Nashville Beer: A Heady History of Music (American Palate)
Your Go-To Brew Guide in Music City
Story and Photos By Chris Chamberlain
Kentucky may be bourbon country and Tennessee might be rightly proud of its whiskey, but Nashville is a beer city, from the honkytonks full of longneck bottles of Bud and Miller to multiple new breweries and taprooms serving crafty beers to discerning fans.
Nashville Beer from History Press tells the story of brewing and beer in Music City, beginning with the first German brewers who moved to Nashville from Cincinnati as part of the work force to build the needed new infrastructure after the city was named the capital of Tennessee. The Gerst Brewery dominated the industry throughout the first half of the 20th century, surviving Prohibition by selling non-alcoholic malt beverages as well as one of the first versions of Orange Crush soda.
After Gerst went out of business in 1954, Nashville entered the dark ages of beer, when mega-breweries like Miller, Coors and Bud took over the taps at local taverns and shaped the tastes of Nashville beer drinkers. The majority of Nashville Beer concentrates on the craft beer renaissance that began when four brewpubs/microbreweries first introduced the city’s collective palate to beers that were more complex than a light lager.
The book dedicates individual chapters to the origin stories and continuing histories of more than a dozen breweries that have sprung up in and around the city since 1988. Stalwarts like Blackstone Brewing Company and Yazoo Brewing Company helped put Nashville on the craft brew map by winning national awards at juried competitions and shipping locally-brewed beer beyond just Middle Tennessee for the first time since the closing of Gerst.
Other fascinating characters from Middle Tennessee’s beer scene profiled in Nashville Beer include Bailey Spaulding, the impetus behind Jackalope, Tennessee’s first brewery founded by a woman. Her journey from home brewer to beer magnate is similar to those of other beer entrepreneurs in the city whose hobby grew out of control until they went big time with their own commercial breweries.
Don and Dave Sergio are brothers who spent their days brewing beer at their homes in Sparta and their evenings playing music in bands around Middle Tennessee. Their Calfkiller Brewing Co. is still little more than a glorified home brew setup, but their exotic recipes are sought-after by beer lovers across the region. Ken Rebman of Czann’s started out as basically a one-man band, building out his small brewery and taproom by hand, brewing all the beer, washing the kegs and making deliveries to local beer bars. Ben Bredesen is the son of a former governor of Tennessee who left a career in healthcare technology to start up Fat Bottom Brewing, eventually expanding his operation to a modern facility in Nashville’s growing Nation’s neighborhood. In addition to tasty beers, Fat Bottom is also known for serving some fantastic food in its Hopyard beer garden.
More recent brewery start-ups included larger investments in technology like at the Belgian-inspired Black Abbey Brewing Company and the modern Tennessee Brew Works facility, the first brewery in America to employ the high-tech mini Meura mash filtration system. Also profiled in Nashville Beer is the lager-only brewery Little Harpeth Brewing, built in an industrial office park in East Nashville near the Titans’ stadium.
In addition to sharing stories of Nashville’s breweries, the book also lists many of the city’s best taprooms, beer bars and growler fill locations for you to enjoy craft brews outside of the actual breweries. If you’re a beer fan and looking for an entertaining primer on the Nashville beer scene, you definitely need to pick up a copy of this book.
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Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink and travel writer based in Nashville, Tennessee.