7th Knoxville Brewers Jam
By Bobby Bush
For the past six years, the Knoxville Brewers' Jam has been a June-time happening. Forced from it most popular site, the World's Fair Park, in 2001 due to construction, the fest relocated to a cramped parking lot adjacent to Barley's Tap Room. This year's KBJ was delayed until fall to facilitate a return to the picturesque, grassy World's Fair spot.
That decision, made by festival director Tom Rutledge, was a good one. The weather on October 18 was magnificent. The facility, which offered plenty of indoor (not porta) toilets, was equally as splendid. And the beer? Well, let me put it this way, brewers enjoy the Knoxville festival as much, if not more, than any other fest, so 30-some breweries brought their best beer and their best smiles.
From the host state came Blackhorse (Clarksville), Blackstone (Nashville), Boscos (Nashville), Calhoun's (Knoxville), Downtown (Knoxville), Rocky River (Sevierville), Smoky Mountain (Gatlinburg) and Sophisticated Otter (Johnson City). Neighboring North Carolina was also well represented by Carolina Beer (Mooresville), Catawba Valley (Glen Alpine), French Broad River (Asheville), Highland (Asheville), The Mash House (Fayetteville), Olde Hickory (Hickory), Red Oak (Greensboro) and Weeping Radish (Manteo). South Carolina chipped in with Blue Ridge (Greenville), R.J. Rockers (Spartanburg) and Thomas Creek (Greenville); while Kentucky sent brewers and beer from Alltech (Lexington), Bluegrass (Louisville) and Browning's (Louisville). Dogwood came from Atlanta. St. George, all the way from Hampton Virginia. Local distributor Beverage Control presented several interesting and "strong" micros from Dogfish Head (Delaware), Stone Brewing (Southern California) and Mendocino (Northern California), while regional brewery Redhook (New Hampshire), presented by the local Budweiser reps, not only had a trio of nice Redhook brews but also the newly added Widmer Hefeweizen, a contract beer for the Portland, Oregon brewery of the same name. (This beer outsells all other draft beer in the city of Portland).
As for memorable brews- they were all memorable. Great beer was everywhere. Word of mouth, which runs rampant at fests, recommended the local Tennessee Valley Homebrewers club's Old Ale and Rocky River's powerful Grand Cru. Others that struck my fancy included Alltech's Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale (conditioned in Woodford Reserve casks), Bluegrass Brewing's Bearded Pat's Barleywine, Dogwood's Decadent Ale and Thomas Creek's Midnight Train to Madagascar Porter. And there were many, many more!
With a retro bent, live music by The Invaders, The Throwbacks and Eastwind focused on the 1960s/70s, the 80s and Motown, respectively. Food was plentiful, with a variety of delectibles provided by Calhoun's Restaurants, Highland BBQ Team, Preservation Pub and others. The entire program was superb, well run from start to finish, as is always the case with Tom Rutledge's productions. And to make things even better, over $20,000 was raised for Community Shares, a federation of Tennessee-based community groups dedicated to promoting "a more just and caring community."
Tom took over the fest, then called the East Tennessee Brewers Jam, several years earlier when founder New Knoxville Brewing faced financial failure. Struggling to make it work in that tight, asphalt parking lot, his rising star reached its apogee with the festival's return to the beerdrinker-friendly World's Fair Park. See beersouth.com for a KBJ photo gallery.
Just twelve days following the 7th Knoxville Brewers' Jam, Tom Rutledge, barely 50, died unexpectedly in his sleep. Next week's column will be solely devoted to Tom and what he meant to craft beer in the South.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush