I met Zack about a month or so ago through a mutual friend. We sat down and discussed what he was planning to do; a beer tour, in Knoxville. For those of you who regularly follow this blog or any locally driven beer information source you know that we basically have four operating breweries/brew pubs in our fair city; Smokey Mountain, Woodruff, Saw Works Brewing Company and Blackhorse Pub & Brewery. Would it work with only four possible stops? Then, at the same time we started getting pings – please add my brewery to your site – as we try to keep up with Tennessee Breweries here – note how many have been marked as “planned.” That’s not to say some are further along than others but still, things are looking up for old Knox-vegas.
Zack is on to something, and perhaps just in time. Before we parted on this initial meeting he asked me for one more thing; feedback – would we go on a test run and tell him what we liked/disliked and where he could improve? Practice beer tour? Don’t have to ask us twice.
Fast forward to this past Friday at The Bearden Beer Market. The brew bus was parked out front and ready to rock. It can seat up to 12 comfortably or 14-15 if violating others personal space is your thing. It is very much a “short bus” but is nimble, makes noises like Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine, lights up like a Christmas Tree (for your safety) and will transport you from beer A to beer Z in relative comfort. Oh, and there’s snacks. I drug BeerSnob Don along with me and my buddy Andy. We had two more guys, Zack and our driver Matt. After a quick intro and some ground rules, first stop? Blackhorse Pub and Brewery.
While I’ve known Blackhorse for a while (Vanilla Cream Ale stands alone in it’s Vanilla Wafer-esq wonderfulness) I hadn’t spent much time in the pub. Not only did we get to try four beers – one of which I had never had before – the Batch 160 Black IPA, excellent – but we also got a history of the brewery, backgrounds and details on each beer AND we got to interact with several of the Blackhorse team. Zack also showed us some of their setup (they were brewing at the time and, let’s be honest, when you’re working the last thing you want is a bunch of beer geeks standing around with a beer in their hand pointing and saying “cool” – so we stayed out of the brewhouse). After a few of us purchased some bombers to go we headed back to the bus. Snack time and a little lesson on Thunder Road (not spoiling that for you. If you don’t know, get on the bus.) Next stop: Calhoun’s on Bearden Hill.
I cannot count how many times I’ve walked through those doors. Back in college, when Dad would swing through town on business that’s where he’d take me to dinner. A BBQ pork plate was one thousand times better than a frozen Totinos’s pizza. For Calhoun’s and Smoky Mountain Brewery though, that’s where it all began back in the 90’s. Again, Zack gave us a thorough education on Smoky Mountain and carefully went through each beer with us as he showed us the various parts of the brewery. While I’ve been there many times, this was a different perspective and a lot of fun. He also explained the brewing process (wizardry – see photo). I also got to try their 1850 India Ale – pretty nice. Back to the bus!
Off to Saw Works Brewing Company. This is currently Knoxville’s only full fledged production brewery and quite possibly one of the coolest tasting rooms in the region if I do say so myself.* Zack had us gather together and began pouring several beers I was very familiar with and a few new ones – Say Yes Saison? Why, yes, I’ll say yes. He also led us into the back where the brewing takes place taking time to explain how this brew house was different than the others we’d seen and how production at Saw Works continues to grow and evolve.
As we drove back via Neyland Drive Zack asked us for our thoughts, which we shared. Everything was relatively minor but overall I have to say, I was surprised at how much fun I had. These are all places I know, people I know, beer I know but in this package on a beautiful fall afternoon, with good company, it was a blast. I’d do this again in a heartbeat. Not sure what to get that beer geek on your Christmas list? Knox Brew Tour. Looking for a fun outing with Uncle Sal over the holidays? Knox Brew Tour. Looking to get out with the guys or gals for an evening? Knox Brew Tour. (Feel free to invite me, no pressure.) Got a bunch of 8 year olds sleeping over at your house this evening? Uhm…..get a sitter and go on a Knox Brew Tour!
Congrats to Zack for putting this together and kudos to all the breweries that are involved in making this a success. Not only does it introduce (or reintroduce) what you do to people it elevates craft beer in Knoxville and for that, we salute you.
Tours begin this Friday – 11/29 @ $40/ticket. Check out Knox Brew Tours for details. Cheers!
*Disclaimer: we helped assemble said tasting room.