By Bobby Bush
Third time's a charm. The 3rd Annual East Tennessee Brewers' Jam was as perfect as a beer festival can be. Organized by Ed Vendely and the hardworking staff at New Knoxville Brewing Company, this year's fest was held on the spacious grounds of the World's Fair Park in downtown Knoxville on May 15. The weather was perfect. Food, from a handful of local restaurants, was appealing. The music, featuring six bands playing continuously over the course of the eight hour tasting, was entertaining. The charity- Friends of the Smokies -was deserving. And the beer was wonderful.
Twenty invited breweries, pouring over 70 different beers, were represented. Eight hailed from the home state, six from North Carolina. One brewery each traveled from six other states, including R.J. Rockers from Spartanburg, SC, with their succulent Panther Pale Ale; and Southside Cellar, a microbrewery from Birmingham who poured a delicious honey Kolsch called Queens Parlour.
From Pennsylvania, Jones Brewing, at 91 years old the nation's second oldest operating brewery, brought their close-to-megabrewed Stoney's Beer, a traditional American lager, and Harvest Gold, a pilsner. These lighter beers served stark contrast to such enriched and tasty brews as Highland (Asheville) Oatmeal Porter, Smoky Mountain (Gatlinburg, TN) Brown Trout Stout and Rocky River (Sevierville, TN) Brewing's award winning Bearbottom Stout. Equally interesting were Mango Ale (First Coast Brewing, Wilmington, NC), as fruity as it sounds; New Knoxville's relatively new XX Pale Ale; Olde Hickory's (NC) potent Hickory Stick Stout; a dopple Spring Rock bock, from Southend Brewing in Raleigh, NC; and Rock Creek's (Richmond, VA) hop-kickin' Devil's Elbow IPA.
Unfortunately, Bosco's head brewer Chuck Skypeck had technical difficulties (a non-functioning truck and missing restaurant chef) and did not make the trip from Nashville with his delicious Famous Flaming Stone Beer. Hops, a local outlet of the Florida-based brewpub chain, showed up late, their kegs warming for several hours under the tent until we decided to open 'em in their absence. Williamsville Brewery tapped out and left for home way before dark. Those little mishaps, as typical as they seem, are the only points of complaint for the entire affair. New Knoxville Brewing runs festivals as well as they brew their complete line of beer.
Thankfully, there were plenty of porta-toilets, always a concern at heavily attended beer events. Heavy plastic pint glasses, close in feel and weight to real glass, were a great improvement over the typical opaque plastic mugs that most non-glass outdoor festivals provide. Two ounce tastes were plentiful and the beer ran ceaselessly right up to the 10:00 last call. Eight hours flew like two.
According to the festival handbook, the Brewers' Jam's mission is "to provide a tasting event which emphasizes educating the public about craft-brewed beer from small local and regional breweries and brewpubs." There were about 1,900 educated, happy and satisfied souls on this sunny Saturday in Knoxville.
More Beer Fests
Barley's Taproom and Pizzeria, fairly new to Knoxville, hosts the 1st Annual Tennessee River Brews Cruise on June 19. The Star of Knoxville will depart on a beer accompanied tour of the Tennessee River at 12:30 with 12 breweries and The Second String Bluegrass Band. Call 423/521-0092 for more information.
On Saturday June 26, Rocky River Brewery hosts the 1st Annual Governor's Crossing Brewer's Festival at their expansive brewpub in Sevierville, TN, not far from Gatlinburg. Over 20 craft breweries from seven states are expected. Give 'em a call at 423/908-3727 for details.
Hope to see you there!
This article first appeared in Focus Magazine of Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush