Part three of my tour de Knoxville breweries brought me to Woodruff Brewing Company, also known as the Downtown Grill and Brewery in the old Woodruff building. Looking for a place to eat and drink with some colleagues after a long day, this looked like a great option and came recommended by the front desk at our hotel. After visiting, while not likely to make this year’s top 10 I can see why this place has been a mainstay of the downtown Knoxville scene for so long. Keep reading for my review of this not so hidden gem.
- Beer – Sitting down for dinner on a rainy, cold winter day in northern Tennessee, I decided I really wanted a dark beer to match the dark weather. As luck would have it, they had one on tap in the form of the State Street stout. It was a better than average beer with a nice roasted taste from the malt that blended well with a creamier mouth feel from added oats. I tried a few other offerings on tap and was suitably impressed each time. They are well done and embody the solid foundations you need to have in the underpinnings of beer making. On top of that, they have a nice line up of different styles and options to choose from. I think my only criticism is that there is not a lot in the way of experimentation or creativity. I did not see any seasonal or limited release options and everything they brewed stuck to a simple template. It would have been nice to see one or two unique offerings or attempts at branching out by the brewers. Score: 3.5/5
- Brewery – Woodruff was the largest brewery I visited in Knoxville and its heritage goes back over 100 years. Set in the Woodruff building in the 400 block of Gay Street, this majestic old building spent most of its early years as a department store of some form or another until the early 1990s when it became a restaurant. The interior positively oozes early 20th century charm, with a massive wooden bar and copper clad brew tanks dominating the ground floor. The place is quite spacious with ample seating at both the bar and at tables if you are looking for dinner and drinks. Make no mistake, while they brew their own beer, this is a restaurant first so do not expect the typical tap room feel or layout. As for the food, I would consider it better than average. My burger was cooked and seasoned just right, and the portion size is generous. My colleagues enjoyed their meals equally well. It would have been nice to see some televisions or other forms of value added entertainment though without the more modern aspect of tv it helps maintain the sense of grandeur that the building imparts. Score: 3.5/5
- Ambiance – In case it isn’t obvious, Woodruff is a restaurant that also brews beer. As such, the ambiance is more like a restaurant and less like a tap room. While that certainly does not detract from the overall quality of the place, that also means they are not striving to create a place to hang out with friends. Or at least, that was not the impression I was left with. While they do appear to have some specialized events at the brewery, I saw nothing to indicate live music, games, or other attempts to create more of a social space, which in my opinion is one of the core concepts of a brewery. Score: 2.5/5
- Location – They managed to score some prime real estate for this brewery. Located in the heart of Market Square, the downtown hub of the social scene, they have everything around that you could want. With options galore surrounding them for after dinner entertainment and plenty of parking all around, you will find something that everyone in your party will want to do after eating. Score: 4.5/5
- Customer Service – The table service could have been faster in all aspects and one of my party’s order was wrong, however management went out of their way to correct the mistake. That being said, our pint glasses did not stay empty long and our wait to sit down was not very long, so overall, they kept these customers satisfied. Score: 3/5
Total Score: 17/25
Final Thoughts: I debated reviewing Woodruff as I felt it was more of a restaurant that also happened to brew beer. I decided that the all-around quality of their beers and food and the uniqueness of the building warranted inclusion. Next time you find yourself in Knoxville, I recommend you stop in one night for dinner and a drink or two before heading out to some of the other locations on our list.