Knoxville Craft Beer Week 2013: Bigger and Frothier

With a forecast that includes at least a quarter-million ounces of brew, Knoxville Craft Beer Week 2013 promises to be way more fun than a mere 99 barrels of beer on the wall. Running Saturday, June 22 to Saturday, June 29, the celebration of specialty froth has a made a tremendous leap in the year since its inception. There's a lot more beer at a lot more places and the range of activities includes tons of fun stuff, good music, a little education, and a lot of great food.

The week-long and multi-venue event celebrates craft beer, a growing and vibrant category of malt beverages. According to the Craft Brewers Association, there were over 2,300 craft breweries operating in 2012, making up a $10 billion industry that produced and sold over 13 million barrels of beer. Those are pretty impressive numbers that represent significant growth, especially when compared to overall U.S. beer sales, which grew 0.9 percent by volume in 2012—the craft beer segment was up 6.5 percent.

Despite concerns that all that growth may be a frothy bubble just waiting to burst, Matt McMillan, the manager of the Bearden Beer Market, isn't too worried about that just yet: "Maybe there's a bubble, but a lot of this business is made up of people in for the long haul—they're not just looking to make a quick buck."

In Knoxville, the craft beer scene isn't recorded by an official bean or barrel counter—not yet anyway—but based on anecdotal evidence it seems alive and healthy. Just last week, Metro Pulse reported that Fanatic Brewing will set up shop just north of Happy Holler. Add that to the successful operations at Saw Works Brewing Company, the Smoky Mountain Brewery, Woodruff Brewing Company, plus the expected arrival of Black Horse Pub & Brewery, and you've got a lot of craft beer floating around town.

As for what defines a craft beer, there are legal and industry standards aplenty, and you'll find any number of folks to explain it during the week's festivities. But for many of these passionate beer aficionados, what really distinguishes a craft beer from the rest of the six-pack is more about the quality of the product and the business ethos behind it. These special beers feature more personality and distinctive flavors, and are brewed in smaller lots than more standard national brands. Jeremey Gregory, a representative of local beer distributor Cherokee Distributing Company, says that "these days you find a lot more people who want to trade-up in terms of what kind of beer they drink—they want to try more unique things."

McMillan describes craft beer as a beer that "usually comes from a small brewery that uses really good ingredients. It's a quality product that comes from a different business philosophy [than nationally known commercial brewers]. There's more environmental consciousness and an interest in local culture. And more money goes to the community instead of television commercials." In addition to accessing the larger trend of consuming more local products, McMillan thinks craft beer appeals to people who believe that "life's too short to drink crappy beer."

The good news is that you won't find any crappy beer in the great wash of Craft Beer Week. The festival will pour the equivalent of more than 125 kegs of quality brew selected and served by the area's finest beer purveyors and most loyal enthusiasts. According to Jeremy Walker, a brand manager for Eagle Distributing Company and one of the shepherds of this festival of fermentation, "This year's event is a lot better than before. Last year was a little last-minute. We had time for more planning this year, and a lot of key people have been involved from the beginning: distributors, retailers, restaurateurs, and a lot of local beer bloggers and beer lovers, too."

His enthusiasm for the event and beer in general is pretty clear in his title, Galactic Purveyor of Fermented Goodness; but what you don't see on the card is Walker's enthusiasm for Knoxville. In fact, most of the promoters and participants of this event share a strong streak of civic pride. When you meet and mingle with the folks behind this event, you'll get the feeling that the entire festival is founded on appreciation for both high quality beer and Knoxville itself. "We wanted our own beer event. Knoxville's a good place to drink beer, and we have great beer that's made right here," Walker says. "It's another reason to visit Knoxville."

The beer-centric activities are legion and occur all across the city from downtown to Turkey Creek. Tap takeovers and cask parties at many different bars will focus on offering rare opportunities to taste small production, specialty brews that often don't make it to the general market. Sunspot's J.T. Baker describes these events as chances to try "one-time only experiments or beer that's in short supply, like the Saw Works' smoked ale—it's a really limited edition." There'll be lots of special offerings from breweries great and small like Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, Flat 12, Harpoon, Abita, and more.

Food and beer will pair together as proudly as any wine dinner can promise, especially when Chef Drew McDonald of the Plaid Apron undertakes the challenge of pairing six courses with vintage beer offerings from the Brooklyn Brewery. The Grill at Highlands Row will show off in the same way by pairing up its eclectic Southern and chef-driven fare with selections from the ever popular Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.

Low key, but equally fun food times abound: the Hoof food truck will be around all week to show off its burger's affinity for beer, and the Public House will pair its one-of-a kind hot dog selection with fine froth from Yazoo Brewing Company. Meanwhile, there's a lot of non-food-related fun to be had as well—Highland Brewing Company will sponsor fun pub games from bingo to trivia, with a few special and exciting prizes.

You'll also be able to bend an elbow with brewers who have helped shape the craft beer movement, and, best of all, hang out with some of the most passionate beer lovers that walk the Earth. That's certainly true for the culmination of Craft Beer Week at the Knoxville Brew Fest held at the Southern Railway Station. Tickets to the grand finale are limited, so you'll want to act fast if you want to enjoy this event that promises food, live music as well as 70 brewers, 250 beer labels, and 250,000 ounces of beer.

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