By Bobby Bush
The Star of Knoxville is a 325 passenger sternwheel riverboat based in Knoxville,
Tennessee. It is primarily used for sightseeing excursions, dinner and moonlight cruises on
a short stretch of picturesque Tennessee River. But on this balmy June afternoon, the Star
and its capable crew played host to a cruise of a different sort. Organized by Doug Beatty
and the fine folks from Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria, this four hour cruise was all
Barley’s, a multi-tap bar with locations in Asheville, NC, Greenville, SC and
Knoxville, has sponsored several beer train ventures through the western NC mountains in
the past. But this was their initial aquarian event, The 1st Annual Tennessee River
Brews Cruise, as it was called.
The authentic vessel pulled away from its moor at Calhoun’s on the River right at
the appointed time of departure. Beer was flowing before that big red paddle wheel
started turning. Twelve breweries and 140 anxious beer fans left the port that day. All
returned safely- festive and full.
Tom Davis, who once brewed for a Greenville, SC bar called Henni’s, was aboard
pouring delicious brews- Pilsner, Multi-Grain and Amber -made at his brand new
microbrewery, Thomas Creek. Heidelberg Hefeweizen, Ten Point Ale and the GABF
award-winning Bear Bottom Stout were on tap at Rocky River Brewing’s table. Head
brewer Ron Downer was also pushing his own festival, scheduled at his beautiful brewpub
in nearby Sevierville the following weekend. All the way from Birmingham, Alabama,
John Kater, brewer for Southside Cellar, that state’s first post-prohibition brewery, was
working hard to promote his traditional and uniquely-named ales. From their stable of six,
four tasty beers were on board: low calorie Cade’s Felony English Small Ale, distinctive
Ship In A Bottle Oatmeal Stout, classic Goat & Compass English Pale Ale and The
Meaning of Life- A Pensive Red Ale. Let’s hear it for history!
As grassy, rolling hills streamed by, we talked to Zachery Ricketts, brewer at
Blackhorse, a Knoxville brewpub, as we sampled American Red Barnstormer and the last
keg of his potent Grand Cru. Local microbrewery New Knoxville head brewer Ed
Vendely carted on kegs of their well-received New Knoxville IPA and Stout. Bottles of
Rogue Brewery’s best were also on hand. The nationally-distributed Newport, Oregon
micro makes some of the best beer in the land, as Dead Guy Ale, Artisan Lager, Hazelnut
Brown Ale and Shakespeare Stout demonstrated that afternoon. George Lindley, a Sierra
Nevada Brewing promotions man working out of Atlanta, gladly served bottles of the
northern California micro’s Pale Ale (one of my favorite hoppy beers), Summer Fest and
Sierra Nevada Porter.
Olde Hickory Brewery brewer Jamie Bartholomaus brought three from the
Hickory, NC brewpub: Brown Mountain Light, Table Rock Pale Ale and Hickory Stick
Stout. From Asheville, micro Highland supplied ample tastes of Kashmir IPA and
Oatmeal Porter, as poured by nun-like Laurel Barber and staff. Assisted by his friendly
wife Sonja, Jonas Rembert, Green Man brewer and kegwasher for Asheville brewpub,
offered an exquisite Cream Ale, along with his IPA and Porter. Calhoun’s BBQ & Brew
provided four of their locally produced brewpub beers: Mountain Light, Thunder Road
Pilsner, Windy Gap Wheat and Tuckaleechee Porter. And, from Boone, NC, Don
Richardson, head brewer for Cottonwood Brewery, and his smiling crew merrily filled
glasses with Endo IPA, the GABF award winning Low Down Brown Ale, Organic Bitter
Ale and Horton’s Irish Stout.
And the boat rolled on. Hot and cold hors d’oeurves were served on the lower
deck, where half of the breweries held fort. The Second String Bluegrass Band provided
enthusiastic entertainment, which was also piped to the upper, open-air deck. A beautiful
Saturday afternoon, food, music and two levels of cruising brews: there’s no finer way to
travel. Screw all those Jimmy Buffett-inspired sugary-colorful-boozy-frozen potions; beer
makes the best boat drinks. Let’s give a hearty cheers to Barley’s!
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush