Drink Local in Memphis: Craft Beer Edition

Memphis Made Growlers. Photo Credit: Justin Fox Burks

Cold and locally crafted Memphis Made beer. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

Unique craft beer at Wiseacre tap room - Justin Fox Burks

Enjoy a cold Wiseacre craft beer at their Broad Avenue taproom. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

Craft beer on tap at Boscos Squared

Craft beer and great food at Boscos in Overton Square. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

Taste High Cotton beer at their taproom in Downtown Memphis. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

WISEACRE Brewing Tap Room. Photo Credit: Justin Fox Burks

Visit the Wiseacre taproom for a cold local beer. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

Memphis Made Brewing Company owner. Photo Credit: Justin Fox Burks

Drew helps make Memphis Made Brewing, a local craft beer in Memphis. Photo by Justin Fox Burks.

In Memphis, Tennessee, you don’t have to be a beer snob to appreciate locally crafted brews. One sip and you get it: Memphis craft beer tastes good. By the bottom of your glass, you realize a few more things: You’re getting an authentic taste of the city, you’re surrounded by locals, and you’re in a really cool neighborhood. That’s Memphis’s craft beer scene. Here’s how to fully appreciate it: 

1. Order local. The question “What’s on tap?” has evolved into “Whad’ya have that’s local?” From Downtown to East Memphis, your restaurant server or bartender will be ready with an answer that includes at least one of the following: Ghost River, High Cotton, Memphis Made, Wiseacre

2. Hang at a microbrewery. Three of the Memphis breweries mentioned above welcome you in on weekends: Ghost River pours for the public Wednesday through Sunday; High Cotton, Tuesday through Sunday; Wiseacre, Monday through Saturday; Memphis Made, Friday through Sunday. Here’s what to expect: 

At High Cotton Brewing Co., take your pick from 10 beers on tap. You can’t go wrong with the ESB: copper-colored, malty-sweet, and (super) drinkable. Whatever you sip, it’ll be solid—the guys behind High Cotton came up together as the geekiest of home brewers, and they’re meticulous about quality. 

Vibe: High Cotton repurposes a carriage house that’s at least a century old, so along with your drink, you’ll get your fill of reclaimed wood and exposed brick. Grab a seat inside or on the patio, choose a board or card game if you’re so inclined, and settle in. 

To do: If the brewery’s open, a food truck will be parked outside. Thursday nights add yoga to the line-up; Friday nights, trivia. Saturday afternoons are for tours: $12 for guests 21 and up, including a souvenir pint glass and four samples. High Cotton’s methods are intimate by nature—they don’t bottle or can—and brewery tours are intimate to match: A brewer will be your guide, talking you through the ingredients and processes that yield High Cotton’s various styles. You’ll be in and out in under an hour, depending on how many questions you lay on the brewer. Just show up about 10 minutes early to secure your spot. Parents, kids can tour with you at no charge. 

In the neighborhood: High Cotton is one of the latest additions to Memphis’s Edge District, home to legendary Sun Studio, St. Blues Guitar Workshop, and restaurants including Trolley Stop Market, a farm-to-table favorite. 

At Wiseacre Brewing, order taster-size glasses or pints of the seven to 10 beers on tap, a combination of the brewery’s three year-round selections and seasonal and specialty brews. As the brothers behind this brewery traveled and worked extensively in the U.S. and Europe to hone their craft, expect a creative, globally-informed selection. Yet it’s Wiseacre’s Tiny Bomb, an American Pilsner sweetened with local wildflower honey, that won over judges at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival. 

Vibe: Hang inside with a view to the production area, or take your beer to the outside decks (recently expanded), where groups of friends, parents with kids, and beer-lovers with dogs congregate. Just bring a credit or debit card—it’s the only form of currency Wiseacre accepts. 

To do: Check Wiseacre’s events calendar to enroll in a beer education workshop or reserve your spot on the Saturday afternoon brewery tour/tasting. Tours are $10 for visitors 21 and up and include a souvenir tasting glass and four samples. Wiseacre’s education director, Rebecca McQuary, guides the tours, so devote a solid hour: You’ll be diving deep into beer history, ingredients, and flavor-building with a certified cicerone. (Here too, kids tour for free.) Wiseacre’s events calendar also previews which food trucks will be onsite during your visit. 

In the neighborhood: Venture down Broad Avenue to keep digging the street’s industrial/artsy vibe (think: vibrant murals, creative studios and galleries, original boutiques, and flavorful restaurants).  

At Memphis Made Brewing Co., expect a different experience every visit. The brewery’s flagship, Lucid Kolsch, is always available, a pale German ale that’s golden in color and light but flavorful on the tongue (imagine fresh-baked bread and hops). The surprise comes in discovering what limited releases are on tap—maybe Reverberation, a Belgian-style coffee stout brewed in collaboration with Memphis’s Reverb Coffee Co. All told, you’ll find three to five selections on tap and ample space to hang.

Vibe: Memphis Made’s taproom is a warehouse that’s opened its bays wide, inviting you in for a seat at the cozy bar or a game of corn hole or giant Jenga. Kids are welcome. 

To do: Memphis Made periodically books local bands, and food trucks are a fixture. You can also order from Aldo’s Pizza Pies next door to have a bodacious meal delivered. 

In the neighborhood: You’re at the northern entry point to Memphis’s Cooper-Young neighborhood here, so don’t miss the original restaurants, bars, and shops just south on Cooper Street.  

3. Get to a brewpub. Before the craft beer boom, there had to be a pioneer. In Memphis, that’s Boscos Restaurant and Brewing Co. Boscos began brewing small-batch beer in the early 1990s, making it the first brewpub in Memphis—and in all of Tennessee. Through the years, Boscos’s beers have earned several national awards. What’s the best way to taste them? Request a patio table at Boscos Squared brewpub, with a view of buzzy Overton Square.  Order a flight of beer featuring award-winners like the Flaming Stone—its caramel profile is created by the immersion of hot stones during the brewing process. Boscos’s menu is full of bright salads and wood-fired pizzas that pair perfectly with each microbrew—ask your server for recommendations. 

4. Find a tap room. The beer-tasting equivalent of “playing the field,” sipping in a tap room gives you the option to check out several locally-made beers before (or without) committing to one. Locally-owned Hammer & Ale features microbrews from Memphis and beyond on 24 taps, and serves a menu that’s small but well-crafted with house-made specialties. Find it in Memphis’s Cooper-Young neighborhood. Downtown Memphis is home to Flying Saucer Draught Emporium. The chain tap room offers some-200 selections, including local brands. 

5. Find an event. In addition to regular weekly happenings at breweries, brewpubs, and tap rooms, watch for annual beer events in Memphis, including Memphis Brewfest (April), Art on Tap at Dixon Gallery & Gardens (September), and Cooper-Young Beerfest (October). 

If You Go

Have extra room in your hotel mini-fridge? Note that breweries in Memphis, tap rooms, liquor stores and even some grocery stores will fill growlers for you with local craft beer, check them out here

by Samantha Crespo