Brewers' Jam 2000
By Bobby Bush
A beer festival without beer? In this case, it was one of those oxymoronic "good problems." A large, thirsty crowd swarmed upon the 4th annual East Tennessee Brewers' Jam, held May 20 in Knoxville. Dodging scattered showers and overcast skies, more than 1700 beer-curious folks descended upon the South Lawn of the World's Fair Park for a taste of the region's best beer. And taste they did, to the point where, in the eight-hour festival's waning minutes, beer became an endangered species, though host New Knoxville Brewing Company was pouring right up to closing time. Satiated by music and an appetizing array of food, this parched mass of humanity, undaunted by spells of misty rain, eventually consumed every drop of 67 different beers, served by 19 breweries and one beer distributor.
Brewers came from six states to soothe this savage tribe. Nine of Tennessee's best breweries, including hometown fav New Knoxville, happily poured their ales and lagers. Others from the home state included Blackhorse (Knoxville), Blackstone (Nashville), Big River (Chattanooga), Calhoun's (Knoxville), Great Southern (Knoxville), Hops (Knoxville), Rocky River (Sevierville) and Smoky Mountain (Gatlinburg). Neighboring North Carolina was well represented by five breweries, including Carolina Beer (Mooresville), Catawba Valley (Glen Alpine), Olde Hickory (Hickory) and Rock Creek (Raleigh). Highland Brewing of Asheville ran dry early, followed by floating, lifeless kegs at The Cannon Brewpub's table. Even without beer, this new Columbus, Georgia brewpub, with a big play on history, entertained the congregation by firing an authentic brass cannon. Burntstone, a new brewpub in Athens, was the Peach State's other entrant.
Surprisingly, South Carolina's delegation was slim. Brewer Mark Johnston and his crew/fans from RJ Rockers in Spartanburg made the trip alone. So did the brewers from Lexington Brewing in Kentucky and Shipyard, a fine Florida brewpub from Orlando. In an valiant attempt to soothe the masses, Beverage Control served a couple of sweet, strong Belgian beers. This local wine and beer distributor also offered tastes of bottled Red Tail Ale, a popular brew from Mendocino, California, and Arrogant Bastard, a hard-hitting hoppy ale from the San Diego area. Cottonwood of Boone and Oldenberg Brewing of Ft. Mitchell, KY, were last minute no-shows.
Plenty of food was available from Barley's Taproom & Pizzeria, Cool Beans, Crescent Moon Cafe, Holiday Inn, Kalamata Kitchen, Regas Brothers and Sunspot Restaurant. Entertainment, which ran the entire fest, was provided by Knoxville favorites Slow Blind Hill and the R.B. Morris Band featuring Hector Qirko. Local newcomers Robinella & the CC String Band and Cheryl Renee's Blues Band kick-started things off, while southern jamming Left Foot Down closed the fest with a rousing set of high-energy, dancing/twirling rock and roll.
The ETBJ Planning Committee works hard to distinguish their event as something special. Trying to convince breweries, who get scores of calls to give beer away at various fests, that ETBJ should be permanently marked on their activities calendar is no easy task. But the planning group set about it in all the right ways. The evening before the fest, brewers were treated to a nice dinner, cigars, single malt scotch and a selection of unusual beers such as Aaron Cook's Grand Cru, Bobby Krusen's Barleywine, Rocky River Winterfest Ale and Calhoun's Capricator Bock. In their Holiday Inn hotel rooms, participating brewers received a gift basket of beer, BBQ sauce, hot sauce, festival t-shirt, ballcap, Knoxville map, tourist brochures and souvenirs. A free breakfast buffet was also included. There's no better way to a brewer's heart than through his/her stomach.
Besides the successful attempts at bribery, the ETBJ committee also seems to have an organizational hit on their hands. As the sponsoring charitable group, The Humane Society of Tennessee Valley, led by Emily Jones, provided volunteer staffing and plenty of high profile publicity. Tommy Higdon and Ed Vendely of New Knoxville Brewing worked the brewery/beer angle, while volunteer Tom Rutledge of BeerSouth.com maintained a constantly updated website, ETBJ newsletter and a myriad list of other responsibilities. Nothing was left to chance, and it showed.
Most of the crowd stayed until the end. A little dampness didn't slow these beer kindred spirits. The scramble to find beer in the festival's final minutes added excitement to last-call. In a perfect world, the beer runs out when the last drinker's thirst is quenched. The 4th annual East Tennessee Brewers' Festival came as close to perfection as is feasibly possible.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush