have four locations that they brew in, but they service 36 restaurants.
Chris: Oh, wow.
Zack: Yeah. Every Copper Cellar, Calhoun’s, Chesapeake’s, Corner16, all over East Tennessee. And so yeah, that’s a massive beer operation here in Knoxville that I think gets overlooked quite often.
Chris: Yeah. And you know, it’s just, there’s just so much good beer here, so that’s obviously why you’re in business and what kept you growing because Knoxville is an insane amount of craft beer for the size town it is.
Zack: Another shout-out to Smoky Mountain Brewery is almost—at one point, over half of the brewers in Knoxville, at one point, worked for Smoky Mountain Brewery. So like, that might have been a launch point for a lot of the brewers that we have in town.
Chris: Yeah. So, getting into community a little bit now. So, you’ve got this great pub. Is it—do you call it a pub? A bar? What do you call it?
Zack: So, I don’t call it a pub. D.J. always calls it a pub.
Chris: Well, D.J. calls everything a pub.
Zack: Calls everything a pub?
Chris: He calls his basement a pub.
Zack: That’s true. So, there’s a couple reason—three reasons I don’t call it a pub, okay? One reason I don’t call it a pub is because in Knoxville, Preservation Pub has done such a good job of using that word that if anyone at any point in time says the word Pub, they go to Pres Pub or they think of Pres Pub. So, I feel like that words kind of a little taken, in Knoxville.
The second reason I don’t like to use the word pub is because traditionally they serve food, and we don’t. We have hotdogs and dips, but we don’t have—like, no one’s coming here for, like, a full dinner. And then the other reason is, anytime I hear the word pub, I think it’s English or Irish or Scottish leaning, and we’re not. We’re local. We’re local beer, we don’t have Guinness on draft, we don’t have Bass, we don’t have whatever.
If I hear someone say I’m going to a place called the Pub, I expect him to have… at least, you know, a Smithwick's or something. And we don’t, so. So, that why we just call it the Hub.
Chris: The Hub. So, at the Hub—
Zack: So, that was long-winded. I apologize.
Chris: But it’s okay.
Chris: But that’s awesome. That’s, um—you know, so we have the Hub, and then you’ve got quite the community here. I mean, it’s not just that people come here to grab a pint after work, although that happens, but I’ve heard some really cool things about stuff you do to encourage people to be here and to be present that aren’t cheesy promotions. So, tell me about how you encourage community here at the Knox Brew Hub.
Zack: That’s a good question. I struggle, sometimes with programming. It kind of seems to be the normal thing to just fill every night with an activity, you know, trivia this or bingo or this or that. And sometimes we do some of that, but with us, I kept questioning that and asking myself, how can we create a space for a group of people to do what they love to do? And the most successful example of that, for us has been our chess club.
So, every single Wednesday from seven to close, we have chess club. And there’s about 15 to 25 people that come in and they play chess, and they just love on each other and teach people how to play chess. There is no purchase necessary. It’s a free event. It doesn’t matter if you buy a beer or don’t buy a beer.
There are several chess players that don’t drink at all. But it’s been incredibly rewarding to see these people share this love for a game and it to bring them closer together, and to do it here at the Hub is awesome.
Zack: We also host watch parties for Manchester United.
Chris: Yep. I see their flag right over here.
Zack: Yes. Our mutual friend D.J. who’s been mentioned several times on the show so far, he is a huge Manchester United fan. So like, showing the matches for them gives them an opportunity to be in community versus being on separate couches at home, right?
And then we do early opens every now and then for third shifters. So, people who get off work at six or seven am, they just want to go somewhere and have a beer. We do that every now and then as well. We need to do that more consistently so that can grow, but the idea is, that they deserve to get off work and unwind.
And those are just the three things that kind of pop into my mind. We always have artists featured on the wall, it’s usually always a local artist. Our podcast features local musicians and we do everything we can to promote local musicians here and—
Chris: That’s awesome.
Zack: I’m sure the options are endless. If anyone’s got any new ideas, throw them my way because anything we can do, we’ll do it.
Chris: Yeah. That’s awesome. So, we got community. Obviously, people are aware of Knox Brew Hub. How do you get awareness out there beyond the community of people coming in and saying, “Hey, come visit me in Knox Brew Hub?” Or, “Join me at Knox Brew Hub. We’re going to do a chess night,” or you know, “A Manchester watch party?” Like, how are you drawing people to the brew hub? How do you promote it?
Zack: So, there’s the obvious answer of social media, right? Facebook Events, Instagram promotions, and just doing all of that. The less obvious answer is, we have a lot—we have a great relationship with Visit Knoxville, and I can’t think Visit Knoxville enough. They do a wonderful job of telling the story of Knoxville, and my job is to make sure that I’m part of that story. They send us journalists all the time and we entertain them and talk to them about the Knoxville beer community.
So, Visit Knoxville has been a unique way that’s been huge for us. Another answer I was going to say, that’s probably a little bit different as we promote Knox Brew Hub through Knox Brew Tours. So, we have tours every weekend and we have our target demographic on the bus, ready to go, and we tell them all about Knox Brew Hub. That’s another big one.
Chris: Well, I mean, I will say the journalist thing is working in your favor already. I’ve seen Knox Brew Hub in several magazines for, you know, this list or that list about best place to go for beer. And I think that’s a testament to what you all are creating here.
Zack: It was wild, dude. We were in the Sports Illustrated last fall.
Zack: They did an article on craft beer bars located near SEC football stadiums and we were heavily featured. And then the Wine Enthusiast magazine was crazy. And then I think coming out in June, we’re in the Gun and Garden magazine as well, so that’ll—
Chris: Oh wow.
Zack: Be a big one coming up as well. So, I feel very lucky. I believe that if we just put people first, there’s two outcomes: we’ll be successful or we won’t. And both of those outcomes I’m okay with if I put people first in the process. That’ll be the way I sleep at night. The thing I’ll be the most proud of will never be if we are successful or not. It will be how we make people feel.
Chris: Yeah, well, I think you’re doing a good job of that.
Zack: Thanks, I appreciate that. I’m trying to remember the other marketing thing that I was going to say.
Chris: [laugh]. You’re going to walk out of here, and go, “Oh, I remember.”
Zack: Yeah. I’ll text it to you. But yeah, social media is obvious, Visit Knoxville, our relationship with Knox Brew Tours, and the fourth one, it will come to me at some point.
Chris: Now, are you on TikTok yet?
Zack: No. We did talk about that. So, I do—
Chris: There are some risks with it—
Zack: —I really—
Chris: —being a beer pub.
Zack: —I do really—
Zack: No, you’re fine. It doesn’t matter. I do appreciate—so I was very fortunate recently to speak at an event that you put on, and thank you for having me. And when I opened it up for questions at the end, I was expecting all the questions to be like, you know, asking me about my business, and it just that guy asked me, he’s like, “What is a marketing thing that you’re just scared to do, but you’ve thought about doing?” And my answer was so quick, was it not?
Chris: Yeah [laugh]. Yeah.
Zack: And it was TikTok. You know, I have a thousand ideas for videos, and I’m just—I guess the starting place is to just download the app. I haven’t even done that yet. So, I got to—I guess I should start there.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. You should check it out.
Zack: Yeah any tic… tips?
Chris: Get used to TikTok. So, when you get started in TikTok, like, spend time on the platform. It might sound weird, but it’s going to feel like a weird experience watching TikTok at first because you don’t like—at least for me, it was like I don’t know what to expect, I’m not set up for an algorithm here. I’m so used to Twitter and Instagram, and. It’s a lot like scrolling through Reels just constantly or Facebook’s, you know Social, how you can scroll the videos.
Zack: Yeah, it was—yeah.
Chris: It’s very similar, only that’s all it is. The one thing I will say is, like, figure out the trends, figure out what’s interesting, especially for what you do here. Like, you can make fun content that’s beer adjacent and make it interesting and, I think, draw people in. So—
Zack: Well, I’ve also considered not doing TikTok, but making TikTok light content and putting it on Instagram and Facebook.
Chris: That also works really well.
Zack: I’ve also thought about, well, if I’m willing to make this video for TikTok, why not I just still make the video and just blow it up on Instagram and Facebook?
Chris: Well, as you’ll see with what we’re doing today, like, we take this content and we chop it up and we put it on TikTok and Instagram and YouTube and all those places. And once you create one core set of content, you’re able to break it up and split it out. So, I think, you know, I think you’re on the right track for sure.
Zack: Yeah. That would be fun.
Chris: I have plenty of tips off-air I can give you.
Zack: Yeah, sounds great.
Chris: [laugh]. We’re not here to talk about a social media course, but—
Zack: No, no. No, you got to sign up for that.
Chris: Yeah, you got to sign up for that. Pay for that, please.
Zack: Yeah. It’ll be worth it, I’m certain.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. I hope so, anyway. But yeah, man. Well, very cool. So, we always wrap up with—
Zack: Perfect timing, too. It’s almost time for another beer.
Chris: I know. We need another beer, and I—you know what? I—this as a side note—I have actually found I can’t really do more than two beers in an interview because then I start to slur just a little bit.
Chris: And when I’m editing, I always notice it. So… so this is perfect timing. But last question, I always like to ask. It’s a little bit off-topic, but I am curious, like, what would you say is a brand that you really love right now? Like—
Chris: The brand you look at and you go, maybe when I think about Brew Hub, this is what I want to be, or just a brand that you really admire at the moment.
Zack: I’ll say, here’s my answer, okay? It’s not a great answer, but I am fascinated that seemingly every single quarter, Tesla selling more and more cars and I have never seen a Tesla commercial. I watched the Super Bowl and I saw electric car after electric car after electric car: Ford, Chevy, Kia. I have never seen a Tesla commercial and I have never seen a Tesla print ad, I’ve never seen a billboard for Tesla, but somehow that brand is continuing to grow. And that fascinates me.
Chris: Hmm. What do you think that is?
Zack: I think that it’s a lot of word of mouth and I think that it’s proof that if you do something really well, you don’t have to tell someone that it’s awesome. You can just show them and that the product and the experience will speak for themselves eventually.
Zack: That’s the problem is, can you sustain the growth or can you sustain the low times? And can you be the tortoise? Do you have the capital and the patience to be the tortoise?
Zack: And a lot of times, small businesses don’t. But obviously, Tesla’s different, so [laugh].
Chris: Because I remember when Tesla was just a small company and they had just modified a Lotus Elise to be all-electric and that’s all they were.
Chris: Just this little Lotus and it was custom-made with electric power. And it looked cool because it was a Lotus. And they were the first electric car company to have a cool-looking electric car—
Chris: And I think that’s part of what set them apart—
Chris: —when they were first growing.
Zack: So, I think that’s going to be—it’s not so much that I am inspired by the brand as much as I am intrigued and curious—
Chris: I hear that.
Zack: By it, if that makes any sense.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah, they have a very um… charismatic, I would say, founder, but he’s not technically the founder.
Zack: No he’s not. And this compli—and that’s complicated, obviously. But—
Chris: That’s its own podcast.
Zack: Is there a billionaire out there that isn’t complic—that isn’t politically complicated, so.
Chris: Probably not. Probably not.
Zack: I will say this, and this is something I learned about E—about—this isn’t about Elon Musk. It’s a comment about him, but it’s not specific to him.
Zack: Somebody said to me once that someone out there thinks that he’s the greatest person on this planet and someone out there thinks that he’s the worst person on this planet, and the truth is that they’re both right. And I think about that, right? Someone thinks that Knox Brew Hub is the best bar ever, and someone out there thinks that Knox Brew Hub is the worst bar ever. And the truth is, they’re both right. Because we’re different. We have different perspectives, different views on the world and in different strokes for different folks, and the same goes for beer.
I’ve taken people to breweries, and they’re like, “This brewery is terrible.” And then the person standing next to them was like, “This is my favorite brewery ever.” And I don’t think we should fight that. I think we should lean into that and accept that we’re different and that that’s what makes it interesting and that beer is personal. I try to refrain from ever saying the words ‘best.’ If I tell you this is the best beer we have, I’m telling you what to think. But if I tell you this is my favorite beer, I’m telling you what I think and those are two very different things.
Chris: That’s a good perspective. I learned kind of the hard way because I embarrassed myself in front of a brewer, and they were like, “Hey, what do you think of this beer?” And I was like, “Eh, it’s all right.” [laugh]
Chris: And I was very honest in my response, but I could tell he was a little disappointed by my response to him and his beer. And I learned very quickly that my response should always be the best beer is the one of my hand.
Chris: And that’s kind of how I’ve taken it ever since is, I never want to be in a position where I make somebody feel bad because of the hard work they poured into something that I just happened to not like. So, by being able to respond with, “Well, it’s in my hand, so it’s the best one I’m drinking,” you kind of get into the routine of like, “Oh, yeah.”
Zack: Well, and there is a massive difference between me saying to a brewer, “This beer sucks.” And me saying, “This isn’t for me.”
Chris: That’s very true, yeah.
Zack: If I say, “This sucks,” well, that’s just negative all the way around. But if I say, “Hey, man, this is really solid for smokey—a rauchbier, a smoked beer. Personally, I don’t really enjoy smoked beers that much, but for that style guideline, I think you did a great job.”
Zack: Like, that’s a very different statement, right? And that, I think, leans into the subjectivity of beer.
Zack: The other truth—or at least my—I guess I shouldn’t say truth. The other opinion is, you and I saw 5, 6, 7 years ago that the most important thing was the liquid. That’s not true anymore. And that’s a marketing thing to discuss. Now, it’s not just—because I’ve been to breweries that make incredible liquid and they’re dead, and I’ve been to breweries that make okayish—to me—liquid and they’re packed.
Zack: Because it’s no longer just about the beer. It’s the environment. It’s the culture. It’s the community. It’s the programming. It’s the branding. It’s the experience. I would rather go to a great place that sells bad beer than go to a terrible place that sells good beer.
Chris: Yeah. And that’s what makes Knox Brew Hub so special.
Zack: Well, I appreciate that.
Chris: You got a good community, you’ve got—
Zack: The goal is both, right?
Chris: Atmosphere, you’ve got great beer—because it’s all Knoxville beer, let’s be honest; I’m very biased—but yeah, it’s just awesome. So Zack, thank you so much.
Zack: Hey, thank you.
Chris: For coming on today.
Zack: I appreciate this so much.
Chris: Absolutely, man. It’s been a pleasure. And is there anything, like, where can people find you? Where can people find the Brew Hub for people who don’t know where this is located?
Zack: So, we’re right downtown, right of heart right in the heart of downtown Knoxville, around the corner from Market Square next to the Oliver Hotel, 421 Union Avenue. And we keep it simple. knoxbrewhub.com; knoxbrewtours.com. And you can find all the social media handles exactly as that: knoxbrewhub and knoxbrewtours.
Chris: Awesome. All right.
Zack: I’m usually here, so come and say hey.
Chris: Absolutely. Zack, thank you so much.
Chris: All right. Cheers.