Three thousand five hundred thirsty beer and music lovers crammed onto the World's Fair Park lawn Saturday afternoon to celebrate a love for craft beer.
Brewers' Jam is Knoxville's craft beer Super Bowl for regional brewers and beer lovers alike and continues to grow 18 years in. The event especially means a lot to Tommy Higdon, associate brewer for Woodruff Brewing, the beer behind Knoxville stalwart Downtown Grill and Brewery.
Higdon and his crew host a brewers' reception for the festival on the fifth floor of the brewery every Friday before the main event on Saturday.
"We actually date back to the very beginning of the Brewers' Jam," Higdon said.
Higdon and Dan Goss, managing partner for the brewpub, both reminisced over how far the festival has come.
"The first one was at the Holiday Inn at Cedar Bluff," Higdon said. "It was tied into Dogwood Arts Festival at that point. Then the second one was held at the Knoxville Coliseum at that big yard looking onto the police department." The very first Brewers Jam began with old Knoxville breweries Great Southern Brewery and New Knoxville Brewery. Great Southern was a brewpub in the late '90s ran by Mark Harrison, another of the managing partners of Downtown Grill and Brewery.
The past, however, isn't why Goss and Higdon feel so attached to the beer festival. Instead, it's what the festival means to other brewers and the craft beer community.
"It's an honor for us." Goss said. "The amount of brewers I've met over the years that look to this place, and you can always talk to them and they are always excited and pumped to come here."
The Friday night reception is more than just a meet and greet for the festival's brewers. It helps the brewers see each other differently than do the throngs of people during the festival.
"Saturday, those guys are pouring and cranking out beer, and I'm sure there's conversation and stuff goes on, but when I see them on Friday these guys are truly themselves," Goss said. "It's a show before the show."
This year there were over 70 brewers represented, with almost 44 independent craft brewers in attendance. There were four breweries on focus that have plans to open in the Knoxville area in the next six to nine months.
Being surrounded by great beer cities like Asheville, Nashville, and Chattanooga has made Knoxville step its game up, and it looks to be a good year ahead for Knoxville beer lovers.