On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, people are slowly rolling into a dimly lit Suttree's High Gravity Tavern, carrying bags and small coolers. It's time for the Knox Beer Crew, and everyone has brought something to share.
The Knox Beer Crew is an eclectic mix of enthusiastic drinkers who savor the opportunity to swap and share unusual beers. Most of the bottles people have brought have come from out of state and aren't easily found in these parts. One member, Jason Anderson, has brought a rare Firestone Walker Parabola, a 2011 bourbon barrel-aged Russian imperial stout; he's just come back from a trip to California, where he says he spent $400 on beer to be shipped back home.
"Wow!" exclaims Matt Crowell. "This is the number three-rated beer on Untappd!"
Crowell, 33, founded the Beer Crew last year as an informal get-together for a number of beer drinkers who had met online but not in person. Between Twitter and Untappd, a social media app that's kind of like Four Square for beer, Crowell had connected with a number of fellow beer lovers who were always posting about what they were drinking at the Bearden Beer Market. Now the group meets monthly, rotating around various locations, and more people show up every time.
"I've probably had twice as many cool beers doing this as I would have," Crowell says.
The Beer Crew really does seem to be about tasting—most of the pours are tiny, just a sip. (After all, one beer has to go around to 20 people.) Some of the guys take photos of the labels to upload to Untappd; others post tasting notes on Twitter.
It's a pretty geeky conversation. People say things like: "I'm getting like a chocolatey oaky flavor," and "Do you get that hint of orange spice?" and "This tastes like a Christmas cookie. It's weird," and "Whoo, it's a malty little creeper." But while everyone seems to know a lot about beer, the group is welcoming to outsiders.
"Whatever we can do to spread the craft-beer love, that's us," says Nicholas Walsh.
Walsh, like Crowell, connects with other local beer lovers on the Internet. There's the Knox Hop'nings page on Facebook, the blogs KnoxBeerSnobs and RachetBrews, and, of course, the Knox Beer Crew website, all keeping readers up to date with events like beer tastings, cask nights, and beer dinners.
Louis Kittrell, another regular at the Beer Crew meetings, says the online beer community has provided him both with an increasing knowledge about what he's drinking and the people to share it with.
"I've made some really good friends," Kittrell says.