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Success of Thirsty Orange Brew Extravaganza symbolizes craft beer evolution

Zach Vance • Updated Apr 9, 2016 at 8:31 PM

Saturday showcased how far the craft beer scene has developed in the Tri-Cities. 

Despite temperatures barely reaching 40 degrees, hundreds merged at the new Pavilion at Founders Park to sample more than 150 unique beers at the fifth annual Thirsty Orange Brew Extravaganza. 

“The craft brewing scene has came a long way (in the Tri-Cities). It’s blown up,” said Eric Latham, owner of Johnson City Brewing Company. “Earlier we were a little concerned the weather would dampen attendance, but it’s been great out here and a wonderful time to share brews and have community.” 

Latham’s brewery, one of the longest-running breweries in Johnson City, had a line of attendees eagerly waiting to get a cup filled by the winner of the annual Tennessee Championship of Beers. 

Latham’s brewery joined Kingsport’s Sleepy Owl Brewery, Victory Brewing Company, Highland Brewing Company, The Black Abbey Brewing Company and many others. 

But local established breweries weren’t the only feature of the event. Many home brewers, who aren’t licensed to distribute or sell, took the opportunity to test out exclusive beers. 

“I only have five gallons of beer at a time,” said homebrewer Wes Jones of Midnight Oil Brewing in Asheville. “If something doesn’t turn out right, I can toss it and try something else. Home brewers are more likely to roll the dice and try different beers and I think that’s what I really enjoy about trying everybody’s homebrew here.”

Plenty of people lined up at Jones’ table to taste his unique ginger ale stout.

“We’re all professionals at other things, and this is kind of a hobby we’ve become passionate about,” said Shawn Kerr of Blount County Home Brewers. “We’re not just spreading the word about home brewing but brewing culture and beer culture in general. In our area, (beer culture) has grown so much the past five years.”

A typical Michelob Ultra drinker, Jonesborough native Debra Sue tasted plenty of beers she’d never imagined at the festival, including a watermelon-flavored variety. She said she made several laps around the pavilion so she wouldn’t miss any.  

Jones, who participated in the Thirsty Orange Festival last year, said this year’s crowd looked no different than last year’s, when temperatures were significantly warmer. 

“This just tells you how much passionate people have about home brew and craft beer,” Jones said. “The Johnson City community in particular, really seems to be passionate about it. Several new breweries have opened since I was last here.”

The festival began with the “Running of the Beers,” an event where participants lapped around Founder’s Park gathering a Bingo Dab for every lap completed and enjoyed a newly released Gypsy Circus Cider at the end.

A hammock station, aerial acrobatics, a public pillow lounge and a tightrope course also highlighted the festival.  

Holy Taco and BBQ Shack food trucks were present to help absorb alcohol, and DJ Allen Rockhouse kept entertainment levels high with music for the entirety of the festival. 

Officials decided Friday to move the festival from Founder’s Park into the pavilion because of to expected windy conditions. 

The Thirsty Orange concluded Tri-Cities Craft Beer Week, which is part of Tennessee Craft Beer Month declared by a joint resolution passed in March 2015. 

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP

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