Big River Chattanooga
By Bobby Bush
Downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee is under construction. The city is working hard to revitalize the old town area into a viable, vibrant economy. While the beautiful Tennessee State Aquarium anchors the development, Big River Grille & Brewing Works bolsters the area's commerce. In business since '95, Big River is the first of what has become a chain of brewpubs. The links include Big Rivers in Greenville, SC, Nashville and in the Disney Broadwalk resort in Orlando. For a while, Big River commingled with Boulder's Rock Bottom group, but that program dissolved with the Chattanooga concern maintaining control of Rock Bottoms in Charlotte and Atlanta. Big River Breweries Inc. also owns several Florida properties: Ragtime Tavern in Jacksonville, A1A Ale Works in At. Augustine and Seven Bridges Grille & Brewery in Jacksonville. A new venture in Memphis, Big River Brewery at Peabody Place, will be opening soon.
Right on Broad Street, just a block or so from the aquarium, Chattanooga's Big River is a fun place, spread over three big rooms, each with a different purpose. Noting the sidewalk patio as we entered the huge brick structure, greeted by a friendly hostess, we settled in at the left-hand bar. Smaller but quieter, back in the corner, the front of this room held diners amidst a semi-formal setting. When I found that the cask conditioned IPA and Stout were only available at the big bar two rooms away, we politely excused ourselves and ambled in that direction.
Passing through the central dining room we entered the fun bar room. The bar was long, fully populated with talking faces. A brick pizza oven sat in the rear, near pool tables. With no hope for a tall bar table, we secured stools at the bar and ordered up the cask brews. House Brand IPA was hoppy (dry hopped) and smooth, while Iron Horse Stout, also available with regular carbonation, was somewhat thin for style but full of flavor. A gold medal winner at the '98 GABF, Sweet Magnolia American Brown Ale was extreme, almost a brown IPA with heavy hops taste and almost no malt presence. Once a seasonal, its winner status made it a much asked for regular brew.
On the light side, Big River serves Seven States Pilsner, Southern Flyer Light and an interesting Imperial 375 Pale Ale, named for a turn of the century (the last one) beer brewed by the long-defunct Chattanooga Brewing Company. That old brewery, whose phone number was 375, resided just across Broad Street. Angler's Amber rounded out the regular rotation. Seasonal beers vary per season and brewer's whim.
Towards the rear of the bar room was the entrance to Sing Sing, a night club with its main doors on Market Street. Live music, and Big River's great brews, keep the place hopping five nights a week. When in Chattanooga, do as the locals do. Visit Big River Grille & Brewery.
This just in: the Big River group has purchased the west coast Gordon Biersch chain of 12 high class brewpubs. A Gordon Biersch will be opening in Atlanta any day now.
You may remember that Rocky River Brewery & Grille opened last year with great fanfare. Barely brewing for two months, brewer Ron Downer surprised even himself when his first batch of Bear Bottom Stout garnered the gold medal at the '98 GABF contest. Well I am pleased to report that Ron and company are still going strong in Sevierville, TN.
We stopped at this $7 million facility in for dinner recently (well actually during the rainy beer festival staged on the brewpub's grounds) and thoroughly enjoyed a fine meal. Along with pizza (cooked by the bartender behind one of their bars) and sandwiches, delicious entrees include Grilled Chicken, Smoky Mountain Trout and Baby Back Ribs. But it was Ron's ten beers that we found most delightful. Ten Point Ale (kolsch) and Golden Eagle Lager (with European hops) were great starters. The German-style Heidelberg Hefeweizen was nice and clovey, while the Copperhead Red was more to our liking. Copper and hoppy throughout, Misty Mountain Maibock (lagered seven months) and Mad Wolf IPA` were right on target. Panther Creek Porter was very smooth and teeming with mocha flavor, while the award winner Bear Bottom Stout was full bodied and dry. My only complaint was the frigid pint glasses.
Needless to say, we highly recommend a side trip to Governor's Crossing on your way to Dollywood.
This article first appeared in Focus Magazine of Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush