This week, Monica and I spent a Saturday afternoon aboard the ChattaBrew Tour brew bus visiting 4 local breweries. We were invited on the tour by owner Mike Ballard as guests on one of the initial test runs.
Ballard started the tour after taking a similar brew adventure in Nashville a few years ago. He wanted to wait until Chattanooga had multiple breweries (all 10 local breweries are on board) to launch the program.
I should note right off the bat that although I paid for it the rest of the day with a terrible stomach bulge and bloated horror, we did not pay a tour fee. Mike invited us as “guests” of the operation. However, we did pay for additional tastings at each of the four stops (a grand mistake) and for our own lunch at Big River Grille (less of a mistake).
The cost for the tour (which spans 4 hours and includes plenty of time at each brewery) is $40 per person. Tours are scheduled for Friday afternoons at 1 p.m. and Saturday mornings at 11:30 a.m. Brew tourists get to sample at least two beers per brewery during the tour. You also get a behind-the-scenes tour at each brewery.
Our tour included 4 breweries — Terminal Brewhouse, Hutton & Smith, Big River Brewing and Heaven & Ale — but each tour is different and could include other stops like McHale’s, Moccasin Bend Brewing Co., OddStory, Mad Knight Brewing, Chattanooga Brewing Co. and Big Frog Brewery. Mike said he’ll even do a regional tour — to a place like Calfkiller Brewing in Middle Tennessee — for private tours if they request it.
Monica and I had a ton of fun drinking great beers and listening to the background of each brewery. We were joined by a hilarious and fun couple, Kevin and Angela, who were great fun to be with. Barry from Terminal Brewhouse was our official guide throughout the afternoon. Owner Mike also joined us on the bus. A motley crew were we.
We arrived 20 minutes early and met the bus behind Terminal Brewhouse and Gary, the bus driver for the day, let us onboard. Mike arrived a few minutes later and told us we could get off the bus and go into Terminal to start the tour, that it was the first stop anyway. We met with Barry, whose decade of employment at Terminal made him a walking Rolodex of beer knowledge. He brought us samples of their OBI Juan Chipotle (a brown ale with smoke and pepper notes) and the Dead Sexy Scottish. I’m not great at describing beer flavors other than “good” and “pretty good” and both of these highly drinkable “good” beers. Monica and I split a White Shadow (Belgian Wit), which is our favorite from this brewery. Barry took us on a tour of the brewery and explained the Terminal brewing process. We packed into the bus and headed to Hutton & Smith for the next round.
Hutton & Smith
If somebody asked me what my favorite brewery in Chattanooga is I’d have to say “Hutton & Smith.” The brewery recently expanded into a second room (formerly Jazzanooga) upping the capacity. They also won a gold medal for their Bivouac Black IPA at the World Beer Cup recently. Honestly, I just like the vibe of the brewery and the DIY bootstrap mentality of their process. The beers are damn good and experimental. In just 3 years, Hutton & Smith has gone from a small operation to a major regional brewery. In 2017, they opened a production facility on Riverside Drive and you can now get their beers wherever craft beer is sold in the region. I’ve never had a bad beer here and our samples were great. I tried the Plutonic Pale Ale and Monica sampled the new and delicious Nitro Vadose Vanilla Stout. I also had a sip of the Barrel-aged Belgian Dark Strong, which our server/tour guide, Ace, said was almost like a barley wine. At 10 percent ABV. it was one of the best beers I’ve had in a long time. I was glad our tour included a stop at Hutton & Smith.
Big River Brewing
Big River Brewery holds a nostalgic place in my heart. Their Vienna Lager and Southern Flyer Light beers were constant companions during college and at Rhythm & Brews shows. Big River is Chattanooga’s oldest brewery and although some experimentation takes place, consistency is the prime focus for co-head brewer Teresa “T.C.” Sentell. She told us how she started as a bartender at Big River in the early 90s and moved up the chain to her head brewer position. It was fascinating to hear about Big River’s process from the person who lives it every day. Before this tour, I didn’t give enough credit to Big River’s operation. I have so much more respect from the brewer’s side now. I sometimes get lost in the “what’s new” consumption of anything, especially beer. But there is nothing wrong at all with Vienna Lager and Southern Flyer Light … or any of the flagship Big River Brews. We also had lunch while we were stopped. I had some fish ‘n’ chips and Monica had a burger. I’ve never been a huge fan of the BRG food, but this was a satisfying bite after a bunch of drinking.
Heaven & Ale
I was tapped out at this point (get it?) but Heaven & Ale’s new brews are completely foreign to me, so I had to suck it up and drink some more. I fell in love with craft beer at Heaven & Ale’s Cherokee Boulevard tap room. I really like the concept of small samples of great beer (the flight?) as opposed to large pints … mainly because my tolerance level is low. I am not the type of person e who can down 8 beers without a problem and still function verbally. My head starts spinning by the second round. The new brewery (located behind the tap room) is enormous. Barry told us it was brilliantly designed to offer room to grow. Monica and I each sampled some of their “smoothie” beers that tasted like fruit smoothies. My favorite beer of the stop was the flagship Born Again, their version of “what an everyday beer should be.” We didn’t get a full tour of the brewery here, which was fine. I was toast by this point and wanted to go home and nap.
Would we go back?
Mike said one of the first questions people ask when they inquire about the tour is if they have to peddle. The peddle-tours are fun if you’re with co-workers or your sorority sisters, but the ChattaBrew Tour is different. There is no exercise involved. It’s just a brightly colored bus that drives you around to the breweries, complete with a knowledgeable tour guide and more beer than you can handle. You don’t have to do anything. As a local, the tour opened my eyes to the different aspects of Chattanooga’s beer culture. It’s one of the only “touristy” things I’ve done in a while and I’m glad we went. This would be a perfect first date for a couple. You could learn a lot about each other.
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