MTSU fermentation science, brewery partners celebr...

MTSU fermentation science, brewery partners celebrate groundbreaking

Middle Tennessee State University officials joined those from Steel Barrel Brewery to celebrate corporate leader Life Is Brewing LLC’s groundbreaking for a business that will be in partnership with the new MTSU fermentation science program.

Attended by university President Sidney A. McPhee and featuring alumnus and state Sen. Bill Ketron, the June 15 event showcased the ceremonial shoveling of dirt for facilities that will be home to a fermentation lab for the program that starts this fall.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee visits with attendee at groundbreaking for fermentation science lab and other venues

Mike Leslie, left, and MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee talk about the Life Is Brewing LLC/Steel Barrel Brewery groundbreaking event as Whit Turnbow, MTSU senior associate athletic director, gets a cold beverage available for attendees. Students in the new fermentation science program will benefit by spending time in the brewery’s laboratories. (MTSU photos by J. Intintoli)

The planned two-hour event was held at Hop Springs, being billed as an agritourism destination by the company, just off John Bragg Highway.

McPhee shared how Derrick Morse, Steel Barrel Brewery co-founder and brew master, attended MTSU’s late February announcement of the fermentation science program guided by Tony Johnston, a professor in the School of Agribusiness and Agriscience.

Craft brewing’s growth in recent years has spawned a need for workers with higher levels of education — and future MTSU fermentation science students and graduates will meet the requirement.

“He (Morse) said he couldn’t wait for this day today, when work began on this 82-acre site here in Hop Springs,” McPhee said. “We can’t wait, either.”

“Steel Barrel will offer space for a working laboratory in this craft brewery, which will allow Dr. Johnston’s students to get practical, firsthand experience in this field,” McPhee added. “I am thrilled to return the favor and to be a part of Steel Barrel’s ceremony for this ambitious project.”

Ketron helped pass legislation in 2016 to allow MTSU students to perform laboratory work at the brewery to help measure product quality.

Mark Jones, Steel Barrel Brewing co-founder, is an MTSU alumnus.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, right, visits with alumnus and Steel Barrel Brewery co-founder Mark Jones, center, and Maneet Chauhan, a founding partner in Life Is Brewing LLC and a chef and featured judge on the Food Network’s “Chopped” series June 15 at Hop Springs, the company’s new location for a brewing facility on the John Bragg Highway.

“Our collaboration with the university will broaden job opportunities and placement for graduates,” Jones said. “As an added benefit, our staff and MTSU faculty will be working on new ideas in agricultural products, marketing analysis (in the sensory lab) and new fermentation and brewing processes.”

“We are looking forward to a fruitful future with the community as well as the university,” he added.

Life Is Brewing LLC, established in 2017, is the team behind Mantra Artisan Ales and newly launched Steel Barrel Brewery.

Facilities in the company’s first phase also will include a 2,000-seat amphitheater, 10-acre hop field, wet and dry dog parks, scenic hiking and biking trails and golf course.

In addition to the groundbreaking, the event featured tethered hot air balloon rides and catered food and beverages.

To learn more about MTSU’s fermentation science program, visit or call Johnston at 615-898-2421. The School of Agribusiness and Agriscience is part of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences.

— Randy Weiler (

Crowd gathers for groundbreaking announcement

Part of the crowd attending the announcement of the Steel Barrel Brewery and MTSU partnership, which will provide lab space for fermentation science students. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)