Sample the seasonals or keep true to the classics
If the oft-quoted Celtic axiom “Good people drink good beer” is correct, then Chattanooga is certainly chock-full of good people. Since the early ’90s, craft and microbrewed beers have become increasingly popular with Chattanoogans, who are looking for something with more taste and character than the bland, watery, mass-produced beers that have dominated convenience store coolers and half-time commercials for far too long.
The early ’90s were dark days for Scenic City beer lovers. Miller Lite ruled supreme and Molsen Golden was one of the top imports in town. Microbreweries and craft beers were not part of the average local beer drinker’s universe, and we had yet to see bars lined with the rows of artistic draft beer handles and shelves brimming with exotic and intriguing beer brands that have now become almost ubiquitous.
Things took a turn for the better in 1993 when Big River Grille opened its downtown doors. This established Chattanooga’s first brewery in more than 80 years, paving the way for a wave of breweries and pubs whose focus on quality craft and artisan beers has turned Chattanooga into a haven for beer nerds, as well as casual lovers of fine malted beverages. Although Big River is considered by many to be the “godfather” of Chattanooga’s quality beer movement, they have resisted the urge to take the path of least resistance, chase trends or do anything that would compromise the quality of their beers, which is obvious from sip to glorious sip.
Being a native Chattanoogan and longtime downtown resident, I go to Big River Grille & Brewing Works often. Their calamari fried with jalapenos is outstanding, the blackened mahi-mahi is one of my all-time favorites, and their fish & chips are made with nice thick-cut cod and battered with a house lager beer batter that pairs beautifully with any of their award-winning brews. But more often than not, you’ll find me sitting outside or at the bar munching on a plate of Brewery Nachos and sipping on one of their distinctive house-brewed beers.
Big River produces six signature, handcrafted “House” beers, three ales and three lagers, which are available all year long. The three lagers are their light and crisp Southern Flyer Light Lager, the light-amber Vienna Lager, and the European-style Seven States Pilsner. On the ale side of the spectrum, the brewery offers a classic copper House Brand IPA (my personal favorite), an award-winning Sweet Magnolia American Brown Ale and their famous Iron Horse Stout, which has garnered a case full of awards with its rich, roasted flavor and deep black color.
Alongside these six signature standards, their brewers create sensational seasonal beers to add to their representative selection of fine fermented libations. This year, the brains on Broad Street have hatched some seasonal brews that are as intriguing as they are delicious.
Two of the selections that will be available this season are wheat beers, a Belgian-style wibier (sometimes referred to as a “white beer”) and a white IPA. The Belgian-style is light and springy with coriander and orange peel notes that pairs nicely with fish & chips or a Margherita pizza. The white IPA is a somewhat new style in the beer world. Senior Regional Brewer Clay Gentry explained that it is an American-style wheat beer that has been dry hopped with another semi-newcomer to the beer world, the Citra hop, which gives this ale its light grapefruity aroma and medium bitterness that will be perfect with a big plate of chicken enchiladas.
The third seasonal beer Gentry and his merry band of brewers are offering Big River beer fans this summer is the Firecracker Amber Ale. Created just for the July 4 celebration season, this true American-style ale has that toasty, caramel aroma and softened bitterness that you expect from a classic American amber and exactly what you want with a big, bacon cheeseburger or medium-rare New York strip.
Whether you’re a fan of their signature House beers, their seasonal offerings or if, like me, you prefer to sample several styles throughout the course of an evening, Big River Grille & Brewing Works has got you covered. So grab your favorite beer geek, an appetite and a thirst for some of the finest quality beers brewed right here in Chattanooga and head downtown. Cheers!