TailGate Brewing Is Thriving In A Challenging Craft Beer Marketplace

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As the United States craft beer industry matures, leaving behind the heady days of double-digit growth and nonstop market expansion, the road to success for breweries has become much more complicated. Just making a great product and packaging it in a flashy bottle or can won’t work anymore. Breweries must execute on multiple levels to ensure their beers end up in consumers’ hands.

This harsh truth has played out in headlines across publications, including Forbes, highlighting the pivot to negative growth for an industry once deemed untouchable. There is something to the gloom. According to the Brewers Association, craft beer finished 2023 down 1.0%, with a record 409 closures spread across brewpubs, taprooms, microbreweries, and larger regional craft breweries. However, many brewers have figured out a formula that works and are thriving in the market. One of those is TailGate Brewery.

Founded in 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee, the brewery has been on a tear lately, opening six taprooms/pizza parlors across the state in the last two years. Its latest location, in Murfreesboro, offers the same formula that has propelled the company forward: thirty TailGate brews on tap, pub-worthy pizzas, and an enthusiastic and welcoming staff. According to founder and owner Wesley Keegan, the latter is the key to his company’s success.

“I realized early into this journey that the only way we could do the things I wanted to do, which was to be the best brewery in Tennessee, I needed the best people. So, I made it my mission to attract and keep the best people for our team. To that end, we offer 100% healthcare to every employee, continually update our wages to ensure they are the best in the industry, and offer a 401K match. That has helped us create a dedicated team that has bought into our mission and has helped us drive sales.”


As the sole owner with no outside investors, the youthful Keegan, who is thirty-eight years old, has been able to drive his vision forward from day one. Not having to answer to outside forces has kept the brewery nimble and able to adapt quickly as needed. According to Keegan, the mantra he preaches inside the company is to continually “evolve or die.”

Not long after opening his initial location inside an old 16,000-square-foot Moose Lodge in West Nashville, Keegan started making decisions that, on the surface, seemed to go against accepted logic in the craft beer world of Middle Tennessee. He deemed his taproom would be open seven days a week, children would be welcome, and there would be large communal tables.

Realizing that working with a rotating food truck calendar wasn’t profitable, he decided to open his own kitchen. As the company expanded, he continued to buck the norm. He hired a full-time artist to work on labels, murals, and taproom vibes. When he realized that he could save money doing all his own laundry, he cut the service he was using. Instead of dealing with repair and construction headaches, he created his own general contracting service.

His drive to innovate and try different things also is evident in his company’s product line. After hearing that their customers wanted one, they started making cider, which is one of their top sellers now. The same goes for seltzers, frozen drinks, non-alcoholic beers, and sweet teas. Instead of sending the profits for such products outside, he kept them for the brewery. As TailGate has expanded, it has become more self-supporting and self-sufficient. As the sole owner, he has reinvested TailGate Brewery’s profits back into the company and fueled its growth.

“We are a small company that is self-funded, and as such, we must be profitable. For us to maintain our growth, we must diversify. I would argue that if you want to succeed on a regional level as a brewery, you better be diversified, or you don’t have a shot at succeeding. If you have all your eggs in one basket, you’re dead before you start. That’s true of any business, but for some reason, craft beer has gaslit itself into thinking it has to play a certain set of rules. I refuse to.”

Much like other successful regional brewers who have resisted the urge to jump their state’s boundaries in the name of expansion- New Glarus, The Alchemist, and Tree House Brewing- TailGate Brewery has no plans to test the waters elsewhere anytime soon. According to Keegan, he wants to focus on natural organic growth inside The Volunteer State. To achieve that, they recently signed with Lipman Brothers, the state’s oldest and most established beer, wine, and beer distributor.

Their core package lineup mirrors their diversity. It features their best seller, TailGate Orange, a wheat beer, three other full-time beers, and their TailGate Cider. Plus, they have two seasonals in full-time rotation. That shelf presence, along with their nine taproom locations, ensures that their legion of fans continually expands. According to Keegan (the company doesn’t share sales or production figures), his company hits new highs each year in sales and production. It seems that TailGate Brewery’s formula for success, arrived at after years of effort, appears to be working, and that is a good thing for craft beer.