A trip to Nashville wouldn’t be complete without visiting the taproom at Jackalope Brewing Company. Having opened in 2011, Jackalope has helped shape the city’s craft beer scene, blazing trails and working for changes that have allowed Nashville breweries to open and thrive.
Along the way, they’ve brewed some pretty stellar beer, too. Which is why we’re extra excited that we can now get a taste of Nashville in New York. Some of Jackalope’s best, most sought-after beers are hitting TapRm, perfectly timed for a period when taking a Nashville vacation isn’t quite feasible. Even when we’re back to road-tripping, we’ll be happy to be able to score Jackalope brews at home whenever the mood strikes. To celebrate, we sat down with CEO and Co-Founder Bailey Spaulding to dig into the history and magic of Jackalope.
You met your cofounder, Robyn [Virball], while you were both studying in Scotland, and both of you headed down different paths before joining up to start Jackalope. How did you fall in love with craft beer and how did it grow to be what you wanted your career to be?
Bailey: I’m from Vermont originally, so I grew up in a place where craft beer was just a really big part of the community. I was born in 1981, so I didn’t even realize that was such a unique thing at the time, in the late ‘90s, early 2000’s. I really fell in love with craft beer early on, but I never thought about making it. In a lot of ways, you don’t put together that craft beer is made by people and you could just go do that.
I came to Nashville to go to law school; my interest was in environmental law...But during law school, I started homebrewing and fell in love with it. I went down this path of, “Well, you can be a positive impact in the community, in the business world, by running a socially conscious brewery.”
Why did you decide Nashville was the place where you wanted to open that brewery?
Bailey: When I started law school in 2006, there was not a lot of craft beer in Nashville at that point. We had one distributing brewery in town and a couple brew pubs, but we really didn’t have the thriving craft beer scene that we do now. So it seemed like a good opportunity.
Nashville had everything you need for a thriving craft beer community, we just didn’t have the beer. Tourists, big nightlife, a really big focus on local and community support, and creative endeavors, Tennessee has the highest taxed beer in the country, and for the first five years Jackalope was open, there was a very low alcohol cap, too. We could only brew up to 6.2% ABV beers. There were some things that put Tennessee behind, but we felt like if we were a part of this community, then hopefully we could be a part of bringing about changes.
You started working on the brewery in 2009, and opened in 2011. What was the process like turning Jackalope into a reality? What did you know you wanted for Jackalope and its identity?
Bailey: We went through the whole exercise of writing a really solid business plan, and in that, it makes you really think when you have to write what your mission and your values are going to be...We wanted to build a brewery that’s an active part of the community, both a welcoming place and a creative place, and a place that’s positive for the people coming to drink and the people that work here. Those things are big, grand statements and you have to think about how you’re going to put them into play, especially as we were very grassroots in the beginning. We didn’t start the brewery with a ton of money; there were zero employees, just me, Robyn, and Steve [Wright], who became a partner not long after we opened.
So, from the very start, we had a program in our taproom where 20% of the proceeds from one of our beers goes to a local nonprofit or a nonprofit we care about. We’ve raised over $70,000 for different nonprofits. We’ve kept that up even during Covid. We just have been able to reopen to the public, but while the taproom was essentially closed since March, we’ve still made sure proceeds from small-batch, to-go can releases go to a nonprofit. That program has been with us through good times and tough times, it’s a really important part of our business.
There’s also community engagement, that’s a big deal. We’ll do--not during Covid times--neighborhood clean-ups, invasive species clean-ups, river clean-ups. We tend to try to not only donate money but also time and other resources to making the community a little better.
How has the craft beer scene in Nashville evolved since Jackalope opened?
Bailey: When we started, Yazoo [Brewing Company] was the only production distribution brewery in town. There were a couple other brew pubs, as well, and probably in the nine years we’ve been open, 20 other breweries opened in middle Tennessee. It’s changed quite a bit.
I was one of the founding members of the Tennessee Craft Brewers Guild and was president for a couple years. Some of the legislations we got through both raised that cap on the ABV we could create--we can now brew up to 10.1%--and we still have the highest taxes in the country, but now it’s volume-based where it was based on how much you charged for your beer, so the weight of the burden was all on the craft breweries.
We’ve gotten to be here as things have been really hitting. We were the first craft brewery in Nashville to can our beer; we were working with a mobile canner for a long time until we opened our new facility two years ago and we have our own canning line now. When we hear about something interesting, we like to be on the forefront of it. Another thing we’re doing is implementing a CO2 recapture system from Earthly Labs. It’s pretty much the first of its kind, designed for small breweries. A lot of CO2 is created during fermentation, and breweries buy CO2 as part of our process, which always seemed environmentally and economically inefficient to me but there wasn’t a solution for small craft breweries before.
How would you describe Jackalope’s beer?
Bailey: We have our core, year-round lineup to appeal to various palates, each beer balanced and drinkable in its own right. For a long time in craft beer “drinkability” was a bad word, but I think about it in a good way. You want people to like drinking your beer and want to have a second one.
Our biggest selling flagship is the Bearwalker Maple Brown Ale. Being from Vermont, maple syrup is very important to me, and we source syrup from folks I know. There aren’t a lot a lot of beers like it down here. It’s extremely drinkable and balanced at 5.1%.
One silver lining of this year is that normally summer is so crazy-busy for us that we’d been wanting to find ways to incorporate more trends and experimental beers into our schedules and were having a hard time. Now, we have had five months to figure out a way to do that while business is a lot slower than usual, and we have a way to incorporate it into our beers long term.
We always want to have something people can depend on, but we also want to have something for people who want to try something new. There are different craft beer drinkers: some people want what they want, some people want what they've never had before. It’s a totally fun thing and allows us space to be creative--we don’t want to be making the same beers over and over again.
Where do you get inspiration for what Jackalope is going to brew?
Bailey: Increasingly I’ve been trying to give a voice to our whole team. Thinking about how Jackalope has grown and how our whole team embodies it, we like to come up with ideas together. There are times where I’m like, “No, no, I’m taking this one,” [laughs]. Even still with our team, it’s, “Oh, here’s an ingredient I really want to try to work with, what beer are we going to build around that ingredient?” or, “Oh, man, I really want to try this style, what ingredient will we use to create this?”
The beers have really cool can art, can you talk a bit about that?
Bailey: The can art is done by Chris Cheney, who we’ve known for a long time...Our original can design was great for that time, but branding-wise, we’d grown into something else and outgrown our original design. He knows us really well so it was really easy to work with him; he knows our playfulness and that we like folklore, like a mythological vibe, and to be fun and colorful. He knocks it out of the park every time, he’s so fun and a great person to work with.
What do you love about the craft beer scene? And what do you love about Jackalope’s relationship to the community and customers?
Bailey: People feel like they really know us. Our branding is all authentic and that connection is what people seek in craft beer. Our beers all have stories--everything behind us, really, has a story and a reason why we do it, so I think that helps create a fun experience for people. Some of our customers have been regulars since we opened, they’ve been on that journey with us. We had a very grassroots start and are still tiny, but we’ve kept growing and growing. We opened a new facility a couple years ago that is more high-tech and pretty cool, so it’s been fun to have people with us on that journey. Through Covid, we’ve really connected with people by doing small-batch can releases. We’re lucky to have a canning line. We’ve done almost 19 different brews since March. It’s been a way that we could internally exercise some creative muscle and get to do some things that are different and fun, and create something exciting for our customers during such a difficult time.
Head to the Jackalope collection page to to try all of Jackalope’s options in New York!