Great Smokies Brewgrass Festival
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
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