KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The craft beer scene has been on the rise in Knoxville over the last decade, and this week marks the city's first Craft Beer Week.
Smoky Mountain Brewery was one of the first to bring craft beer to Knoxville, and its brew master, Marty Velas, has witnessed huge changes over the last decade.
"It's night and day. When I first got here 16 years ago, you'd go out with six people and maybe one would order craft beer. Now only one or two are drinking the national brand and the rest are at least experimenting," Velas said.
That adventurous spirit is what organizers of Craft Beer Week and Brewfest had in mind.
"It's exposing the populace to something they haven't been exposed to," Velas said.
Local distributor Jeremy Walker helped organize the inaugural week, collaborating with local breweries and craft beer bars. "There's never been a better time in Knoxville's history to be a beer drinker," he said.
The week features events at different bars around the city.
It all leads up to Saturday's second annual Brewfest in downtown Knoxville.
The idea for the week stems from the rapidly growing beer business, which is just as good for the economy as it is beer lovers.
"There's more opportunity now for success and more people that like better beer," Walker said.
"It's more jobs here in Tennessee. Small brewers are going from the local labor pool. We're not hiring people from out of state," Velas said.
There are at least 32 craft breweries in Tennessee, and that number continues to grow, allowing taverns like the newly-opened Suttree's on Gay Street which cater specifically to the craft beer scene, to thrive in Knoxville.
"All the support so far seems like Knoxville is really ready for something like this down here," said Matt Pancetti, co-owner of Suttree's. "I think people just want a product that's a little less anonymous, craft beer is an artesian product."