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Thirsty Orange Brew Extravaganza celebrates 8th annual with more beer

W. Kenneth Medley II • Apr 14, 2019 at 1:58 PM

Squid hats, springy beer-mug headbands, sampling glasses and festival food were just a few of the sights seen at the 8th annual Thirsty Orange Brew Extravaganza Saturday at Founders Pavilion.

The event showcases 150-plus craft beers from around the region. All of Johnson City’s breweries and taprooms were represented, along with some from Asheville, North Carolina, Chattanooga and Nashville.

This year’s event also featured the fourth annual Tennessee Championship of Beers.

“I think it is great, the crowd is great, Mother Nature has a sense of humor,” said Stephanie Carson, event coordinator, referencing the off-and-on rain showers. “We have had some of our biggest numbers ever and some of the most beer we have ever had.”

Carson says that the event is to celebrate craft beer and not only that, local craft beer. She said that in the Tri-Cities craft beer is becoming an economic driver.

“Our community is contributing to the craft beer and cider world.” Carson said. “We are winning medals nationally, regionally, state-wide; we are becoming a player … we are employing more and more people.”

The event also featured the 2018 Tennessee Championship of Beers.

Hutton and Smith Brewing Company of Chattanooga was the big winner. Ten out of 12 beers they entered won medals, giving them the most points to win Best Brewer. Gypsy Circus Cider Company, of Kingsport was the other big winner.

There was also a home brewing competition and tasting. People who brew beer as a hobby, some dreaming to open a brewery, were invited to bring their tastiest concoctions to the extravaganza. Festivalgoers were invited to join the judges in tasting their beers.

“One of the things that sets the festival apart is that we really want to be about consumer education,” Carson said. “That way they know more about what to buy and what to ask for when they go into the grocery stores, bars and restaurants.”

The Pink Boots Society is an International non-profit organization that benefits woman in the beer industry, according to Luann Rounds of the Knoxville chapter. They were at the event for their fourth year with beer on hand for sampling. The organization collaborates with other brewers and to create their beer.

Pink Boots sells its beer to raise money for donations that go toward scholarships awarded to woman in the beer industry.

Rounds said that it used to be a boys club, but that it is changing. She said she has read articles about woman not being respected in the industry, but said they have not faced such challenges in Knoxville.

“We brew a lot at Clinch River Brewing,” said Rounds, “because it is an all-female brew team. A lot of us are also members and we get our name out there too.”

The woman representing the chapter said that they also collaborate with other brewers outside of Knoxville, if any Johnson City brewers were interested. One of the beers they brought was an India Pale Ale. Their beers won two bronze and two silver medals in the Tennessee Championship of Beers.

Hutton and Smith Brewing Company, the big winner in the championship, was founded by a home brewer and is now the sixth-fasted growing brewer in the nation, according to the Brewers Association of America.

“Eight years ago, nine years ago I would have thought this would be a fluke,” said Eric Unger, of Hutton and Smith, about Thirsty Orange and craft beer. “Look at the variety of all your different spirits and wine. There are multiple choices out there. Beer has been the same: Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors Light, they just dominated that market for years. Eventually enough people got a wild hair and started trying new stuff … people want variety. The millennial generation, we aren’t like our parents just drinking the same stuff over and over.”

Tickets gave one access to sample beer from 150-plus brewers and many brought more than one beer.