Knoxville: Brews & Bikes

Knoxville, Tennessee has had its share of hard knocks over the years, but this old city of 170,000 people is finding new life with micro breweries, unusual bars and outdoor activities to help you burn off what you’ve just consumed. I visited in November, when the leaves had turned colors, the chill of the air kept you moving at full speed, and the inside of a warm bar made the end of the day just about perfect.

There are three micro-breweries in downtown Knoxville including Downtown Grill & Brewery. The brew pub and restaurant is immensely popular and they offer a diverse food menu, typical bar fare, though it's quite good. They brew an amazing 7,000 pints weekly which constitutes eight different ales and frankly demand is so high they can barely keep up as it is, and it's packed even on off nights. Their beers uniformly present hoppier notes from their Alt to their stouts. They source their grain from Germany and England and they are one of the few to have their copper tanks, not sequestered behind glass, but out in the open.

Saw Works Brewing Company is the near opposite open far fewer hours preferring instead to get their beers on taps around the region. "We're trying to be Knoxville's beer," co-owner Adam Palmer tells me. They are located in what used to be, not surprising, a saw sharpening and finishing shop. The focus is English style ales therefore English grains and rye malts are their base and brew up mainstays and a few seasonals. I really liked their double chocolate porter and their dirty south brown, both nicely balanced with a creamy viscosity. But what also makes this spot unique is their Beers and Steers program. The brewery has partnered with Century Harvest Farms and owner Chris Burger (no seriously, that’s his name) who raises grass fed beef which can be ordered and picked up at the brewery on special nights, which also gives beef-loving customers special pricing on growlers. I love this idea.

Smoky Mountain Brewery takes a different approach to their brews with Munich style lagers. They make beer for Copper Cellars and Calhoun’s (a great barbeque spot) and their beers are clean, smooth and crisp in part because he does all his fermentation in tank which keeps the brews fresh and clean with a slight carbonation. I really liked the Velas Helles and Thunder Road Pilsner, two styles I don’t normally appreciate, but which turn out beautifully balanced. They craft eight mainstay beers, seasonals and IPA’s and other specialty brews.

There are other beer spots like The Casual Pint and Suttree’s, both of whom do not brew but do carry local, regional and national craft beers on tap and in bottle. Overall in Knoxville pints run about $4 and growler refills about $9. Suttree’s also offers a solid selection of local whiskey mainly from Tennessee and Kentucky. Just up the road is Boyd’s Jig & Reel who are compulsive about their 218 Scottish single malt whisky’s. This musical pub offers live music and food and even if you don’t have Scottish roots, if you love whisky, come here and you can sample more single malts that almost anyplace on the east coast.

What’s surprising about Knoxville is that within two miles of downtown you have access to 1,000 acres of wilderness to mountain bike, hike, trail run and miles of the Tennessee River to go fishing or canoeing. The land comprising this urban wilderness is a joint partnership with the City, State, Federal government and private landowners, and that right there is stunning. The adopted motto of the urban wilderness is, “No child left inside,” and with tons of protected fields, meadows, hills and trails, not to mention three Civil War forts, and two Civil War battlefields on this land, this really is a playground in the middle of the city. The outdoors called me so I grabbed a bike from River Sports Outfitters and hit the trails. With the damp fall foliage covering the roots of the trees you’re bunny hopping a lot, probably with a few kick-outs. The single track is not overly technical but it does have enough turns and hills to keep you paying attention. I did have one gravity check, but no biggie, frankly it’s a badge of honor…I guess. And a visit to the abandoned Ross Marble Quarry is a must. You can easily hike or bike to it, and this moss covered quarry needs to be explored on foot. Stairs lead down to what looks like urban Mayan ruins, the large blocks of stone still bearing quarry marks. It’s eerie as well as archaic; a funky, odd spot with an unusual beauty.
Ross Marble Quarry

Knoxville is growing up and the downtown core is getting’ revitalized. So if the Smoky Mountains are calling or the fishing along the Tennessee River or the 1,000 acres of urban wilderness, or even some damn fine authentic biscuits and gravy are pulling you towards east Tennessee, make it a point to get a pint in Knoxville.


No comments:

Post a Comment