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Back To Tennessee

January, 2000

By Bobby Bush

My day job often takes me to eastern Tennessee. Never one to miss the opportunity of proximity, I usually make the most of my locale. And so it was on this trip westward that we stopped in at Great Southern Brewing Company for a beer and conversation with a friend from Knoxville. This facility opened in Knoxville on Gay Street around 1995 as Smoky Mountain Brewing Company. Plagued with mediocre food and similarly described beer, the struggling brewpub lasted barely a year. It was shuttered almost as long before being revived more successfully under new ownership and management. Bobby Krusen mans the small brewhouse located behind the big, solid wood island bar. The difference between Smoky Mountain and Great Southern is night and day.

Great Southernís Nut Brown Ale, topped with a good head of foam, was medium bodied, slightly sweet with absolutely no bite or aftertaste. The Kolsch, a German-style ale, proffered a subtly sweet finish, while California Common was moderately hopped but nowhere close to Anchor Steam. Oatmeal Stout was best by far. Thick mouthfeel and black in color, this rich beer was exceedingly malty with roasted barley flavor dominating. Somebody get me a spoon. A chalk board advised that Pale Ale would be on tap soon.

[Note: Great Southern closed in early 2000. New owners reopened the refurbished brewpub, now called City Brewery, in December 2000].

We continued our conversation at Riverside Tavern. On the banks of the Tennessee River, just off the UT campus, this brand new restaurant and bar offered a broad and enticing menu. It being dinner time, we partook, choosing from wood-burning oven pizzas, wood-fired rotisserie creations, including Roasted Lamb and Pork Tenderloin, grilled steaks and fish, pastas and sandwiches. I must confess, the salmon was delicious.

But of course we had to have proper liquid refreshment to accompany such exquisite vittles. Along with the standard domestic swill, a reasonable selection of imports (Harp, Negro Modello, Newcastle, among others) and micros (Rogue, Sam Adams, Yellow Rose, Flying Dog), Riverside had four New Knoxville beers on draft. (Thatís the real reason we wanted to try this new restaurant). The four year old Knoxville micro, with no pub of its own, makes some mighty fine brew.

We started with XX Pale Ale. Its medium body and fruity mouthfeel hid a touch of hoppy bitterness. XXís big brother, New Knoxville IPA, was also medium bodied. Its flavor profile ran very hoppy but not overbearingly bitter. The color of Riverside Red, created for the restaurant, matched the booth upholstery perfectly. Just a coincidence, Iím sure, this tart, fruity brew made a great long-drinking session beer. The Honey Wheat was out. In its stead was the seasonal Stout. Malty chocolate taste with a quick finish, this New Knoxville beer goes well with or even as desert. Riverside Tavern and New Knoxville make a great team.

[Suffering finacial strains, New Knoxville closed in mid-2000 but later, with help from many local investors, reopened with no change in name or management].

The next night we found ourselves in downtown Chattanooga to meet more beer-thirsty friends. What better rendezvous destination than Big River Grille & Brewing Works. Just across the street from the marvelous Tennessee State Aquarium, this circa 1995 brewpub does everything right. The foundation of a brewpub corporation that just snapped up the stalwart Gordon Biersch chain, this cavernous facility, with two dining rooms and a large bar area as well, is one of my Southern favorites.

We settled in for a pleasant meal and plenty of beer. Brewer Shane Stancill wasnít on duty, but we enjoyed his beer anyway. The seasonal Vienna Lager was thin bodied, malty with a sweet-and-sour finish. Southern Flyer Light Lager was the necessary tricycle brew, though Manchester Mild Ale, another seasonal, was soft pale ale-like with a tinge of hops up front chased by big malty flavor. And you canít go wrong with award-winning Sweet Magnolia American Brown Ale.

The rest of our party took off, so we retired to the big bar for a taste of the cask conditioned ales. House Brand IPA presented a spicy hops start, ending with a smooth caramel texture. In opaque blackness, Iron Horse Stout was luring with richness, if not a bit too sweet. I could drink any of Big Riverís beers all night long. Now thereís an idea!

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

© Bobby Bush

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