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I-40 Westward

August, 2001

By Bobby Bush

Interstate 40 runs mostly east to west through Tennessee, all 451 miles of it. Sixty miles past the North Carolina line finds Knoxville, a buoyant college town and one-time beer town of note. Craft brewing has fallen on hard times in K-town with this years second passing of New Knoxville Brewing and downtown brewpub City Brew. The ever reliable Calhoun’s BBQ and Brew and workable Hops Restaurant Bar & Brewery, aided by non-brewing Barley’s Taproom and a few other beer bars of note, carry the local brewing torch well, but a town of this size deserves more.

The trail west from Knoxville to the next major bump on the map runs about 160 barren miles. As the state’s most populous city and the home of the new Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville has a respectable brewing contingency. So it was in Music City that we paused from our weary ride.

Stopping in at Big River Brewing Company just in time for lunch, we saddled up to the lengthy L-shaped bar to find an interesting menu and seven beers (plus one cask) on tap. Our helpful bartender, Ann, explained that the meatloaf was a big seller, though she personally preferred pastas and salads served with a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette dressing. The little lady chose Chicken Cashew Salad and ice tea. The he-man of the household went for a Margarita Jalapeno pizza and a side order of beer, a sampler tray naturally.

Part of the growing chain of brewpubs headquartered in Chattanooga, this prime location Big River offers the corporate beers, like thin, gassy, lightly hopped Southern Flyer Light Lager and 1998 GABF gold medalist Sweet Magnolia Brown Ale, rich in malty complexity and pushed by hoppy nose and brief bitter finish. Available on draft and cask, Iron Horse Stout, another corp recipe, was ultra-smooth, full-bodied but not heavy. Chocolate, roasted and a touch of black patent malts danced within each mouthful. Unfortunately the cask was just a little past its prime. Bartender Ann notified the brewer, Lance Roy, who immediately took it off line.

And as for Lance’s recipes, copper-hued Nashville Steamer Golden Ale, made with a “unique honey malt,” was mildly bitter and tasty- a nice session drink. Thick Brick Red Ale worked a citrusy front to a sour mid-point which coalesced into a savory malt finish. A test batch of Porter, which Lance hopes to have ready in time for cold weather, presented chocolate in many manners. This almost full-bodied beer filled my mouth with warm cocoa flavor leaving with a sweet hershey tongue kiss. It was almost sinful. We hated to leave, but the streets of Nashville were calling.

Well, actually another brewpub was calling from just a hundred yards or so up the street. Bohannon Brewing Company, a.k.a. Market Street, was founded as a microbrewery in 1989 way before Tennessee allowed brewpubs. When the state legislature finally awoke to contemporary mores, about 1994 or so, Bohannon was ready and waiting.

Brewers Jeff and Steven Kinnard stay busy serving a heavy tourist flow. We found seven beers on tap, served to us in tall sample glasses. Vanilla Cream Ale is so overburdened with vanilla nose that no other flavor gets through, not even a hint of the pale, wheat and caramel malt listed as ingredients. Golden, crisp and dry-finishing, Classic Pilsner was just that, while Pale was done American-style, exhibiting more than a hint of grapefruity Cascade hops effect. Irish Red Ale was appley sour, nasty and fizzy. Something definitely had gone bad. Bavarian Wheat, served with a lemon wedge was clear (filtered?) and more American than Bavarian, which was obvious from the lack of banana and clove tastes. A 2000 World Beer Cup silver medalist, medium bodied Nut Brown Ale was properly malty and balanced to low sweetness level. Also malty with vanilla notes, Coal Porter showed some tannin taste and gritty mouthfeel, coalescing into a dry finish and malty aftertaste.

Though they had hand pumps, no cask conditioned ales were available. This was probably my fourth or fifth visit to Bohannon in the past ten years (I even stopped in back in the microbrewery days). Beer quality has improved over what I remember in the past. Good but not exceptional.

Hang on, we have two more to go in Nashville
.

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

© Bobby Bush

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