Nashville’s Craft Brewers are Making Their Cases for the Next Generation of Beer Fans
When you think about Nashville, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Southern cuisine? Friendly people? Hot chicken? The music industry? Beer? Although not traditionally known for its beer scene, a dedicated and enthusiastic group of Nashville brewers are quickly and forcefully transforming Music City U.S.A. into Beer City U.S.A. Yes, it’s true, beer is booming in Nashville.
Over the past five years or so, Nashville has gone from a city with a handful of brewers to a city brimming with local beers and breweries. Davidson and Williamson County alone have around 20 breweries, and more are on the way. With the growth of the brewery scene finally starting to keep pace with the area’s explosive population growth, local beer-lovers have much to be excited about.
“I feel like the Nashville beer scene is finally starting to become what some of us craft beer connoisseurs have been waiting for,” says John Overby, brewmaster of Cool Springs Brewery. “I think it has exploded in the last couple of years because of people like me. People that love beer, love to drink beer and love to brew beer and create something of our own.” This enthusiasm for brewing is evident in the different niches and styles found across the region. Although the country’s obsession with IPAs is reflected in many of the breweries around town, Nashville’s breweries are far from one-dimensional. You’ll find lagers, sours, pilsners, stouts, pale ales and more.
“Our scene just keeps getting stronger,” said Anthony Davis, president of East Nashville Beer Works. “We’ve had some great new entrants in Nashville craft beer, and our ‘older’ breweries are releasing some great beers and have different and unique models they are following. Nashville now has sour programs and barrel-aging going on with more packaging finally happening. Everyone has their own niche and identity.
” With so many styles highlighted around town, you can easily find one that suits your tastes. Even people who don’t typically like beer can find something to enjoy. “If you weren’t into craft beer when you got here, you are now,” says Cory O’Brien, taproom manager at Little Harpeth Brewing, a brewery that specializes in approachable and drinkable pilsners and lagers. Like many local breweries, Little Harpeth strives to have something for everyone.
To go along with the variety of beer styles, the area has seen a variety of brewery sizes and concepts. There are large breweries, tiny brewpubs and everything in between. Smaller operations like Cool Springs Brewery are able to produce some unique and interesting beers.
“Since we sell most beer onsite and in such small volume, we are able to experiment almost limitlessly,” says Overby. “I have 100 percent freedom to brew anything and everything that I want. And that’s a pretty cool niche to have.
” Local watering holes have scrambled to keep pace with all of the new breweries. Regulars and out-of-towners are always asking about the latest local creations. At the Casual Pint in Franklin, there is an emphasis on keeping a majority of the beer taps local, as the demand for local brews has grown along with the local breweries.
“All of the local beers tend to sell really well, from Black Abbey to Tennessee Brew Works to Yazoo,” says Ken Franse, owner of The Casual Pint. “Jackalope Bearwalker is a favorite among the Franklin crowd. However, Bearded Iris’ Habit IPA has really found a niche in this market. Mantra and Mill Creek, which are both Williamson County breweries, always have multiple beers people like as well.”
In addition to giving local beer lovers the tastes they crave, the expansion of the Nashville brewery scene has provided tremendous economic impact to the area.
“Your local breweries not only create wonderful libations but, as manufacturers, many jobs either directly or indirectly in the community,” says Christian Spears, founder and president of Tennessee Brew Works. “These are manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced. Buying craft beer from local breweries not only helps keep dollars in the local market, but supports an industry that generates many local jobs as well.
” The steady tourism and national popularity of “all-things-Nashville” has helped persuade investors to take the leap into the Nashville brewing industry. With its rapid expansion in such a short time, you might think that the area has hit the ceiling with its large number of new local breweries. Local brewing authorities, however, see it a bit differently.
“The next decade should be very exciting,” says Spears. “Despite how much it has boomed, craft beer in Tennessee is in its early stages still. I expect and hope we’ll see a lot more breweries in the coming years.”
Another catalyst for growth in the Nashville brewing industry is an upcoming change in local alcohol laws. Starting in January of 2017, the cap on high-gravity beers is going to be relaxed.
“With this new law that changes the ABV cap on high gravity beers about to go into effect next year, I think most Tennessee breweries are going to really start experimenting and deepening their portfolios,” says Overby. “We seem to be gaining three-to-five new breweries per year so with that kind of growth, we are really going to be getting a lot of options in the coming years. If you don’t like one place, you’ll have many more to choose from.
” When this gigantic hurdle to the beer industry finally comes down, the Nashville brewery scene will likely experience another renaissance. When the smoke clears, we’re likely to see a slew of new beers, new styles and new breweries all across Middle Tennessee. “We are all so fortunate to be living and working here in Nashville right now,” says McCormick. “We need to take the time to enjoy the amazing food and beverages made here along with the great folks creating them.
” If you’ve never experienced one of the local breweries, now is the time to venture out and see what all the fuss is about. Children are usually welcome. Dogs, too. It’s not uncommon to see small children sitting at a table playing board games while Mom and Dad sip on a pint. Instead of just being a place to drink beer, breweries are occupying a unique position as gathering spots in local neighborhoods and communities. For beer-lovers visiting Music City, the growing brewery scene gives them yet another reason to extend their stay.
And for local beer fans, a great place to live just keeps getting better.