Most people visit Nashville, Tennessee with the intent of soaking in the country music and enjoying the southern hospitality. What many beer-loving visitors might not realize is that Nashville has a growing beer scene that showcases a few local breweries and brewpubs. There are a handful of beer bars mixed in with the country music venues and corner bars pouring mostly macro brews, and it is not very hard to find a good beer. I was in Nashville earlier this week for a conference for my day job, which gave me the perfect opportunity to head out a couple of days early and explore the beer landscape. Highlights included the local Yazoo Brewing Company, the laid-back 3 Crow Bar in East Nashville, and the Midtown location of the Broadway Brewhouse. I met some friendly locals, I ate some amazing food, and I found myself some quality craft beer. If you ever make it to Nashville, I hope you do the same.
It was a quick drive from the airport to downtown Nashville and my first stop at the new location of the growing Yazoo Brewing Company. This production brewery has a sizable taproom and patio open to customers on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and on this sunny evening loyal customers had packed in to get their fill. I made it just in time for their last tour of the day (which cost around $6, but you get a good amount of beer samples with that) and joined a small group of locals and tourists in learning about the brewery and their beers. The highlight beer for me was easily their Hop Project, which, as the name indicates, is an IPA with a healthy dose of hops. Each batch of Hop Project is brewed with a different blend of hops, and they never use the same blend twice. Their Hefeweizen, Amarillo Pale Ale, and Dos Perros are all popular beers, and Nashville residents have really embraced Yazoo as their local brewery. Their beers are available on draft and in bottles all over the city, and it sounds like they are still not even close to being able to supply all of the accounts that would like to have their beer. Good things are in store for Yazoo in the future, and they are one to watch. I also picked up a four-pack of Yazoo Sue (Get it? “A Beer Named Sue”?), which is a smoked porter that I’ll be looking forward to popping open soon.
Next up was a trip to the Flying Saucer, which is a popular chain of beer bars located through the East/South. After paying the $3 cover for a band that I never did end up hearing since it was in a separate room from the bar, I grabbed a seat and ogled their large selection of taps lining the wall. In terms of sheer volume, I’d guess that Flying Saucer has the most taps of anywhere in town, and the selection of what was available was a nice mix of Belgians, regional beers, and a few things from out east that were nice to see. I opted to do a six beer sampler, and that’s when I sadly realized they were out of several of their beers on the list that were most interesting to me. There were 5 beers in total that I asked for and was shot down. In the end, it was actually a little hard for me to pick 6 interesting regional beers and what I did get didn’t exactly knock my socks off. Overall, the atmosphere here is a bit stale, but it s definitely worth a visit if you are in town. I’m just not sure that I’d be a frequent visitor if I lived in Nashville.
After trying to hit a bluegrass show at the Station Inn, only to find it was sold out, I trucked on over to get some grub at Nashville’s core downtown area and the famous Jack’s Bar-B-Que. The place is full of tourists, but for good reason: the BBQ really is fantastic. The pulled pork sandwich I enjoyed was about as good as I have ever had. After that I walked the packed stretch of Broadway for a while enjoying the scene and watching the crowds packed into the various music venues and bars, and then I ducked into Robert’s Western World for a PBR and to catch some tunes. The music was good, the beer was cold, and the place was packed. It was so packed that I had to get the hell out of there, and quickly.
Feeling I had fulfilled my tourist duties in downtown Nashville, I hopped in a cab and started off in the direction of East Nashville, which is a neighborhood just about 10 minutes or so outside of downtown. The area is home to several bars that help to keep the growing population of younger residents happy and saturated. My first stop was at the 3 Crow Bar, which turned out to be my favorite venue of the trip. It’s got that perfect mix of good beer, laid-back atmosphere, and friendly customers. I started off with an oak-aged version of Terrapin’s Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout, and then sampled the Terrapin Hopsecutioner. 3 Crow seemed to have as many beers of interest to me as Flying Saucer did, yet with significantly fewer taps. I really enjoyed meeting a few locals from the neighborhood, and this was just one experience from the trip that helped confirm Nashville’s reputation of being a friendly city. Next up was a trip down the block to the Red Door Saloon (one of four locations), which reminded me of a pretty typical Seattle hipster bar. They did not have an extensive beer selection, but a couple of Yazoo beers on tap to choose from was fine by me. I definitely enjoyed that the owners must be Chicago Cubs fans, as there was Cubs memorabilia all over the walls. The Red Door seems a little more frantic and packed than the 3 Crow, but their ample patio space was a perfect place to relax and meet a couple people.
The next morning I was in need of some serious nourishment to start me off on another day on the town, and I headed to a place a friend had suggested called Monell’s. This Nashville landmark serves family-style meals to communal tables with some of the friendliest service you will encounter anywhere. The breakfast was just what I needed, with an array of southern specialties, including skillet fried chicken (um, awesome), cheese grits, biscuits & gravy, corn pudding, country ham, and more. I left full and ready for another day of exploration (after a couple more hours of sleep).
First up for the day was a visit to the midtown location of the Broadway Brewhouse. They also have a location right downtown, but I had been told that the midtown location has a better selection of beers and a more local atmosphere. They had a nice selection of around 70 taps and I started the day off with a Sweetwater IPA. That’s when the bartender said to me, “Don’t forget you’ve got another one coming after that.” “Excuse me?”, I replied. It turns out that a popular bar promotion in Nashville is 2-for-1 specials, where you buy one drink and get the second one free. Well, that wasn’t in my plans for the day…but who am I to refuse an extra beer? With several MLB games on TV, it was tempting to stick around here all day, but I had more to see.
Just a block or two over from the Broadway Brewhouse is Blackstone Brewery. This brewpub has a bit of a corporate atmosphere to it, but the beers were very solid. Their Nut Brown Ale and Porter were both standouts, as well as their Dry Hopped Red Springs Ale. Their Pale Ale and IPA seemed a bit bland, but they’d be just fine for a session brew. Blackstone previously distributed their beer in bottles, but recently had to cease distribution to focus on draft sales. It sounds like in the future they will return to bottle distribution, though.
A pleasant walk through the beautiful campus of Vanderbuilt University brought me to my next destination, Boscos Brewing. This slightly upscale restaurant and brewpub seems to put as much focus on their food as their beer, and they had a jazz quartet going at it for their Sunday brunch. I had a sampler of all of their beers, and while they were well-made and not flawed, there were no real standouts for me. The Scottish Ale was probably my favorite of the bunch. I talked beer with the couple sitting next to me, and the guy turned out to be Matty from Midtown Wine & Liquor, which has one of the best beer selections in town (It is where I got the Yazoo Sue). Matty and his wife are regulars at Boscos, and they talked the manager into giving us a look at the brew system overlooking the restaurant from the second floor. We were also hoping to snag a taste of their upcoming Hop God release, which is one of their more popular beers and sounded right up my alley. Unfortunately, the manager wasn’t able to hook up the samples (I don’t exactly remember the “why”), but she tried awfully hard, which was much appreciated. Even though the beers didn’t blow me away, the company and conversation made this a great visit. I would have liked to have tried their food, but I had plans to hit Prince’s Chicken Shack, which turned out to be closed (damn it!).
After Boscos, it was off to the sprawling Opryland Hotel for a work conference for a few days. On the last night in town, I did manage to make it out to meet an old friend at the Riverfront Tavern in downtown Nashville. Not too far off the touristy Broadway strip, this place was an oasis of good beer and laid-back people. It is more like a neighborhood corner bar than it is a downtown bar for sure. $3.50 pints of Sweetwater IPA made me a happy camper, and I could have hung out here till they kicked me off my stool.
Nashville is easily a city worth your vacation days. A long weekend would really be perfect to soak in the sights as well as fit in some of the beer spots I highlighted here. I look forward to going back one of these days, and by the looks of it the beer scene will just continue to get better.