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MoCo Brewing Project, an Up-and-Coming Brewery in the Knoxville Area

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Matt and Emily Graber have recently purchased a 1940’s property in downtown Wartburg, TN and are currently in the midst of construction of MoCo Brewing Project slated to open in May 2020 that will be serving both Matt’s beer and coffee products. Matt’s dream of owning a brewery started while he was stationed in Fort Polk, LA after receiving a Mr. Beer Kit for Christmas from Emily in 2011. Emily’s only words to him as she watched her linen closet get cleared out to become the fermenter location for the kit was “please do not blow our house up”; success on Matt’s part and many batches later, his brewing is much more sophisticated! 

Matt and Emily are both Veterans. Matt is retired from the Army with over 17 of his 20 years in the Special Operations community culminating as a Company First Sergeant and a member of the Centurian Club (100 jumps). Emily spent time on Active Duty and transitioned to the Reserves where she is still serving in the Special Operations Community. After Matt’s retirement in late 2018, they relocated to East Tennessee where Emily is originally from.  Matt began researching his dream and found the Brewing & Distilling Center in Knoxville that he enrolled in receiving his Certificate in Brewing and Distilling in April 2019. In October 2019, they purchased a property in downtown Wartburg that would house their dream and the rest is history in the making.

When coming up with the name of the brewery, Matt and Emily wanted to focus on all the natural beauty that Morgan County has— Frozen Head State Park, the Obed Wild and Scenic River, Historic Rugby Village and the Cumberland Trail. So, MoCo (short for Morgan County) was decided on. All beers will be focused around what MoCo has to offer or icons to the county such as Wartburg Pilsner, Clear Creak Cream Ale, Potter Falls Porter and Chilton Tractor Stout (homage to Emily’s grandparents tractor business of many years). The logo was designed by Sign Language, Inc in Western New York where Matt grew up. Incorporated into the logo is a mountain for Frozen Head, the river for many rivers that come through the area, the Tennessee Tri-Star, and the shape of Morgan County. The colors are based of the National Park Service and the logo is in shape of a patch that will be featured on many of their merchandise items.

As owners of MoCo Brewing Project, Matt and Emily see this as their opportunity to not only bring great beer (and coffee) to Wartburg, but also as an opportunity to give back to the community that they call home. Both of their pasts have been focused around bringing people together for a common cause  and owning MoCo Brewing allows them to do just that and control the message. Right now it is just two of them and they like that as well after being in charge of large organizations. They get to choose their team and ensure everyone they bring on shares their vision of not sacrificing quality for quantity and as Matt says (after hearing one of Emily’s bosses say) “do what’s right and treat like family.” 

As for lesson’s learned, they have a few that they will readily share. First, “know what you have and know what you don’t have”—for them, this refers to utilities and understanding how they operate prior to kicking off the project. For example, they thought water was connected to the building previously based off of water spicket. Come to find to out after in-depth investigation and much time spent in conversations, the water line was cut at some point and the long time employees of the water company were only ones with recollection of water line history.

Second lesson learned is “what you expect and reality are often two different things.” They went into their business pursuit with expectations that they would have to be an advocate for themselves and it has definitely paid dividends. The city of Wartburg has shown amazing support to them and has worked with Matt as he has advocated to change city law to be in accordance with Tennessee state law. They also have had an experience buying an older property in a rural community were surveys may/may not have been completed using advanced technologies. In turn, they have less property in the back than they thought, but quite the road frontage (to include a little piece of the road). Learning this has allowed Matt and Emily to adjust their strategy to their new reality (and even in a good way).