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Boat Drinks

July, 1998

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 about beer.

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

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