Ladies First: Jackalope Brewing Company blazes a trail in Nashville

Issue: 
August 2011

Bailey Spaulding was on track to be an environmental lawyer. After graduating from Harvard, she secured a Vanderbilt Law degree, took a fellowship with the Land Trust for Tennessee and even passed the bar. But those who know Bailey also know that in law school, she began to explore the ins and outs of a different passion: beer.

Today, along with her friend and cohort Robyn Virball, she helms Nashville’s newest craft brewery and taproom, Jackalope Brewing Company. Spaulding and Virball, both 29, officially opened the doors to their Eighth Avenue South taproom in May, and they hope to be distributing beer to bars and restaurants this month. 

“We’ve been amazed by the turnout in the taproom and how patient and understanding people have been as we get our wits about us,” says Virball, who heads up Jackalope marketing, while Spaulding focuses on brewing. “We hope that people have been having as much fun drinking in here as we’re having making the beer.”

And to think, it all started when Spaulding was sitting around with a group of law students talking about what they really wanted to do with their lives. When one of the students said he’d like to open a brewery, Spaulding, a Vermont native with a love for beer and a propensity toward her home state’s brewing culture, was instantly inspired.
“Until then, I’d never really thought about the fact that all these cool people do it, and I could do it, too,” Spaulding explains. She began home brewing and by graduation, she knew she was more interested in starting a brewery than practicing law. Naturally, though, every lawyer-turned-brewer needs a partner in crime.

“I’d been talking a lot about how I’d rather be running a brewery, so I had a lot of friends say, ‘I’m going to do this with you,’ but none of them were serious about it,” Spaulding says.

Except one — Virball. The friendship between Spaulding and Virball began eight years ago at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where Spaulding spent a semester abroad and Virball went to undergrad. After college, Virball, a New Hampshire native, worked in theater production in Chicago. She later moved to Boston, and by the time Spaulding graduated from law school in May 2009, Virball was tired of Boston and her sales and marketing job there. “I was just floating around, trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” Virball says.

So, when Spaulding, who was wrapping up her six-month fellowship with The Land Trust for Tennessee, indicated that she was indeed ready to pursue the brewery idea in Music City, Virball packed up and moved to Nashville.

Today, they couldn’t be happier with their decision to launch Jackalope, but they’re also the first to admit that it hasn’t been easy. From converting a carpet warehouse into a brewery/taproom to obtaining the proper equipment and permits, it’s fair to say they’ve encountered their fair share of challenges (read about them on Virball’s witty blog: blogalope.tumblr.com).

“All I want to do is make beer, but there are so many aspects to a small business that are completely unrelated to the product,” Spaulding laughs, adding that she wishes she’d taken more non-environmental law classes.

One thing that these ladies have clearly mastered is the art of resourcefulness. They’ve been known to bribe friends with beer — and coffee and donuts — in exchange for manual labor, and the comfortable taproom is filled with character. The bar is made out of reclaimed wood from a fence that they and their friends rescued from a friend’s parents’ house on a 28-degree Saturday in January. Some of those same friends etched a quote of their choice into each of the taproom tables, which were made out of wood from a 200-year-old Knoxville barn. And don’t forget another important “friend of Jackalope” responsibility — taste testing.

In addition to good friends, both Spaulding and Virball have entrepreneurial parents who’ve been supportive every step of the way. Spaulding does admit that her parents probably would have preferred she utilize that law degree and become, well, a lawyer.
“But I’m really lucky,” she says. “As long as I put my heart and soul into something, they’ll support it 100 percent. So, my mom has become a beer drinker, and my dad’s still a beer drinker, so it’s going well so far.”

The taproom has some tasty food options, including cheese plates from The Bloomy Rind and small plates (guacamole, salsa, empanadas and tostadas) from Karla’s Catering. While the duo says they’ll hold off on bottling beer until the business is more established, they hope to distribute regionally, and eventually nationwide.

Oh, and by the way, Jackalope is Tennessee’s first female-run commercial brewery. We at Her will drink to that — visit them at 701 Eighth Avenue South on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m (they will soon expand to Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays).
 
Where did the name Jackalope come from?
Spaulding is fascinated with the jackalope, a legendary, mythical animal described as a jackrabbit with antelope horns. She even believed they were real until after college — an “uncomfortable amount of time,” according to business partner Virball. Shortly after Spaulding’s belief was shattered, she was given a T-shirt with a jackalope on it that said, “Believe in Yourself.” That, the girls say, has become the brewery’s unofficial motto. And because the jackalope is the stuff of myths, many of their beers are also named after mythical creatures. Check out their three staples: Rompo: A Red Rye, Bearwalker: A Maple Brown, Thunder Ann: An American Pale Ale, along with a rotating tap in which portions of the proceeds go toward a different charitable cause each month. 

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