Lying dormant for nearly half a century, the beer business is—in spite of considerable constraints—back, and booming.
For a state that had no commercial breweries for much of the previous century, Tennessee has been almost manically making up for lost time in the current one, doing an impressive job of building on its impressive early beer history, which started—thanks, German immigrants—in Nashville, back before the Civil War.
Already on the rise for some time now, the last two years have seen a jaw-dropping number of debuts, in no small part due to the loosening of some rather onerous restrictions imposed on the industry by the state government, back at the beginning of 2016.
Today, from the banks of the muddy Mississippi to the Great Smoky Mountains, you'll find an abundance of destination-worthy beers, though Nashville remains—for now—the epicenter of this considerable revival, and, dare we say, one of the country's most satisfying destinations for beer lovers. Here are some of Tennessee's very best breweries to visit right now.
The first thing you need to know about Nashville is that there's already so much beer here—at least two-dozen breweries, at last count. This has not, however, stopped ambitious types—for instance, the twenty-something duo behind this relatively new operation in the city's Germantown section—from hanging out a shingle and getting to work. Named for Tennessee's state flower, Paul Vaughn and Kavon Togrye's operation has managed, in a very short period of time, to snag more than their share of raves for the brewery's beautifully hazy ales. If you're lucky, you'll catch them releasing something ridiculous(ly cool); on any given day, their Homestyle, an 6% ABV, oated IPA brewed with so-hot-right-now, fruitier Mosaic hops, makes a great introduction to modern Tennessee beer.
Out in the foothills of the Smokies, here is easily one of the state's best breweries, but you'll have to work a little harder than usual to get to their beers. That's because this operation, producing some of America's most skillfully crafted saisons, is hiding out on the grounds of Blackberry Farm, one of the South's most exclusive luxury resorts. While it's strictly farm guests only on premises (and if you can, you should certainly consider booking in), Blackberry Farm's civilized brews are regularly shipped out to classier venues and shops, both in nearby Knoxville, and well beyond—look for their Classic Saison in more than thirty states, and counting.
So you show up in Memphis on a sizzling afternoon, and you're parched—the first thing you do is hit up this brewery on cooler-than-you Broad Street, for a hit of the GABF award-winning Tiny Bomb, a crisp, slightly bitter, little bit herbaceous American pilsner that's considered by some to be one of the state's most important beers. Brothers Davin and Kellan Bartosch have done more than their share of legwork for the beer scene in Memphis; the brewery's prized, limited release Astronaut Status is an imperial stout, aged for eleven months in bourbon barrels (from Woodford Reserve).
Practically an old-timer now, having started out back in the early aughts, this is one of Nashville's most widely-known breweries, and certainly one of the city's most prolific. Home-based in the downtown-adjacent Gulch district, Yazoo has received a great deal of attention for the rather ambitious Embrace The Funk series of wild ales, but that's not all they've got going on—from the Gerst Amber Ale, a well-crafted homage to a local, pre-prohibition staple, to a hickory-smoked porter named Sue, there's much to admire here.
This pointedly quirky operation, also found down in the Gulch, isn't more than a few years old, but the annual arrival of the Lovebird, a crisp Hefeweisen buried under an avalanche of strawberries and raspberries, is one of the most-anticipated annual releases in Nashville; the pinkish-hued brew, as you can imagine, is the perfect compliment to any given day during Nashville's relatively lengthy summers. Are you more the IPA sort? Try the Thunder Ann, a fruity pale ale.
For a lot of satisfied customers, this brewery's smart taproom (complete with full, beer-friendly food menu that includes a hot chicken sandwich) is just a great place to hang out; to real hop enthusiasts, visiting and otherwise, the headlining 1927 and Cutaway IPA's, along with tasty seasonals like the sessionable, summery Walk The Line wheat, tart with (you guessed it) lime, are some of Nashville's most important beers. Fun fact—Yazoo, Jackalope and the Brew Works are all within a stone's throw of one another, making for one very satisfying, no-transport-required crawl.
Put Chopped judge Maneet Chauhan in a room with a couple of experienced brewers, and here's what you get—a most ambitious brewery, operating out of an industrial park in suburban Franklin. This permanent (let's hope) collaboration between the celeb chef and brewers Derrick Morse and Chad Frost draws curious beer drinkers for everything from a deliciously tart plum sour to the popular Japa, a milk stout infused with chai spices. Stop by the laidback taproom, which has become something of a community hangout, seven days a week.
Named for the fathers of modern geology, two men said to have enjoyed a drink, this brewery is considered by more than a few in-the-know types to be the home of some of the best beer in a city that's been on a craft brewing expansion tear, lately. The judges at the Great American Beer Festival, a couple of years back, seemed to be in agreement—not long after getting started, the brewery's On-Sight Alt, a proper, German-style Altbier, took home a bronze medal. A no-frills, but still quite appealing taproom serves as an anchor for a quickly redeveloping section of the city, just on the fringes of Chattanooga's popular downtown.