Breweries bring Tennessee-Georgia border war to a head

10:21 PM, Aug 23, 2013   |    comments
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(WBIR - Knoxville)  With just a week to go until it is "football time in Tennessee," the Vols' schedule is once again full of SEC border wars.  This season the bitter rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Volunteers is particularly coming to a head.

"We've teamed up with the Terrapin Beer Company, which is an awesome craft brewery down in Athens, Georgia," said Adam Palmer, president of SawWorks Brewing Company in Knoxville.  "Terrapin has been making beer for a long time, so it was really gracious of them to invite a relatively new brewery like us to do a collaboration. What we wanted to do was have fun with the Tennessee versus Georgia football game and create a little bit of a buzz, no pun intended, in the brewing industry."

The Georgia Bulldogs visit Neyland Stadium on October 5.  The gridiron grudge matches between the Vols and Dawgs go back to 1899 when UT defeated UGA in Knoxville by a score of 5-0.

The real border war between Georgia and Tennessee arguably started in 1802 when surveyors place the marker for the state line about a mile south of its intended target along the 35th parallel.  That mistake more than a couple of centuries ago is meaningful today because it left water-thirsty Georgia high and dry without access to the Tennessee River that flows achingly close to the current state line.  Legislators in Georgia have passed resolutions this year demanding access to what it claims is its rightful water in Tennessee.

SawWorks and Terrapin tapped into the brouhaha (brew-haha) over the state line water war and cooked up the name 35th Parallel Ale.

"We really wanted to figure out what was unique to Georgia and Tennessee other than football.  We thought about it and there's this other rivalry going on with the water dispute, so the name was perfect," said Palmer. "Actually, the water in our beer is everything. It's the most important ingredient. It's 98 percent of the beer."

The brewmaster from Terrapin made the trip up to Knoxville and helped brew the beer on Wednesday.  Now the batch sits in a fermenter and will be ready to tap at local bars and restaurants in Tennessee on October 1.

"It is going to be a big bodied hopped amber ale with lots of flavors happening plus a great hop aroma," said SawWorks brewmaster Dave Ohmer.  "We wanted a darker beer with it being released in the fall, so this is going to be a really good mix of styles with amber and the pale ale.  It was a real honor getting to meet with Terrapin's brewmaster, Spike Buckowski, and work together with him.  I'm really excited to drink this beer and hope others will be, too."

The rivalry between football fan bases may be intense, but the camaraderie among craft brewers obviously trumps any disdain between the two states.

"We're having a good time with it.  It's fun to give the marketing folks some nice material and, man, what better reason to get together and drink some beer than a good old fashioned football rivalry," said Ohmer.

Terrapin's brewmaster made the trip north to cook up the recipe with SawWorks.

The final product will not be a watered down beer, but the source of the H2O is a source of pride.

"We are the ones with water, so obviously it's made with nice Tennessee water," said Ohmer.

Palmer said when their new teammates from Terrapin made the trip to Knoxville, they stopped just south of the 35th Parallel and tapped into the disputed area of the Tennessee River.

"We actually grabbed water from the disputed water zone, so we have some disputed water in the beer," said Palmer. 

"They brought a little bit up from the border, but it was a very small amount for some reason," joked Ohmer.

As for whether that portion of water should be considered Georgia's or Tennessee's, Palmer said the answer is clear and worth repeating.

"It's Tennessee water. It's Tennessee water," said Palmer.

The beer will be ready on October 1st.  Ohmer said this year's limited release is made entirely in Knoxville, will be distributed in kegs, and only be sold in Knoxville and Chattanooga.  Next year it will be SawWorks Brewing Company's turn to play the away game and Ohmer will travel to Athens to help brew a batch that will be sold the week that UT plays at UGA.

"They have a much bigger operation than us and have the ability to do some bottling and canning.  But I'm not sure if they will be selling next year's batch anywhere other than their hometown.  At this point the plan is to keep it in each school's hometown and have it follow the game and build some excitement both places as an every-other-year brew," said Palmer.

The two companies are also making a water war trophy that will go to the brewery whose hometown team wins the football game.

The website features more information on the ale and where it can be purchased starting October 1.  The site says both Volunteer and Bulldogs fans are welcome to share a friendly beer together.

Reporter's Note:  Just as Terrapin and SawWorks have teamed up for their beer, WBIR and WXIA in Atlanta teamed up earlier this year to cover the ongoing debate over the 35th parallel.  See the following link for the story "Water behind Tennessee-Georgia border dispute" from February 15, 2013, by WBIR's Jim Matheny and WXIA's Doug Richards.

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