Beginning in April, the Tri-Cities Brew Tours bus, named “Bernie,” will begin filling up on the weekend with up to 13 passengers, all paying to make the rounds the area’s breweries. Just over the state line in Asheville, North Carolina, several tours like this one have been established for years, giving local beer lovers and tourists something to do.
Johnson City’s Adam Carver co-owns Tri-Cities Brew Tours with Knoxville’s Zack Roskop, who owns and operates Knox Brew Tours. Carver said working with Roskop, who’s established his tour business in just a few years in Knoxville, was a no-brainer. After lining up permits and the legalities involved with the business, now’s the time when anyone interested in taking a tour can hop on their website and book their tour.
Carver had thought about this operation for some time and decided the time was right.
“I kind of had the idea and have been watching the market,” Carver said. “I felt the culture had to be right, the beer culture had to be there. Plus, we needed a minimum number of breweries.”
And clearly it is. Each tour goes to three of the breweries scattered across the Tri-Cities, including Depot Street Brewery, JRH Brewing, Yee-Haw Brewing Company, Johnson City Brewing Company, Holston River Brewing Company and Bristol Brewery. Currently, Kingsport’s Sleepy Owl Brewery, Gypsy Circus Cider Company, Bristol, Virginia’s, Studio Brew and Abingdon, Virginia’s, Wolf Hills Brewing are not involved in the tours, but will be added in the near future.
Bristol’s Great Oak Brewing Company also will be added to the list after it opens up this year.
For about $45 per person — and $30 per non-drinker — each participant gets a ride to and from each of the tour’s three breweries, with three to four samples at each and a vast array of information involving the history of each stop and knowledge of how craft beers are made. This works out to about three pints of beer, total, over the course of a multiple-hour tour, consistent with the rate of alcohol of metabolism and within the state’s recommended rate of consumption.
Friday evening, Saturday day and evening tours are currently being offered.
Carver, like Roskop in Knoxville, will serve as the guide and designated driver; and while the bus — equipped with snacks, water, lights and a prime music system — serves as a festive place to be, the No. 1 objective of Tri-Cities Brew Tours is not to act as a party bus, but to promote small businesses and the brew artisans who pour their lives into their craft.
“It’s not a party bus atmosphere, it’s more about educating, from grain to glass, how the beer’s made,” Carver said.
Andrew Felty directs the Brewly Noted Beer Trail that operates with the cooperation of the Tri-Cities’ three Convention and Visitor’s Bureaus to give an incentive to beer lovers across the Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia region by having them fill out a trail log.
His organization and Tri-Cities Brew Tours will work together to get people to and from each location, giving the trail’s followers a quick, two-day way to get their craft beer passport filled out.
Felty praised Carver and Roskop for producing another healthy, non-brewery craft beer business in the region.
“It's a confirmation that we've reached that level, showing that we can promote beer tourism,” he said.
Being Johnson City-based, where Bernie is often parked, Felty and Carver both said their hungry customers will come in for the tour, but then trickle out to other downtown business for lunch, dinner and shopping. They also expect locals and tourists from outside of the area will come for the ever-changing tour options.
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