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Brewgrass 2000

September, 2000

By Bobby Bush

Breweries were committed. Bands booked. Food vendors lined up and, most importantly, porta-toilets contracted. Then, unexpectedly, three weeks prior to the 4th annual Great Smokies Craft Brewers Invitational, Asheville city officials called sponsor Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria to alert them that Memorial Stadium, which so comfortably hosted last year’s event, would not be available due to the drought condition of the playing field. Unfazed, Barley’s moved the popular Western North Carolina fest to a central downtown site. Minus the grassy green and restroom facilities, September 16 did indeed witness this friendly bluegrass music and beer celebration, albeit on the asphalt streets of City County Plaza.

The shadows of stately municipal buildings and the dearth of toilet facilities (an accidental oversight in change-of-site planning) did nothing to damper the fun. Over 2500 plastic cups (no glass allowed in the park) were distributed to an equal number of happy faces, testimony to this Brewgrass party’s popularity. Twenty-four breweries presented 85 beers. Fifteen breweries hailed from the Carolinas: 9 North, 6 South. Three traversed over the Smokies from Tennessee. California sent beer and reps from Sierra Nevada and Mendocino Brewing Companies, as did Oregon with Rogue. McGuire’s, a 12-year-old Destin, Florida brewpub, brought two nice ales. And multi-brand Frederick Brewing from Maryland presented Wild Goose, Blue Ridge, Crooked River and Christian Moerlein brews.

The crowd grew as the seven hour fest’s final hours approached. This tide of humanity surged between brewery tents, spaced around the outskirts of a tiny wooded park, food vendors and the stage. The strains of Yonder Mountain String Band, local favs Sons of Ralph featuring Ralph, Straight Ahead, New Point Special and The Tony Furtado Band contributed to the festive atmosphere of this cool, late summer day. Keeping hunger pangs in check, Barley’s served up delicious hand-tossed pizza. Joining them in the food court were Mountain Smokehouse, with succulent pit-cooked meats, and Salsa’s Mexican Caribbean Restaurant, offering vegetarian and meat filled delicacies.

Along with co-sponsor Highland Brewing of Asheville, the Barley’s ownership trio of Doug Beatty, Mike Neel and Jimi Rentz strive to make their fest enlightening. Almost all of the invited breweries distribute their beers in the western NC territory. So, after sampling all 85 beers, it’s entirely possible that bloated tasters could find that very same beer at a bar, restaurant or retail store in their own neighborhood.

But what about the beers? With so many great beers to choose from, in so many different styles, few stood out. A seven hour blur also contributes to that lack of clarity. But there were notable beers. Catawba Valley Brewing finally learned what hops where all about and introduced Firewater IPA. The Glen Alpine, NC micro was celebrating their first anniversary. Sevierville, TN’s Rocky River brought their gold GABF medal-winning Bear Bottom Stout and three other stunning beers. Assistant brewer Adam from Gatlinburg’s Smoky Mountain Brewery pushed an amber Oktoberfest lager, as did David Epstein with New South Oktoberfest, crafted in his Myrtle Beach microbrewery. From Atlanta, Sweetwater poured four English-style ales, including Exodus Porter and 420 Xtra Pale Ale.

Don Richardson and his Cottonwood Brewery, Boone, NC crew were out in full force with medal winning Great Pumpkin Spiced Ale, Low Down Brown Ale and a naturally carbonated, gravity-poured Endo IPA. Johnson Beer brewer Al Clayson, from Charlotte, featured an Oktoberfest Bier and his own recipe Pre-Pro Lager, made with 25% maize. Supported by a bus load of fans from Spartanburg, South Carolina, R.J. Rockers, led by brewer/owner Mark Johnsen, served seven great beers, including distinctive The Horse You Rode In On Amber Ale. Olde Hickory (NC) Brewery introduced their seasonal Oktoberfest, an ale version of the traditional lager. Asheville Pizza and Brewery used cut-out photo boards as a draw, though their Shiva IPA and Oktoberfest needed little promotion. David Fowlkes, North Myrtle’s Mad Boar head brewer, featured a light, sweet Sunshine Belgian Ale. Highland was well represented by kilted brewer Bill and four beers, including seasonal Black Mocha Stout. Outer Banks resident Weeping Radish worked a cask of Marzen. And, last but not least among the notable, recently revived New Knoxville Brewing, on its deathbed just two months prior, proudly poured four great beers.

Brewgrass 2000 was fun from start to finish. Just a few more outhouses next year, please.

Browse through the Brewgrass photo album at .

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

© Bobby Bush

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