By Bobby Bush
Despite a vibrant number of workers and residents, downtown Knoxville, Tennessee
boasts only a few good watering holes. The situation worsened when Great Southern, a
downtown brewpub, closed last May. For seven protracted months, thirsty city folks
anxiously watched that old building’s transformation. And then, with no formal
announcement, City Brew Restaurant & Brewery opened on December 1, 2000 in the
midst of the annual Christmas parade. Word-of-mouth alone brought out a capacity
crowd. Even with an opening-night limited menu, the kitchen was slammed. As was the
brewery. Brewer T.L. Adkisson worked double shifts for weeks prior to this un-official
opening to fill his serving tanks, but there was no way he, or anyone, could have been
prepared for the weekend onslaught that unexpectedly occurred.
But now those first-night jitters are behind and City Brew seems to be settling into
a workable routine. An official grand opening was held in mid-February with much more
orderly results, though the crowd was just as large as before. With the kitchen and
restaurant managed by a restaurateur of local fame, Regas Brothers Inc., food preparation
and service are prompt and professional. And appetizing as well. Starters include fried
City Brew Dills, Nantucket Crab Dip, Grilled Pepper Quesadilla and Puffed Onion. Many
of the offerings incorporate Adkisson’s beer into the recipe. Try Onion and Ale soup,
beer battered Fish and Chips and Drunken Mussels, for example. Stuffed Potatoes,
delicious salads, burgers, sandwiches - from pastrami to tofu - and a succulent array of
City Brew Entrees, including Herb Grilled Turkey Breast, City Brew Bratwurst, Green
Tomato Parmeseana, Asian Gilled Trout and City Brew Sirloin. The Regas reputation for
great food is confirmed at City Brew. A full bar and expertly chosen wine list complete
the scene, with one exception: T.L.’s beer.
City Brew Blonde Ale is his lightest and best seller. Just six weeks after that busy
December night, he had already brewed four 15 barrel batches. As expected, the Blonde
is light, lager-like with a little bitter bite at the end. Fastly approaching the Blonde in
consumption, American Pale Ale is hoppy, maybe a tad much for style, medium bodied
and blessed with Mt. Hood and Cascade hops attributes. Smooth and malty, City Brew
Brown establishes a position about half way between malty English and hoppier American
brown ale stylistic characteristics. Indeed, Adkisson employs American grown barley and
a combination of UK and US hops- Fuggles and Goldings, respectively. New to the
line-up, City Brew Lager should be on tap by now.
City Brew IPA, a “classic English pale with an American twist,” is nearly full
bodied with warming mouthfeel. A complex recipe of four malts and five hops additions,
the IPA is a hopheads delight. Full bodied Northwest Porter is rich, obviously blessed
with a heaping helping of chocolate malt with a pinch of black patent on the side. Like
savoring a quickly disappearing piece of milk chocolate stuck to the roof of your mouth,
the malt sensation is abruptly halted by a quick bitter sensation at the end of each swallow.
T.L. also blends styles with City Brew Stout, which lands somewhere between Irish and
American versions with full bodied taste of darkness - black is good - punctuated by the
bittering effects of Cascade hops. Clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and candied orange peel spice
the high alcohol seasonal Winter Ale. This Wintertime warmer wafts a soothing
gingerbread aroma. As you can tell, T.L. brings a West Coast touch to most all of his
Leaving beer and food behind for a minute, the tale of City Brew and T.L. is
somewhat convoluted. The Gay Street building in which City Brew resides has a life of its
own. The aging, vacant building became a brewpub, Smoky Mountain Brewing
Company, for the first time in 1996. Undercapitalized (a familiar microbrewery theme
nationwide), the brewpub lasted barely a year. With new owners, the shuttered facility
reopened under the Great Southern Brewing Company banner in 1998. Again, financial
strain was the main culprit, resulting in another demise in the Spring of 2000, though
several of the employees attempted in vain to purchase the struggling business.
And then along comes the financial strength and reputation of Regas. While
rumors flew, work was underway. The kitchen was remodeled, a front wall was removed
and, thankfully, there are no more chilled pint glasses. Most of the preparation went into
the brewhouse itself. Suffering from years of band-aid repairs, T.L. virtually dismantled,
cleaned and reassembled the entire system, replacing valves as needed. He added a fifth
fermenter, repaired the glycol system, replaced the draft line, which runs up from the
basement. All by his lonesome.
T.L. started his professional brewing career as a New Knoxville Brewing
Company brewpie (rhymes with groupie), first as a volunteer for the Knoxville
microbrewery and later as a paid apprentice. That gig lasted three-and-a-half years. With
some regret, he left New Knoxville to take on the task of re-firing the neglected brewery
at City Brew. He’s still paying his dues now, working over 80 hours per week, but
personal satisfaction is more meaningful. Regrets? Yeah, he misses the guys and dealing
with distributors. Ironically, Bob Krusen, former brewer for Great Southern, now works
for New Knoxville as a sales representative.
It looks like the third time is a charm for 424 South Gay Street. These folks know
what they’re doing. And yes, according to T.L., they’re “selling a lot of beer.”
Check out www.citybrew.net and my site. Thanks to Tom Rutledge for help with this article. See his site on
all things Southern: www.BeerSouth.com.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush