Music City, Beer City
By Bobby Bush
I’ve been to Knoxville. I’ve been to Memphis. But I haven’t been in between. Nashville,
home of the Grand Ol’ Opry, affectionately known by truckers as Music City- where they
enjoy both kinds of music: country and western -is a city on the move. Construction is
rampant, especially in the downtown area where a new stadium for the Tennessee Oilers is
hastily being thrown up.
Amidst closed bridges, lines of traffic cones, blocked streets and heavy roadwork
equipment, I actually had little trouble locating Big River Grille & Brewing Works.
Opened in 1995, this classy bar/restaurant is almost the spitting image of the original Big
River in Chattanooga. Situated just a half mile from the stadium-to-be, it also is well
equipped to handle those post-game crowds with a massive L-shaped bar, steamy brewery
in the background and a nicely appointed billiards room. A stately brick and stained
hardwood interior supplies a perfect setting for brewer Hans Johnson’s tasty beers.
Although most of the recipes are developed in Chattanooga, this Nashville
brewpub’s brews are distinctive. US Ale, clear gold topped by a frothy tan head, packed a
hoppy finish, as did Nashville Steamer, pungent from Cascade hops. The caramel-ish Blue
Star, a regular selection, was also poured from a cask-conditioned firkin. Other Big River
standards include a medium body, slightly tart red ale called Thick Brick Ale and a deep
black roasty, light-bodied Iron Horse Stout.
Big River beer was satisfying, but another brewpub waited just a block away.
Founded in 1988 as Bohannon Brewing, Tennessee’s original microbrewery, this
well-versed brewery was re-named Market Street Brewing when brewpubs became legal
in the Volunteer State. Long and narrow, this ancient brick structure sports high ceilings,
a lengthy wood bar, an active group of mug club patrons, whose personalized mugs
adorned the back wall, and a selection of rather disappointing beers.
The ice cream-esque sweetness of highly requested Vanilla Creme Ale and thin,
estery, extremely cold Jailhouse Bock didn’t provide much to like. An English-style Nut
Brown Ale and Coal Porter, available in standard and cask conditioned form, were much
more pleasing. With nine beers on tap, I guess they can’t always all be on. Market Street
has been around too long to let one off day stand in the way of another taste, another day.
Blackstone Restaurant & Brewery, just a mile or so away, has been in operation
since late 1994. Looking like an art deco eatery gone brewery, this splashy little place was
quite impressive. From a curved marble-topped bar, well peopled on a weekday
afternoon, serving tanks encroaching on the bartender’s domain, I sampled several of their
six brews. Chaser Pale was a German Kolsch, a light bodied ale. Red Springs Ale was
malty, cold and too flat, but their award winners were all they should have been. Nut
Brown Ale (GABF’97 silver) was properly British, tidy yet complex. St. Charles Porter
(GABF’96 bronze) pushed strong malt flavor far, finally yielding to a slight hop finish. A
seasonal Hefeweizen and lowly bittered Centennial Mild Ale completed the field.
Time wasn’t available to linger- this entire trek consumed only two-and-a-half
hours: I had a plane to catch -so it was on to Nashville’s fourth and final brewpub.
Brewer Chuck Skypeck was preparing for the daily tapping of the firkin as I settled down
at the relatively small bar in Boscos Nashville Brewing Company. The original Boscos, in
Germantown, not far from Memphis, claims the title of “Tennessee’s original brewpub,”
having opened in December ‘92, just five months after state restrictions were lifted. This
Nashville Boscos has been operational since January 1996 and has carved a place for itself
as a local hangout, conveniently located in close proximity to Vanderbilt University.
While listening to Chuck’s discourse on cask conditioned beer, I sipped on a pint
of subtly, sweetly caramel Boscos Famous Flaming Stone Beer, brewed by an ancient
process. Isle of Skye Scottish Ale, comprised of seven malts, three hops and a touch of
vanilla, was as filling as its recipe would suggest. The firkin Germantown Alt possessed a
welcome brown hue and well-balanced flavor.
One of these days, Nashville may be as famous for its beer as it is for its music.
And another one of these days, all that construction just might get finished.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush