Sep 20, 2018

Great Smokies Brewgrass Festival

September, 1999

By Bobby Bush

After a week of Hurricane Floyd’s devastating wrath, the 3rd Annual Great Smokies Craft Brewers Invitational Brewgrass Festival was a welcome place for relief. Staged on Saturday, September 18 in Asheville’s Memorial Stadium, a venue usually reserved for football and soccer, this western North Carolina fest greeted over 2000 thirsty tasters. Hosted and excellently organized by Barley Taproom & Pizzeria, this multi-tent event was a wonderful marriage of over 100 beers, live bluegrass music and sunny blue skies. Twenty bucks bought an informative program, a six ounce souvenir tasting glass and, here’s the important part, all the beer you could drink and all the bluegrass music you wanted to hear.

Though three coastal breweries were water bound and couldn’t make the trip, there were another 34 there to keep the masses well supplied. North Carolina was very well represented with 14 breweries. Six hailed from nearby eastern Tennessee, an increasingly active brewing area. And South Carolina sent four, including Mad Boar Brewing all the way from North Myrtle Beach. Otherwise Rock Creek, a Virginia company with a brewery in Pennsylvania, was joined by Maryland’s Blue Ridge/Wild Goose/Frederick conglomerate and Sweetwater Brewing from Atlanta. (Rock Creek will be moving their brewing operations to Raleigh soon). Local representatives for distant breweries poured beer for Mendocino, North Coast and Sierra Nevada, all California craft breweries, and Newport, Oregon’s Rogue. So this wasn’t strictly a regional affair.

It actually was the Carolina brewers who brought the most memorable beers. Attending their very first festival, brothers Billy and Scott Pyatt, owners of Catawba Valley Brewing, poured ample samples of their Indian Head Red and Buffalo Nickel Ale, produced in Glen Alpine, NC’s first brewery. Olde Hickory brewer Jamie Bartholomaus, who serves double duty at Columbia, SC’s Vista Brewing, was rightfully proud of his unnamed Bock, a traditional lager. And creative Mad Boar brewer David Fowlkes, who always has a trick up his sleeve, awakened beer fans with his hearty Coastal Quadruppel, Old Fowlkes Strong Stout and Belgian Red. Other favorites (mine) included Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Mendocino Red Tail Ale, Highland Black Mocha Stout (a hard to find seasonal), R.J. Rocker’s My Favorite Marzen, Cottonwood’s Endo IPA and Rock Creek’s Pumpkin Head. Hell, I like ‘em all, all 100+.

For a change of taste, Woodchuck Cider, produced in Vermont, served their interesting Amber and Woodchuck Granny Smith. Thomas Creek, a Greenville, SC micro, brought along a small keg of homemade rootbeer.

To maintain some semblance of sobriety, food was available from local restaurants, including pizza, sausage, Italian, burgers, BBQ and organic Mexican Caribbean creations.

Music, for this seven hour program, was emceed by Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle, the hosts of Knoxville radio station WDVX’s live traditional and bluegrass music show, “Behind the Barn.” Banjos, fiddles and guitars kept the pace lively, with mountain sounds from Rusty Bucket, Sarah & Jeff, honky tonkin’ White Heat and Asheville’s favorite family, Sons of Ralph.

Music, sun, beer and plenty of fun, fun, fun. I’ve been to seven festivals so far this year. The 3rd Annual Great Smokies Craft Brewers Invitational Brewgrass Festival may just be the best.

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

© Bobby Bush


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