Going from corporate to kegs

Hank Hayes • Apr 16, 2018 at 8:30 AM

KINGSPORT – Kingsport native Jetta Pyatt bought a beer homebrew kit for her husband, Billy Pyatt, during Christmas 1994.

“He said ‘You can make your own beer?’” Jetta Pyatt said of her husband’s reaction. “He’s kind of the consummate engineer. He got interested in it very quickly making beer after beer in the house and inviting friends over.”

The homebrew kit started something, although it took some time.

In 1999, the Pyatts bought the assets of a defunct brewery in Colorado, flew out there, rented a U-haul and brought them to their home in North Carolina. Those assets stayed in a garage for three years while they searched for an appropriate building. They finally found an old hosiery mill in Glen Alpine, N.C.

While it didn’t have any glass in the windows and ivy was growing inside, the price was right at $200 per month.

“I thought ‘We can afford $200 a month to get this started,’” Jetta Hyatt recalled.

The brewery pieces and parts were cobbled together from dairy or handmade equipment, and specialty craft beer maker Catawba Brewing was born.

The Pyatts made beer and sold their first kegs to Barley’s, Mellow Mushroom and The Bier Garden in Asheville, N.C. That produced enough money to buy some ingredients and make another batch. Now, according to Jetta Pyatt, Catawba Brewing is up to 18,000 barrels and will move to 35,000 barrels with the acquisition of a South Carolina property.

Jetta Pyatt went to the old Lynn View High School. After graduating from The University of the South and getting a master’s in business administration from Duke University’s business school, she spent 31 years at Corning, Inc. where most of her tenure was in operations and marketing.

While the Pyatts were starting up Catawba Brewing, they had to keep their jobs at Corning. Billy’s brother Scott was the startup operator. “Billy and I had day jobs so we were involved in the business as investors and bookkeeper,” Jetta Pyatt recalled.

Catawba Brewing now has tasting rooms in Asheville, Morganton and Charlotte, plus selling beer at the retail level. The company has six flagship brands, with one being “White Zombie White Ale,” in addition to a number of seasonal brands.

One weekend last March, Catawba Brewing had a “tap takeover” at High Voltage, an outdoor venue, in downtown Kingsport.

“Jetta still has a place in her heart for Kingsport,” High Voltage co-owner Anne Greenfield said.

Jetta Pyatt talked about what it’s like to be in the wide-open craft beer business where  it can be boom or bust.

“The plan is to continue to make good craft local beer,” she stressed. “Our plan is to open tasting rooms in small breweries … we have two beer strategies. There are experimental beers, and then there’s the waterfall strategy, that whatever becomes popular you may take to cans. There’s the tasting room and then there is retail. People want to drink local beers. They want to drink beer that is made in their own backyard.”

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