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Rocky River Gold

January, 1999

By Bobby Bush

Rocky River Brewery & Grille entered the lofty world of the craft brewed beer business in the best possible of manners. Barely open two months, head brewer Ron Downer packed several of his Sevierville, TN- brewed beers off to Denver for judging at the Great American Beer Festival. Wonder upon wonders, Rocky Riverís Bear Bottom Stout took a hallowed gold medal at the national event.

As do most brewers, Downer has about 25 years of homebrewing experience under his belt. He brewed a while for Calhounís BBQ & Brew in Knoxville, but has been with Rocky River almost since its inception and played a large role in selection and specifications for the brewpubís $400,000 DME brewing system. No expense was spared- the gleaming kettle, mash tun and fermentation tanks are commanded from a touch screen control panel, one of the first of its generation in America.

Now Sevierville isnít exactly the crossroads of the nation. What I thought would be a 15 minute diversion from I-40, just east of Knoxville, turned out to be a three-quarter hour construction-delayed headache. Nestled practically in Pigeon Forge, home of Dolly Partonís country theme park, DollyWood, Rocky River is well equipped for throngs of beleaguered travelers. A Cracker Barrel-esque general store greets arriving patrons. Three separate bar areas and an outdoor patio complement a cavernous dining area, with seating for 500. Interior decorations are rustic with plenty of rough exposed wood, stone and mounted wildlife. An enticing menu ranges from wood-fired pizzas to Black Angus Steaks.

Until recently Sevierville was dry. A successful local option referendum permitted beer sales only. Downer usually has at least six available. Choosing sampler trays (because the tray only holds six glasses, be sure to ask if there are more) on this particular visit, we sipped slowly through seven delectable well-crafted beers. Ten Point Ale, a German-style Kolsch ale at 4.3% alcohol, embodied citrusy flavor within is clear gold fluidity. Golden Eagle Lager was crisp and clean, going down entirely too easy. Heidleberg Hefeweizen, at 5% a bit strong for style, was smooth, possessing all the germane estery and yeast flavor components. Itís served with a lemon slice, which to my palette is unnecessary.

Hopped with Northern Brewer and Kent Goldings hops, Mad Wolf IPA had notes of apple topped by a somewhat strange, late hop attack. Fest, as in Oktoberfest, was appropriately a lager, deeply hopped and unexpectedly piquant. Copperhead Red Ale, Rocky Riverís lightest at 3.5%, requires six malts to create its medium bodied complexity.

Quite naturally we saved the best for last. Bear Bottom Stout was all it should have been for the Classic Irish style Dry Stout category in which it took top honors. Roasted malt flavor dominated. Sweet Pacific Northwest-grown Willamette hops contributed subtle bitter undertones. A perfect brew for a cold winter night. Downer had plans for a seasonal Winter Fest, but would not divulge any intended spices or flavoring.

Itís certainly off the beaten path, but if travel finds you anywhere in eastern Tennessee, take a 15 minute-plus detour from that weary interstate drive and visit the hospitable folks in Sevierville at Rocky River Brewery & Grille.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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