Warning: Teetotalers need read no further.
That’s because, for the fifth year in a row, the Blount Partnership presents the annual craft beer bash known as “Hops in the Hills.” Some refer to it as a “celebration of fermentation.”
Whatever it’s called, those who love beer find it a reason for cheer.
After previously blocking off part of upper Broadway in downtown Maryville, the organizers of the much-anticipated event will move it to a new site this year, a portion of the greenway located below downtown and adjacent to the Greenway Amphitheater. The move allows room for live music, other activities and the ever-increasing number of breweries that ask to take part. While most hail from the local region, several from North Carolina and Georgia also are represented.
Yeehaw Brewing Company, Blackberry Farm Brewery, Highland Brewing Company and Fat Bottom Brewing Company will be among the approximately 30 breweries that will participate this year. That compares to approximately half the number of breweries that were there the first year.
The new locale also offers a concession to a continuing increase in crowd size and the fact that the event planners have had to cap attendance for the past several years. Hops in the Hills not only draws visitors from throughout East Tennessee, but other visitors from throughout the country.
In addition to being a beer lover’s delight, it’s also an anchor for downtown Maryville’s Summer on Broadway series. Since its beginnings, attendance has more than doubled, growing from the approximately 350 people who attended the first Hops in the Hills to the nearly 750 individuals who shared in the celebration last year.
This year, Blount Partnership has provided a number of local activities leading up to Saturday’s main event, with games, prizes and music included in the festivities. In addition, those who attend Hops in the Hills itself get full access to the Big BBQ Bash, along with the opportunity to sample the wide variety of craft beers, personally interact with the brewers and learn firsthand about the craft of brewing beer.
On Friday night, the public is invited to take part in the Brew Crawl and Poker Run, which offers shuttle rides to nine local bars and restaurants by Knox Brew Tours. Driver Zack Roskop will provide a running commentary and encourage riders to take an early opportunity to taste various brews prior to Saturday’s celebration.
According to Kim Mitchell, director of tourism for Blount Partnership, the event is a win-win for both the community and the tourism industry.
“When we originally decided to do this event, everyone agreed that there was so much interest in craft beer in this area,” Mitchell said. “That’s when we partnered with the city of Maryville to develop it. We’re always interested in having great events and great festivals for our community members, but we also like to bring people in from the outside who will spend money locally. We really wanted to highlight the craft beer community and also create a great festival for our downtown area.”
Mitchell said that since then, the emphasis has been on ensuring its ongoing evolution. She said that one of the ways they do that is to continually look to entice new beer brewers.
“We keep adding new breweries, especially some that people may not know about ordinarily,” Mitchell said. “Instead of always going after the big dogs that everyone is familiar with, we pursue some of the smaller guys and help promote them. We want to spotlight what’s going on with some of those breweries and the great products they’re coming out with.”
Mitchell said that while she and her colleagues are pleased with the way Hops in the Hills has continued to grow, they’re also intent on ensuring that the crowds keep coming.
“It’s been great to watch how the event has increased in popularity year to year,” she said. “There seems to be a festival every weekend, so we’ve had to think about how to make it more interesting, make it more fun, and make it more inviting, so that people want to return every year and new people want to come as well.”
Mitchell added that she takes personal pride in being a part of Hops in the Hills.
“I grew up in Blount County,” she said. “I love it here. We’re so fortunate that this community has so much to offer. Hops in the Hills provides a great opportunity to introduce people to our area, to allow those people to fall in love with what we have here, and then come back and bring their friends with them. The economic impact that it has on our community is exactly why we do events like this. Once people visit, they can’t wait to return.”