Written by Ken Carman
Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay, Clarksville Carboys and Music City Homebrewers, who has been writing on beer-related topics, and interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast, for over 15 years.
Once again we ventured forth to explore what was once a wasteland…
Nashville, in my opinion, was once a city which used to be way behind the times as small brewpubs and breweries started popping up all over the east coast. I would come home from tour and find none, to one or two at best. Now, after a few failed attempts early on, Nashville’s becoming a true brewery/brewpub Mecca. Two of the newest entries to our beer scene: Bearded Iris and Southern Grist, were our destinations.
Bearded Iris sits in an odd location. Just north of downtown was always a mix of slums, water processing plants, whatever the current version of “crack house” was the drug-based biz at the time, industrial storage and a few businesses. Bearded being here is a good sign. This is something Nashville has been doing well for the past 20 years: taking problematic neighborhoods and gentrifying them. Before Bearded arrived an upscale housing revolution started here, so hopefully: like where our next brewery is located, Bearded will be where more new, young, up and coming Nashvillians want to move. It’s been headed that way.
Being an old car buff, and a Studebaker fanatic, I immediately noticed the military vehicle on the way in. Stude? No: even though Studebaker provided a lot of trucks for war, especially for WWII. Even though this was a Mercedes, Studebaker did help establish their brand in America. So, having been appealed to on another level than my love for beer, I was ready to have a good time, get naked and drive around while yelling phrases like, “Damn you Hitler!” or “Just how ‘bearded’ is ‘Iris?'”
(If you don’t get that last one you were never an English major, nor read much Shakespeare.)
However: not going to happen. I know the ladies of downtown Nashville were SO disappointed. (Not.)
We tried a few of Bearded’s brews. I must admit I went from anticipation to annoyed: no sample tray. As I have explained in other columns it’s the best way to introduce folks: especially the craft beer uninitiated, to a vast world of fun flavors, aromas. It’s also like short tour of whatever talents the brewer may have. Then I went to being even more annoyed: I asked for a single small sample right after we bought two brews and server said, ”Only if you’re considering buying once you’ve sampled.”
Really? You do understand almost every damn brewery and brewpub has a sample platter you can buy, and may even let you get a sample or two for free. This is the first time I’ve been harassed over a free sample, and that same server had literally just taken our money for two full glasses. Does harassing a paying patron over such a piddling pittance of an expense make any damn sense, business-wise? Answer: Hell, no, not really.
Bearded is in a big warehouse where you’d think no brewery would be. Obviously popular, the place was packed. It’s very comfortable.
Our single sample we had been harassed over was called Persona, referred to in their lit as a ”Brett Pale Ale.” While there wasn’t much “Pale” to it, hop-wise, Brett was the focus, even though subtle. I recommend this quaff for the Brett uninitiated. Brett lovers will ache for more, I fear. Not complex, but interesting enough to waken awareness among those who think ”beer is beer,” or fear the funk. A little more hops to add contrast might help with craft beer lovers, kind of like Hop It! by Urthel.
“Suspicion” was disappointing. I have had many great English Milds. This was not one. Very drinkable, yes, but a Mild? Not so much. There’s often at least some significant malty sense, toasty, nutty, etc. There certainly is at least a hint of a more substantial body than in this brew. The coffee saved the quaff: made it well worth drinking. It dominated an otherwise quite nondescript ale. Not overbearing. That’s a compliment, by the way: great balance for a light, nondescript, ale. But where was the Mild? Having more of a Mild character would have made far it more interesting, and more than an approaching water light body.
We also had Lady Friend, a brew with hibiscus in it. That was the best of the three. Simple, pleasing, heavier side of light body. To be honest, except this one, the other two could have used more of everything.
But, I admit, this is unfair. How does one judge a brewery that offers no sample tray, resists handing out samples, without getting drunk: buying a glass of damn near every bloody thing on the board? Especially when we had to drive out of here? I really feel forcing customers to buy full glasses of every brew on the board is a bad policy, unless the only patrons you want arrive in large parties. That way they could all share one of each.
Otherwise Metro may start identifying such an establishment as where all the drunks are coming from, especially since this has been over the years a highly patrolled area. As an added negative, wiser customers could leave thinking their beers suck because they simply chose wrong and preferred not risking a DUI.
Were they just having a bad night? Maybe. It was quite busy. But the policy certainly could cause problems, I would think.
So on to Southern Grist…
Since its low point in the 70s East Nashville has turned into somewhat like what was once referred to as “yuppie”. The young, upwardly mobile, started to discover East Nashville in the 80s and, slowly at first, it went from bad to better, then even better. A lot of breweries have started to settle on this side of town the past few years.
Grist is on Porter, near where Family Wash once was: an interesting restaurant now on Main.
Someone spent a lot of money creating a nice exterior, a customer friendly interior and ( Yes!) Grist had a sample board option. The plank that holds the small glasses is the shape of Tennessee. A lot of thought went into all this.
Here’s what we had at Southern…There Gose the Train, J.T. Bloody Ale, Adjunct Roulette (This was a Porter with coffee; we also had a sample of the non-coffee version.), Greenwood IPA, Brown Ale, The Gose was very good. Greenwood had an interesting hopping: the assistant told me they just kept throwing hops into it. To us it was like Simcoe, Citra and some noble hops all competing with each other as well as the slightest grapefruit-like Cascade and/or Centenial mix. Bloody: a brew offering blood orange, seemed almost lambic.
Of course we got other samples, like Bean: a brown ale with vanilla beans. We considered that was second best: after the coffee porter. The vanilla added complexity to what I swear seemed a heavier, more complex, brew than the non-coffee porter.
I happened to snag one of the assistant brewers and we chatted for a while. Suddenly he got up and almost ran into a back room. When he came back, excited, and he said, “Do you know who that was? The owner of Yazoo! I thought one of the patrons went back into the brewery without asking!”
“You know him?”
“Ah, one of the deities of Nashville brewing who hath blessed me with his holy brew waters, anointed me with his yeasty…”
No, I didn’t say that. Here’s what I told him…
“We’ve known him since he first came to Nashville to start Yazoo. He was a member of Music City Brewers, like us.” I didn’t mention I’ve done several columns on Linus, we know his wife Lila. But on the plus side I also didn’t mention that we’re the ones who led the underwear gnomes into their house and…
Damn! Now I’ve said too much.
Well, I guess that gave me some street cred, because after that I had a long chat with the founder and head brewer: Jared Welch.
Hey gang! We went to… Jared’s!
Jared’s from Wooster, Ohio, so we had a long talk about Ohio brewing icons: Tim Rastetter, Fred Karm, and also about unique brewing. I suppose it didn’t hurt, when he walked through the serving area carrying a secondary, I held my arms out and said, “Mine! All mine!”
“It’s just coffee.”
“We’re all about unique,” Jared said. I found out they had just gotten their distilling license, so they’ll be doing heavy gravity.
“V vill be back!”
In fact, maybe sooner than one would think, cause methinks I might see if I can interview Mr. Welch.
Brew Biz : Werts and All,` is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing, and commenting on, beer-related topics including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the brew business, and discussions regarding all things beer.
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