Once upon a time there was a young and restrained man. He lived with his pretty and smart wife in a land far away. Both were happy and enjoyed the adventures their new home offered them. One day the young man came home and was anything else but reserved. He swirled his pretty and smart wife around and told her bright-eyed about a magical place he just had discovered. A place where people meet and share their stories and drinks, a place where happiness lives.
Lovely, isn’t it? In fact, the story is the beginning of the fairy tale about the frog on the lily pad. Are you confused right now and not quite sure what I’m writing about? Well ok, let me start all over again.
In the early 1990s, Marte left her hometown Nashville to study at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. That is where she met Del, an outdoor loving environmental engineer who lived with his parents in the south of the city. After graduation, the couple got married and moved to Del’s mother for the time being. Later on in 1997, in search of their own home they found a secluded property above the Clear Creek, a tributary of the Obed Wild and Scenic River. The area is well known for its sandstone formations, which make it popular especially in the climbing and boulder community. Full of gratitude to have found such a wonderful place, and with the help of their friends, the two of them started to built an house in the middle of the woods.
The small family enjoyed their new, quiet and relaxed life in the middle of nowhere to the fullest and there was hardly a day when they did not hike, build something or enjoyed themselves climbing the challenging sandstone formations. During the latter, Marte and Del met Kelly Brown, author of the book “The Obed: A Climbers Guide to the Wild and Scenic,” who soon became a close friend. And surely, friends who live further away are more than welcome to camp in Marte’s and Del’s garden to be able to spend the evenings around a nice campfire. And certainly, friends of friends who live even further away are also welcome to camp in the garden, because such a campfire is even more beautiful the more friends are sitting around it. When, after a few weeks, the first folks came over and asked what an overnight stay at the campground would cost, the two realized that eventually more people had spent the nights in their garden than they thought.
Marte and Del saw a chance in this development, which is why guests are still allowed to sleep in their garden or, to be more precise, forest, which now covers an area of 40 acres (or even 1,742,400 sq ft). Their primitive campground offers over 70 carved-out campsites in which you are able to stake a tent, park the car or hang a hammock for 5 $ per night and person. It reminds me a bit of my very own family vacations when I was little girl (I slept in a hotel for the first time at the age of 14) and also of my time as a scout. There was no great luxury, but nobody really missed it.
Looking at the bigger picture, humans are probably good-natured and sociable and I consider myself as no big exception to that. Maybe we are all still hunters and gatherers who roam through the woods in order to meet around a campfire. If said campfire setting includes the right kind of beverage, we are all even more happy! As good hosts, Marte and Del always had something good for their thirsty campers, often a delicious, home-brewed beer. As only small amounts were needed at the beginning, the fast growing number of visitors changed what once began as a hobby and, like the campground, became a sure-fire success. Del was barely able to brew as fast as people snatched his golden-brown barley juice from him. Due to the high demand, he decided to build a (legal! – let’s go the whole hog -) brewery with all the equipment to produce larger batches and to fulfill the needs of his steadily thirsty friends, family and customers. This wonderful, small nano brewery and hop plantation is now situated right next to Marte’s and Del’s house, in the immediate vicinity of the campground and is probably (lets be honest, most likely) the reason why we love the Lilly Pad so much.
Because right there, in just this cute little brewery and campground nearby was Felix (my young and reserved husband), before he returned back home to me (his pretty and smart wife)* and whirled me around in our cute little house. And the name of this wonderful place inspired me to the title of my hearty little fairy tale. Let me just explain: Lilly Bridge is the bridge over the Clear Creek, which is less than five minutes away. “Lily pads” are places where frogs meet. This beautiful, green amphibian is, next to mountains and hops, the most important part in the logo of the Lilly Pad. So, Lilly Bridge plus Lily Pad plus frogs is the fairy tale of the frog on the lily pad or just the beginning of the name of the “Lilly Pad Hopyard Brewery“.
For already a few years it has been possible to get a fresh craft beer tapped by the nicest and most authentic bartenders in the small taproom situated directly in the heart of the brewery. If you do not have time to chit-chat at the counter you can have your growler, a large bottle of glass, ceramics or steel filled and take it home with you. By the way, we are very proud owners of a growler garnished with the Lilly Pad logo! However, if you decide to stay (after having enjoyed the second beer) and work your way through the surprisingly large selection of own and guest brews, you will not only experience new tastes and flavors but also the magical atmosphere of this so special place.
It’s not easy to describe what it is that makes the Lilly Pad Hopyard Brewery so unique: is it the wonderful company, the mixture of the most different people, is it the whole setting, is it the delicious beer or is it simply something else? Probably, it is a mixture of many different aspects. And most likely, you have to get out there and explore it yourself. In order to do some convincing in advance, I will tell you how I have experienced it so far.
Well, we often do a really short hiking trip to the Lilly Bluff Overlook. The tour is one of the things that became our standard program for visitors and ultimately led to the discovery of the brewery. The trail is simple, not very long and offers an excellent summary of the beautiful landscapes of East Tennessee. Accordingly impressed, we usually head to the brewery as the surprise highlight. The parking lot is located in front of a pretty agricultural site where Del grows one of its most important ingredients himself: hops.
Once you get out of the car, you will be greeted by Monster, Big or Tipsy, the three dogs of Marte and Del. As a dog-person, such a greeting absolutely amazed me on my very first visit. Those who like to keep their distance from our three four-legged friends do not have to worry. The three of them whiz around at a relaxed distance and easily seem to curiously wonder what potential playmates are climbing out of the latest metal boxes. When cuddling Monster (a short-legged, black fur ball), I usually take my time and let the atmosphere work its magic. Well, honestly most of the time Monster lets me work and throw the ball.
By taking a look around you will see the house with gardens and a lawn, on which a bunch of kids run around most of the time. The brewery is located on the opposite site. For cold or rainy days there is an inviting and covered porch area attached, in which you can enjoy playing darts, listening to music or “talk shop” about the latest developments of the craft beer scene. On its right side you will quickly spot two trailers. One clearly identifies as a huge self build and fantastic smelling smoker. This classic American BBQ grill belongs to the other trailer in which the main kitchen of the Sauced Frog is located. There, head chef Nick spoils the hungry visitors since 2017 with his simple but delicious dishes. On the left side of the brewery there is a large graveled area housing a multitude of seating options and tables along Giant Jenga and the obligatory cornhole court. By now I strongly believe there it is not allowed to build an outdoor area without one in Tennessee. Every piece tells a story and appears a little scruffy (in the good way, like Knoxville) and probably there never was a plan on how things should look like in the end. I have a feeling that this organized chaos, as likely as not, creates such a sympathetic and inviting atmosphere.
The brewery itself is a small, self-made one room cabin constructed to admire the gleaming steel brewing kettles and to enjoy a delicious and refreshing beer in the taproom. The Lilly Pad Hopyard Brewery offers a beer for everyone: Blonde, IPA, Stout, Mexican Lager, Brown as well as two guest brews from other nano breweries like Calfkiller or Dead Horse. Each beer has its own unique and sometimes cute name like Little Black Dress, Yoga Pants, Ruby Slipper, … whose stories would blow up the article. My favorite one is Yoga Pants, a light, not too strong beer that has a great, golden brown color. My young and reserved husband prefers the Plateau Light, a delicious Pilsner.
As soon as we have a filled glass in our hands, we are directly involved in a conversation. Sometimes we chat with the wonderful bartenders, the funny cyclist who is on a tour along the East Coast or with one of the countless climbers who are willing to drive several hours by car just to climb or boulder the wild and scenic sandstone cliffs the area has to offer. In the summer, there are also kayakers and fly fishers who use the Obed for their own purposes, as well as hikers, locals or just people like us who like to drink beer. People gather and share their sometimes fairly interesting stories. It is a bit like the world is coming together at Lilly Pad and unfolds its many different facets. Lancing and Wartburg, a small town and an even smaller city nearby, seem to have been in some kind of hibernation for a long time and it will most likely take some more time for them to awaken completely. However, thanks to Marte and Del a positive influence slowly spreads into the area and brings some fresh air, interesting ideas and liberal views to a rather remote district of the backcountry of East Tennessee.
Not only the area experiences new things, I also got to know something and came to value it: the bluegrass, a music genre related to Country music. As soon as the sun sets on Fridays and Saturdays, the whole place gets illuminated by light chains and as the campfire crackles quietly, Suzie and Co. bring out their instruments. Their music is unobtrusive, genuine and simply beautiful. Had someone told me a year ago that I would enjoy Country music, I would have grinned, and, with a quiet “Yeah, sure!”, turned away. Oh, sometimes you just fool yourself!
When the chords of the guitars fade away at night, when the last beer is drunk and when the fire is burnt down, a day full of blissfull experiences and entertaining stories comes to an end. Loaded with all those wonderful impressions, a bit tipsy and melancholic, we climb into our sleeping bags. With a last peak into the beautiful night sky (our car has conveniently a skylight) and a kiss good night for my wonderful husband, I lie down to sleep the sleep of the just in the peace and healthy air of the Tennessee countryside.
Well, now you know almost everything and by far the most important facts and aspects about the brewery, the campground and how it all started. Truly the most crucial elements on the Lilly Pad are and remain Marte and Del, the two owners who are unquestionably the heart of the Lilly Pad. The two are authentic, welcoming and they love what they are doing. We are truly blessed that they allow us to be part of their backyard.
All that remains for me is to thank Marte and Del for their hospitality, more specific so for the fact that they have accidentally founded the campground and the brewery. I am looking forward to many more visits and am curious to see what the wonderfully positive-minded couple might accidentally found next. Just stay the way you are and have us enjoying Southern Hospitality at its best! *Hahaha, sorry, I just had to! After all, I did not made myself a princess!