A Chat with Saw Works Brewing Co. President

When I sat down with Adam Palmer, there were two goals: The first was to understand his successful brewery’s story and the second was to reconcile conflicting reports of his reason for getting into the business. The latter proved most interesting and certainly made clear why the success story was even possible.

You see, there were articles claiming he didn’t get in the business for the money and several others claiming he didn’t do it for the beer. Perplexed, we kicked off our meeting by solving the mystery – What else is there?

Adam Palmer, president and co-founder of Saw Works Brewing Company in Knoxville, Tennessee embarked on this brew journey for the lifestyle. Having been raised in the shadow of his entrepreneurial father he knew the lifestyle of an entrepreneur was what he sought. “I didn’t want the traditional nine to five job. I knew there would be long days and I’m not afraid of the work but I wanted the flexibility,” explained Palmer.

In 2010, he had the chance to make that lifestyle a reality. He left the safety of his hometown in the Chicagoland area, resigned from his job at his father’s 40-year-old business, Industrial Enclosure Corporation, and teamed up with his cousin, Johnathan Borsodi, to begin in the location where New Knox Brewing Company once brewed.

When approached by his cousin, Palmer did the only thing he knew to do: He researched extensively. Beginning with the market, he discovered a large growth in regional beer sales but nothing being brewed on a hyper-local level. It was simple, with nothing being produced within a 90-mile radius; Knoxville needed its own beer.

Brewing Equipment at Saw Works Brewing Company

Then he looked at the numbers for the initial investment and operating costs and determined that, “We had a large area to play in and enough room to learn along the way.”

Despite the highest beer tax in the country, the two cousins took the leap to establish their brewery in Knoxville, Tennessee.

In 2011, Marble City Brewery, the first incarnation of the cousin’s business opened its doors. With three seasonal ales, a talented female brewer, and an unbridled entrepreneurial spirit, Marble City Brewing Co. was faced with an unforeseen challenge.

Palmer reflected on the Marble City days and expressed that there was still a lot to learn. After a short-lived legal battle involving trademark infringement with Marble Brewery of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the cousin duo decided to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. Knoxville had grown to love the brand and they were determined to provide the product their patrons had grown close to, despite the minor hiccup.

In hindsight, the timing and outcome couldn’t have been better. Though a tough hill for a young business to climb, it was the perfect opportunity to not only rethink the company’s name but the entire concept – beer included.

In 2012, Saw Works Brewing Company finally emerged and in a fashion both sustainable in business and environmental practice. Palmer and crew teamed up with Century Harvest Farms to both source materials locally and provide a useful locale for their spent grain.

Three Men Drinking Beer at Saw Works Brewing Company

Palmer reflected on those early years saying, “It’s more important to know what you don’t know.” He knew he wasn’t going to be a brewer and he knew it wouldn’t be easy. He certainly didn’t anticipate the naming controversy but held in until they got it right. Saw Works Brewing now honors it’s historic home in the Wallace Saw Works building in the heart of the Knoxville warehouse district in both name and determined drive for success.

With the launch of the new brand, Palmer focused in on growing the best team for the business and has empowered that team to capture hundreds of restaurant’s taps across the region, share Saw Works at dozens of large events, and begin planning for the next big step.

In late 2014, Saw Works will be looking to expand into a nearby historic Knoxville location. It’s there that the company will begin writing its next chapter. After essentially outgrowing the 11,000 square feet of the current location, Palmer is excited to look within the city that has nurtured and supported his business from the start.

The combination of Palmer’s business sense and Ohmer’s brews has the company on track for continued success. They are looking to canning in the new location and plan to eventually move to bottles.

If you’re in Knoxville, be sure to stop by The Mill, the brewery’s tasting room, and try out one of their daily brews. If you’re feeling experimental, grab a pint of the Rough Cut Series. These small batch brews are used for R&D and an opportunity for the assistant brewers to practice their craft.

Palmer took a chance at a new industry, in a new city, and ended up with far more than he imagined. He persevered through a few trying moments, established great relationships within his community, and ultimately found the right combination of quality product, distribution, and the people to foster and grow his young business.

He will promise you it’s not a get-rich-quick kind of business but it’s certainly the kind of business that afforded Palmer the flexibility and freedom he was looking for to stay the course to success.

Chelsea B. Sanz
Chelsea B. Sanz

Chelsea Sanz has lived in East Tennessee since her family moved here from South Florida just before she started high school. While she initially begrudged her new home state, she eventually realized she had come to not only love it, but to “bleed orange” as University of Tennessee Volunteers fans here like to say. She and her boyfriend Hunter, a trail worker for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, enjoy exploring the nation’s most visited national park and coming up with their own farm-to-table recipes.

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