It should come as no surprise that Nashville is one of my favorite cities on the face of the Earth. It’s a place where people go to find themselves, or to be found, or just to have a good time. There are amazing bars and restaurants and record stores, but — even more — there are amazing people. It’s a place where people are free to perfect their craft, be it music, food, or (most importantly) beer.
In my opinion, Nashville is one of the greatest beer cities in America. I’m sure that claim will stir no small amount of debate, but I’m ready to stand by it. Up-and-coming beer cities usually go through a very specific cycle: beer gets insanely hot, scores of breweries open overnight, demand can’t keep up, some of the breweries go out of business, the scene stabilizes, and growth starts again at a more reasonable pace. I’m not sure where Nashville is in that pattern, but I know they’re right in the thick of the best part.
The best memories I have of living in Nashville are those spent at breweries around town with my cousin, Nick. I don’t know anyone who is more passionate about beer than he is, which is why I asked him to sit down and talk with me about the best beers in Music City.
Dave: I didn’t realize that beer was such a big deal when I moved to Nashville. I understand that everyone loves beer, but the culture that surrounds beer in Nashville is kind of unique.
Nick: When I moved to Nash, I was pretty young, only about a year out of college, a time when you’re (generally) not drinking tons of great beer. Nashville was my first immersion into a local scene, especially beer.
Dave: People in Nashville tend to latch onto a cultural trend or artifact and really zero in on making it great. You can say the same thing about record stores, or concert venues, or even Hot Chicken. At the end of the day, Nashville is a city that is really welcoming to artisans — which is part of the reason that so much great beer can exist in such a small place.
Nick: I think that small batch crafty things are mass market these days. That’s the new big market, so it’s easy to look at a city like Nashville or Austin — on a larger scale — and think of them as “fad chasers,” but I’ve felt that, beyond a few aesthetic trends (c’mon with the garage doors and reclaimed barn wood floors), Nashville breweries tend to do trends and quality in equal measures. What’s wrong with trends? Reading was a trend in Florence in the 15th century and look where that got us.
Nick: There are more breweries in the city today than yesterday, so this question gets harder all the time. Jackalope is always a go-to for me, but I’m not sure it’s my favorite. I think that, especially in the past two or three years, they’ve really amped up their game.
What I mean by that is they went from three main taps to about 15. Even though, to be fair, one of those first three was my favorite beer in the city: the Thunder Ann. It’s an APA (or American Pale Ale). It’s perfectly balanced and has a great color. I like it because the bitterness is higher than your average pale, ale but not just for the sake of being bitter. It’s crisp, refreshing, and juicy; it’s also what I think of when I think of craft beer.
Dave: I wasn’t a big fan of Thunder Ann, but mostly that’s because I can’t stomach IPAs or more bitter brews. They do have a seasonal beer, the Lovebird Strawberry Hefeweizen, that is — hands down — one of the best summer beers out there, and their outdoor patio is a really great place to relax, especially with their XXL sized Jenga set. I think their biggest downfall, though, is their price point. If I remember correctly, all of their beers cost a dollar more than, say, Yazoo. It’s not a big difference, but it adds up by beer three or four or seven…
Nick: Yeah, that’s true, they have always been priced just a bit higher. I can’t say why that is; life-size Jenga sets are expensive, I suppose.
Nick: Yazoo is popular in the stores, and it’s also damn good. They’re pioneers in a sense. Linus Hall, the founder of Yazoo, used to work out of a corner of a warehouse space shared with other businesses. He’d take growlers of his beer around and ask if places wanted it on tap. Fast forward to today and if you live in Tennessee and like beer, you know Yazoo.
Dave: That’s an interesting distinction to make. All of their beers are fundamentally delicious. I think the best example of that is Gerst, right?
Nick: For sure. What’s funny about that is, it’s not really their beer. It’s an old recipe from an ancient German place in town. But Yazoo brought it back to life. I have a bottle of Gerst in my fridge right now. It’s so good, it’s an all day beer or a nice dinner beer. You can’t really beat it for just being “good beer.”
Dave: Do you remember the first time you took me to Black Abbey?
Nick: I think I do? I wanna say you hadn’t moved to Nashville and we were just goofin’ around town, maybe it was winter time?
Dave: That’s right. It was freezing, I remember shivering in their brewery, which was essentially in a large, empty warehouse. It was cold, but cozy, and I think they had a giant Christmas tree built out of kegs…
Nick: Ha! That’s right. Be honest; how many times after that did you go back?
Dave: Not a one, but I ordered their beers all the time at bars around town. What’s your favorite beer from Black Abbey?
Nick: I’d have to go with The Rose — their Belgian-style blonde ale. But I’ll be honest, Black Abbey was never my first choice for Nashville beers. The Rose was offered too little around town and everything else was too homogeneous to know by name. Can you name two of their beers?
Dave: I am so tempted to Google them, but…honestly…I can’t. And that’s a problem. I drank The Rose pretty regularly, but you’re right, it was just too hard to find. To be fair, they’ve started selling their beers in more bottles and more cans in more locations, so maybe Black Abbey is just a sleeper hit?
Nick: Brown, their beers are all brown; that’s my impression. For the record, I can name two of their beers: The Rose and POTUS 44, which is a really delicious coffee-infused American Porter.
It sounds like we are hating on them, but to be honest, I don’t know enough to hate on them, that’s how little I drank them. I wouldn’t recommend them in my top five, I suppose, and maybe that’s hate enough.
Dave: I really didn’t want to like this brewery when I first tried them. I think it’s because their branding feels so, I don’t know, shitty?
Nick: Hahaha. I definitely feel you on that. It was too perfectly calculating feeling. But dammit, they’re great and the people working there are super chill.
Dave: And their beers are super tasty. They all have cheesy names, like the Basil Ryman named after Nashville’s Ryman Theater, but, dammit, that’s a pretty good beer, and it introduced me to Farmhouse Ales.
Nick: Oh dude, that beer is great. It’s brewed with Thai Basil, which gives it a really unique flavor. You’re right, though, the names are all Guitar themed, and that’s kind of off-putting for a swag ass dude who loves cool hangs and has taste such as myself.
Dave: God you sound like a dad sometimes…
Nick: I am a father of good timez (Sunglass emoji).
We can’t talk about TN Brew Works without talking about their amazing space. Their taproom and facility are both excellent. There is a deck that is elevated and INSIDE the brewing facility with a dart board? And a two story outside expansion you reach via a catwalk? It’s great!
Dave: So Fat Bottom got off to a pretty rough start, right?
Nick: That’s putting it mildly.
Dave: The story is that their first batch of beers were selling so poorly that local bars were sending kegs back to the dealership, right?
Nick: That’s correct. I went to their opening party with some friends. Fat Bottom had a few beers on tap that night and no one in our party was sold on any of them; we were all pretty bummed. I remember their ginger wheat beer being particularly disappointing. I mean, I’d recommend Shock Top over it.
But the great part is that they knew there was a problem and, like you said, scaled back their distribution majorly to focus on the quality of their beers.
Dave: And it really paid off, I think, because I ended up drinking Fat Bottom on a regular basis when I lived in Nashville.
Nick: The Ruby Red is really nice. It’s got a very, very deep red color and tastes juicy and malty without being too sweet. My favorite of theirs is the IDA — which is a black IPA. It’s dark and hearty, but with a clean finish. It’s drinkable and satisfying at the same time.
Dave: I think their tallboys really did a lot to move the product too. Fat Bottom was not my favorite brewery in town, but I drank a lot of Ruby Red specifically because I could buy tallboy singles at just about any gas station. Say what you want about the other guys, but they couldn’t offer that kind of portability.
Nick: Man, that was a genius move. I give lots of props to them for that.
Dave: Fat Bottom was easily my most common drink-from-home Nashville beer because of the ubiquitous singles that you could buy almost everywhere…even if the descriptions of their beer are a little sexist.
Nick: I agree with all that. I would not put them in my top brews in the city, but I give them credit for their marketing; they do a happy hour on Saturdays and you don’t see that at other taprooms.
Dave: Okay so, if you had to choose one beer from Nashville to drink for the rest of your life, which would you choose and why?
Nick: Woof. Some Sophie’s Choice shit there, man. Are we really picking only one?
Dave: Them’s the rules.
Nick: Well, then you start.
Dave: Dammit. Okay. I’m going to go with Yazoo’s Dos Perros. It’s an amazingly vibrant, dark Mexican lager, and with a twist of lime, there really isn’t anything like it. It’s refreshing without being watered down, flavorful without being bitter, and palatable without being sweet. I have searched long and hard for a similar beer since moving to California and — I’m sad to report — I have not found it.
Nick: I literally just drank one of those in the pool. It’s a good beer and Yazoo’s best seller.
I’d choose Thunder Ann. It’s delicious, refreshing, and very tasty. “Smacky” is a word I’d use, you sip it and just *smack smack* after the sip. It’s more bitter than a pale ale, but not in the world of IPAs. It is the perfectly balanced beer to me.
Dave: Okay, so one last question: If you had to choose one Nashville beer to never drink again, which would you choose and why?
Nick: I’m gonna say Hap n’ Harry’s by Yazoo. I started out liking it, but I think something happened with bottling or something and it was way, way too bready and sweet for a lager, just way too much for me, not too dissimilar to malt liquor. An unusual misfire by Yazoo. Your turn to play executioner to someone’s labor of love and passion.
Dave: Man, I was going to throw Hap n’ Harry’s out the window, but since you chose it yourself, I’ll try and think of a different option. I’ll go with Fat Bottom’s Knockout IPA. It’s an okay IPA, but, as far as Nashville beers go, being “okay” puts you in last place.
Nick: Poor Hap n’ Harry’s. Why don’t you like it?
Dave: I never liked it, it always tasted too bready to me. Besides, I figured it would interesting to choose the beer I’d drink forever and the beer I’d never drink again from the same brewery.
Nick: So diplomatic.