By Bobby Bush
That whole East Tennessee Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg/Sevierville triangle - with tourist
traps, outlet malls and Dollywood - is at the top of my list of places to be avoided at all
costs. My patience is just too thin for the traffic and long, long lines. Obviously though,
my weakness, a predilection for all things beery, occasionally gets the better of me. So
here we were cutting through Gatlinburg at lunchtime, so where better to stop for a bite
than at Smoky Mountain Brewery & Restaurant?
Smoky Mountain is part of Knoxville restaurant group Copper Cellar Corporation,
founded in 1983. The restaurant company opened its first brewpub, Calhoun’s BBQ &
Brew, in Knoxville in January 1995. The Gatlinburg brewpub, nestled behind a
non-brewing Calhoun’s restaurant not far from the entrance to the Smoky Mountain Park,
was added in December 1996. Though the Smoky Mtn menu is more sandwich and pizza
oriented than the fabulous smoked and barbecued meat selections of Calhoun’s, the beers
remain the same. The same names and recipes, that is.
Traveling weekly between brewpubs, about a 30 mile traffic-plagued jaunt, brewer
Marty Velas runs both Copper Cellar brewpubs, with help from assistant brewers Jay and
Adam. As his initial brewing training, Velas spent four months as a brewing journeyman at
Hofbrauhaus Traunstein in Southern Bavaria. Upon return, he assumed the brewmaster
position at the first Los Angeles area microbrewery, Alpine Brewing Company (now
micro Southern California Brewing), a German-style restaurant/brewery in Torrance.
Before morphing from brewer to brewing consultant in 1992, Marty developed and
directed, in conjunction with brewing equipment supplier Bohemian Breweries in Redondo
Beach, a hands-on brewing school called The American Craftbrewers’ Academy. Joining
the ranks of academicians, he also instructed brewing science classes at UCLA. Hired as a
consultant to put together the Knoxville Calhoun’s brewery, Marty eventually took the job
as head brewer, waving California goodbye.
That move, over five years ago, has resulted in continued growth and produced a
line-up of award-winning beers. Most notable among them is Velas Helles, a
German-style lager than took gold in Denver at the 1999 Great American Beer Festival
and then repeated that feat in the 2000 World Beer Cup, a prestigious international
So with subs and sausage assembled betwixt us at a booth in Smoky Mountain’s
upstairs dining room, we sampled Marty’s wares. For beginners and unadventurous folks,
there’s Old Thunder Road (a balanced though mild pilsner-like lager), Mountain Light (an
American lager) and LeConte Lager (an orange-ish Vienna-style lager of slightly sweet
bearings). The latter brew is one of four rotated Brewmaster’s Specials, as is the
award-winning Velas Helles. Slightly less hoppy than a pilsner, the Helles makes a
well-rounded session beer that’ll work all night long, if necessary. Black Bear Ale, done
in the sweet English brown ale style, and Cherokee Red Ale, with fruity-mouthfeel
patterned after Irish Red Ales, fill in the mid-range beer territory, augmented by Brewer’s
Special Appalachian Pale Ale and Kilt-Tilter Scottish Ale. And bringing up the dark side
are the roasty smooth Tuckaleechee Porter and special Brown Trout Stout, made creamy
with nitrogen infusion.
Cloudy summer seasonal Windy Gap Wheat was an interesting hybrid of Bavarian
and American wheat beer styles. With wheat content of 50%, this golden ale is somewhat
yeasty and served with a slice of lemon. The last of spring seasonal Capricator Bock was
still on tap. Copper colored, this lager was bittersweet with dark caramel overtones.
Other seasonals in Smoky Mountains repertoire include Red Forest Fest Bier (autumn)
and Winter Warmer, an English Olde Ale, rich and complex from seven different types of
Both brewpubs are bottling their beer for carry-out sales. Copper Cellar’s other
Knoxville restaurants are stocking Calhoun’s bottled beers, along with a limited keg
selection, to expand their Calhoun’s beers menu.
Looks like there’s no rest in store for Marty Velas and crew. Smoky Mountain
Brewery makes Gatlinburg a little more hospitable to travel weary people like me. See
what they’ve got at www.smoky-mtn-brewery.com.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush