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Knoxville's Brewers' Jam 2002

June, 2002

By Bobby Bush

When the only complaints about a beer festival involve the heat, it's a pretty good bet the program was a roaring success. Without a doubt, that's the outcome of the June 1 sixth annual Knoxville Brewers' Jam. Since Tom Rutledge of BeerSouth.com and Doug Beatty of Barley's Taproom took over festival operations three years ago, this downtown Knoxville fest has just gotten bigger and better.

Capitalizing on the city's claim as the "Cradle of Country Music" (Dolly Parton and many others had their broadcast debuts on Knoxville's WIVK radio), the Jam crystallized its focus on alternative country music. The Unholy Trio, an uncompromising Asheville band, opened the afternoon show, followed by honky-tonk from Springfield, Missouri's Domino Kings. From Athens, GA, Star Room Boys plunked their "gimmick-free modern country" for the enthusiastic crowd, estimated at 1,500+, leaving room for headliner Rosie Flores, a.k.a. the "Rockabilly Filly" from San Diego, who kicked the festival's waning hour into overdrive.

Meanwhile, the first-time Chili Cook-Off began, as did the festival, at 3:00. Early attendees were provided with samples from the mostly-amateur chili chefs, voting on their favorite spicy, meaty creations. Chili-cooking teams names - Two Guys and a Tablecloth, Two Fiery Females, One Beer Too Many - were as interesting as the bubbling vittles in their pots. El Camino, one of three commercial entrants, took top-honors in the multiple award contest. It was all delicious.

Meanwhile, the rest of Dogwood Courtyard was bustling with beer. Twenty-six breweries and local distributor Beverage Control served tastes of their various and wondrous fermented libations. Home state brewery participants included Blackstone (Nashville), Calhoun's and Hops (both Knoxville), Rocky River (Sevierville), Smoky Mountain (Gatlinburg) and Sophisticated Otter (Johnson City). From neighboring North Carolina came Carolina Beer (Mooresville), Catawba Valley (Glen Alpine), Chesapeake Bay (Raleigh), French Broad River, Kind Ales and Highland (all Asheville), Ham's (Greenville), The Mash House (Fayetteville), Olde Hickory (Hickory) and Williamsville (Farmville). South Carolina sent R.J. Rockers (Spartanburg) and Thomas Creek and Blue Ridge (both Greenville).

First timers to the K-town fest, Day Brewing brought beer from their micro in Marrero, Louisiana. Dogwood Brewing was the only Georgia representative. Regional breweries - Boston Beer, Sierra Nevada, Redhook and Rogue - were working their tables just as hard.

And the beer? Well, it was all good. Make that great! Not a clinker found among the over-100 selections. Without slighting any, the ones I remember most favorably include: Thomas Creek's Dopplebock, R.J. Rockers' Buckwheat, Highland's Black Mocha, Ham's Peg Leg Pale Ale, French Broad River's Watershed Bock, Carolina's new Summer Amber and, hell, I loved them all.

The fest started on time. Porta-johns were plentiful. (You can always tell when the restroom facilities are adequate in number - the lines for beer are shorter than the queues for the personal plastic shrines). The bands played on schedule. Volunteers from Second Harvest Food Bank kept beer iced down and trash cans emptied. T-shirts had a sharp beer barrel logo.

And the sun beat down, pushing the temp near 90 degrees with barely a breeze. It was an unseasonably hot day for this time of year, but better than a torrential downpour. Yes, it's come to that. Nothing to bitch about but the weather, so… the 6th annual Knoxville Brewers' Jam was the best one yet.

In just a few short years, while several other fests have failed or faltered, this Knoxville show has grown into one of the South's predominant celebrations of craft-brewed beer. If you don't believe me, see for yourself next year on the first Saturday in June, June 7, 2003 to be exact. (The 2003 Brewers' Jam has been moved to October 18). Watch www.BrewersJam.com for details. Photos of this year's event are on-line now.

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

© Bobby Bush

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