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Bottoms Up!

Cheers to Knoxville’s Thriving Beer Scene

In 2015, as interest grew, a group of local beer brewers got together and formed the Knoxville Area Brewers Association (KABA). The organization is dedicated to supporting local brewers by banding together for events, competitions, and shared success through the Knox Ale Trail. 

“The biggest perk of being a member is getting on the Ale Trail. It creates a sense of community. You know where the beer came from because it’s right in your neighborhood,” says Joel Leffew, Head Brewer and Production Manager at Crafty Bastard and President of KABA. “You’re helping to support local people, your neighbors.” 

Like the Tennessee Whiskey Trail, the Knox Ale Trail offers a physical and digital map of 25 breweries in Knox and surrounding counties. Patrons can stop in for a pint and get their map stamped. Once the passport is full, they can head over to Knox Brew Hub at 421 Union Ave. for a selection of prizes, like stickers and pint glasses. 

The Knoxville craft beer scene has been steadily on the rise, and several local breweries have received national recognition. In the 2016 World Beer Cup, Blackberry Farm Brewery won the gold medal for its Classic Saison, and in 2022, Xül Beer Co. earned the gold medal for its Rhymes Like Dimes IPA. Last year, Balter Beerworks celebrated two medals – gold for its Sunsphere Wheat and silver for its Vecino – along with earning the title of Brewery of the Year (for their size) at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado.

“I drove Knoxville’s beer entries to Denver myself,” says Joel. “I don’t know if they would’ve entered if we hadn’t taken care of the shipping.” 

This year, KABA is working with the Tennessee State Guild to ship all of Tennessee’s brews to the World Beer Cup in Las Vegas to see how they fare. 

“It’s the first year we’ve teamed up to make sure our members’ beer gets there,” says Joel. “The hardest part of getting to these competitions is paying for the shipping, so we thought it would be cool to take that burden off of our members so they didn’t have to worry about it.” 

Shopping locally has long since been a popular trend, and patronizing local breweries is no different. 

“I’ve always been a fan of trying to shop local, so why not do the same with your beer? Drink local!” says Joel, laughing. “You know the money you’re spending is paying the wages of your neighbors. Let’s keep it in the Knoxville family.” 

Want to try some local brews in one, easy location? Great! Make plans to attend this year's Knoxville Brewfest on Saturday, June 22, at World's Fair Park Lake. Session 1 is from 1-4 p.m., and Session 2 is from 6-9 p.m. (Designated Driver tickets are also available and will cost $20 each. DD ticket holders will be provided with non-alcoholic beverages.) Ticket holders must present ID at the gate, as this event is strictly for 21 and older. You can’t bring your pets, but you should bring your dancing shoes! Enjoy live music from Alex and The Animals during the first session and Demon Waffle for the second session. Visit KnoxvilleBrewfest.com for more information.

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