It's about more than just the football.
As the Tennessee Volunteers and Georgia Bulldogs kick off today, some game-watchers will be sipping a beer that represents a state rivalry pre-dating the sport of football: the Georgia-Tennessee border dispute. The limited-release "35th Parallel Ale" is brewed with water from the Tennessee River and recognizes the two states' ongoing rivalries in football and cartography.
Brian "Spike" Buckowski, brewmaster at Terrapin Beer Co. of Athens, Ga., spent a day in August collaborating with Dave Ohmer, brewmaster at Saw Works Brewing Co. in Knoxville. They created a single batch of a "hoppy American amber" for Georgia and Tennessee fans to drink on game day.
The beer's name -- 35th Parallel Ale -- refers to the latitude where Georgia says Tennessee's southern border should have been drawn in 1818. But it was actually drawn about a mile farther south, blocking Georgia's access to the Tennessee River. Struggling with a water shortage in recent years, Georgia has pushed for the line to be redrawn.
Just two bars in Chattanooga will be serving the ale -- Brewhaus and Tremont Tavern. There are only about 40 kegs in all, and Will Sherrod, Saw Works sales manager, said the brewers wanted to make sure some beer made it to ground zero of the water dispute.
"We kind of just wanted to send some beer right down to the center of things, and that's why we sent it down to Chattanooga," Sherrod said.
Tremont Tavern and Brewhaus will have the game on TV and both bars are planning to tap their kegs around kickoff. (Brewhaus plans to sell a half-liter for $6, and Tremont Tavern plans to sell a pint for $4.75.)
Up at Knoxville at Saw Works, though, there has already been some taste-testing. Sherrod, who was simultaneously sipping the ale and describing it on the phone, said it has an "aromatic, floral" nose and a "toasty finish."
"It's a perfect fall beer," he said.
Walk into any bar in Chattanooga, game day or not, and it doesn't take long to find both Georgia and Tennessee fans.
Allyson Ponder was at Tremont Tavern around lunchtime Friday. Ponder lives in Tennessee but is originally from Georgia and said she would "never, never, never" become a Vols fan.
"They're obnoxious," she said. Georgia fans, on the other hand, are "just fun."
But when it comes to the water, Ponder thinks we all ought to be more cordial.
"I think everyone should share," she said.
Across the restaurant, Sheldon Geldurd, who earned his doctorate from the University of Tennessee in 1965, was eating a chicken sandwich.
Though he admits that his "blood runs orange," he said Tennessee fans and Georgia fans act the same. And when it comes to the water controversy, Geldurd thinks Tennessee and Georgia behave just as any other state would.
"Everybody's selfish," Geldurd said. "Tennessee's going to be selfish. Georgia's going to be selfish."
But beer, apparently, is something that can bring even the most die-hard rivals together.
Tremont Tavern and Brewhaus are sure to be full of fans from both sides during the big game, and the Terrapin and Saw Works brewmasters are planning to tailgate together at the stadium.
Sherrod said that in the craft brewing industry, there's kind of a "hippie-loving, everyone's friends" attitude. But make no mistake:
"Certainly I'm not going to pull for Georgia," said Sherrod. "And the guys at [Terrapin] aren't going to pull for Tennessee."
Contact Mary Helen Miller at email@example.com or 423-757-6324.