In this episode of the UnCapped podcast, host Chris Sands talks with Brad West, cofounder of Xul Beer Co. in Knoxville, Tennessee, about the history of the brewery and where its name came from, as well as the Kill The Lights festival and plans to open a second taproom. Here is an excerpt of their talk.
UnCapped: Because it’s such a cool name, let’s start with the story of where Xul came from.
Brad West: It’s kind of a three-part thing. We’re very young. We didn’t even come up with the concept of Xul until January 2019. I was an investor of a previous brewery in town and just wanted to do my thing. My friend Seth met me over at a local beer bar, and we were all tasked with bringing names to the table. We actually had this popup model that we thought about doing, where we didn’t really have a taproom but just have random popups here and there and do canned releases. Obviously, that was a bad idea, so we didn’t proceed with that.
UnCapped: That seems like one of those models that sounds cool until you start putting the work into what it would take and the lack of profit of not having the taproom.
West: Yeah, pretty much. We all had this list of names that we brought to the table. The last one on the list was Xul, and we were all like, “What is Xul?” It’s partly from Ghostbusters.” We’re all into ’80s pop culture. Xul was spelled differently — Zuul — but it was a character on my favorite videogame in the ’90s. It’s got a pretty cool Urban Dictionary definition, too, that I’ll let people look up.
UnCapped: I love Xul’s imagery and branding. Is the cat skull’s name Xul?
West: No, it doesn’t have a name or anything; it’s just the skull head we chose. I think it’s from an owl skull, technically, that our artist rendered and made it himself. We used an artist out of Louisville, Kentucky, named Justin Kamerer, Angry Blue on Instagram. He’s a really good dude who’s done incredible work for us, so we’re happy to have him as part of our team.
UnCapped: How did you get into craft beer to begin with?
West: It’s kind of funny, and I feel bad a little, because we don’t have this big lineage. You talk to Tampa brewers or the Florida brewers, and they’re like, “We came from Cigar City [Brewing],” or this long history of brewing. We’re all fresh to it. I initially got into craft beer in 2011. There was a craft beer market here that opened up, and we used to go there a lot — still do. They my wife got me on to Craft Beer Box, back in the day — like the random, once a month, you get 12 different beers or something. I made a trip up to Other Half [Brewing Co.], I think it was 2016 or 2017, and that’s really when I fell in love with IPAs. That was just kind of enlightening, this different level of craft beer that they were able to create. I was just fascinated with that.
Bentley, my business partner, has been a home brewer for, like, 12 years. He didn’t really do IPAs or lagers. He was into the full-mix culture stuff. So, in his apartment, he had, like, 200 active fermentations going on. He had barrels and bottles and all kinds of [stuff] just lying around. He actually lives above a pole dance studio, and he was out of town one day, and his landlord called him and said that it was raining beer down on the pole dancers. He had something like a fermentation gone wrong, and it was just funny. So, his background was in that, and he wanted to do a lot of the mixed-ferm stuff. He’s just done an incredible job.
UnCapped: Mixed-ferm is one of those things that keeps seeming like it’s right on the verge of taking off, and then it stalls out for some reason.
UnCapped: There are some breweries making some amazing ones. I almost wonder if the popularity of heavily fruited sours — and people [suggesting] mixed-ferm to people who like heavily fruited sours, and then they try a mixed-ferm and are turned off — is what keeps it from completely taking off. But I think it’s a very underrated style of beer.
West: Yeah, those are my favorite. I like the non-fruited, for the most part, in that realm. I think you’re right. We flirt mostly in the realm of pastry and tropical stuff, as far as our sours go.