I don’t live in my beloved Memphis, Tennessee anymore but I still make annual visits to catch up with friends and family and stock up on BBQ sauce, among other things.
These yearly trips to the Bluff City have always been pretty standard and unwaveringly food-centric. My plans center around fried chicken, fried chicken, and fried chicken while my husband foams at the mouth at just the mention of a full rib rack at Blues City Café.
We rely, as we always have, on the hobbits’ guide to meal planning with all other activities determined by where we will be for breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon (sweet) tea, dinner, and supper.
But then… something happened to my routine. For the past couple of years, it hasn’t been the food I’ve looked forward to the most—it’s been the beer. But aren’t changing desires the definition of maturity?
Like how I used to look forward to Sunday mornings for sleeping in and now I’ll happily get up at the crack of dawn if half-price mimosas are on the agenda. Our priorities shift as we get older and… yeah… most of the time it’s alcohol’s fault.
Memphis craft Breweries
There are now nine local Memphis craft breweries—there were only five when I first published this post. One is a restaurant and the other eight are taprooms, each with their own uniqueness but all serving up a wide range of beer styles that go perfectly with fried chicken.
One of them was around for the Lewinsky scandal and the release of Jagged Little Pill; the other eight are still sucking their thumbs and eating things they picked up off the ground.
Boscos Restaurant & Brewing Co.
As far as I’m concerned, being a child of the 80s, Boscos has always been around. It opened in 1992 when I was knee-deep in fractions and multiplication tables and the only thing I cared about was winning that year’s potato sack race at Field Day. So clearly by the time I even thought about drinking beer it was already well established as Tennessee’s first brewpub.
1992? That seems pretty late to be the state’s first brewpub, you say? Well, welcome to Tennessee. Nationwide prohibition may have ended in 1933 but Tennessee didn’t allow bars and restaurants to brew and serve their own beer until 1992. I mean, you know we still have dry counties, right?
Boscos Restaurant and Brewing Co. is located in Midtown’s Overton Square. Overton square was hip back in the day, then kinda sucked for a while, and in the past couple of years has completely reinvented itself and is now the place to get fat, drunk, and jolly in Memphis.
Boscos is a full-fledged bar and restaurant. Unlike the following six breweries, this place actually makes food in a kitchen that doesn’t have wheels! I haven’t had any of it, but still, it’s nice to know it’s there. It must be great, though—very few places survived the “kinda crappy” Overton Square era and are still as popular and well known as they ever have been.
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Looking for more cool places to eat and drink in Memphis? Check out my full guide with 200 things to do in Memphis–it’s a local’s guide that features LOTS to do and many great places to grab a beer.
Boscos beers are brewed on premises—with their own unique strain of “house yeast” they’ve been using since “Baby Got Back” was #2 on Billboard’s Top 100—and continue to win national craft beer awards. But what really sold me was the fact that I could get an 8-beer flight for $10. Thems be 1992 prices!
The beers I tried:
Famous flaming stone
There’s a wood fire oven involved with this one. It was awarded a Silver Medal at the Great American Beer Festival and 3-stars by beer critic Michael “no, not that one” Jackson.
A super hoppy amber–not really my style but they say it’s delicious with seafood and spicy foods (and most likely with fried chicken, no doubt!).
English-style nut brown that’s apparently “excellent with all cheeses.” If I had a dating profile it would say that exact thing.
Isle of Skye Scottish Ale
Eight types of malts and two types of hops go into creating this one making it “rich and full-bodied.” ⇠ What I wish described me instead of that cheese thing.
Take the Flaming Stone and add juniper berries post fermentation and you get this, a Gold Medal winner–just like 1992’s Dream Team.
Ray’s Honey Rye
It’s golden, lightly hopped, and offers honey flavor without the sweetness–I guess you could say it puts the “bee” in beer.
A style of beer from the 1790’s when George Washington was president and the #1 song that year was played on a fife and drum. Yankee Doodle, drink it up–Yankee Doodle, shandy!
Belgian Specialty Ale
My overall favorite! Flavorful, refreshing, perfect for patios and, let’s be honest, fried chicken.
Ghost River Brewing Co.
Ghost River beers have been around since 2007 but their taproom is hangin’ tough as one of the new kids on the block. I know, I know… the time for early 90s references has come and gone.
Memphians have been familiar with Ghost River beers for some time but nobody really knew where they came from–they just kinda showed up at bars under the name of a river that nobody in town had ever heard of. Spooky, indeed. But I can see their point—a beer called Mississippi River Brown Ale would’ve been a fast failure.
What is the Ghost River?
Turns out, the Ghost River is actually a river within a river. It’s a strong, underwater current that flows beneath the still surface of the Wolf River, a spring-fed river flowing from the state of Mississippi, up through Tennessee, and into the Mississippi River. Did you get all that?
It’s a little known fact (to everyone outside of Memphis, that is) that Memphis, Tennessee has the world’s best water, arguably the most important ingredient in beer brewing. And for that you can thank our natural aquifer and the waters that run through it–the Ghost River.
Ghost River Taproom
The Ghost River taproom is one of Memphis’s newest and is located in Downtown Memphis at the corner of Crump and Main. As far as Memphis craft breweries go I’d say it’s probably the largest, space-wise.
They offer a wide selection of beer styles—some you can only get there—and park just as wide a selection of rotating food trucks outside. They offer Sunday brunch, Geeks Who Drink trivia, live music on weekends, and they totally don’t mind if you show up just as they are unlocking the doors. I’m a lil’ too eager sometimes. Second through the door of a taproom is first loser, I always say.
Whether you’re a local or just a very ambitious visitor you can load up on Ghost River beers straight from the source. Head ‘round back to pick up kegs (both full and pony, by reservation, and very carefully), get your growlers filled, or grab a case of what they call “short fills”—bottles just short of 12 ounces and/or with labeling errors. And then call me quick ’cause it’s. about. to go. down.
The beers I tried were:
- Ghost River Gold – Classic, refreshing, and voted 2017’s best beer in Memphis.
- Riverbank Red – Probably the best Irish red I’ve ever had.
- Grindhouse Cream Ale – Almost everyone I talked to in Memphis is a fan of this beer.
- Downtown Abbey – My overall favorite! Yes, the Belgians are always my favorites. I have a type. “Poor and skinny seeks Belgian, preferably white and from a monastery. Slightly fruity okay.”
High Cotton Brewing Co.
Even though High Cotton Brewing Co. has only been open since 2014, it still feels the most adult-ish of the bunch. My friends and I can’t put our fingers on the reason, it just does. Maybe it’s the name—a term from the antebellum South meaning you probably know more about polo matches and debutante balls and less about Three 6 Mafia and stealing internet from your neighbors.
High Cotton taproom
High Cotton Brewing Co. is located kinda in Midtown… kinda in Downtown… and feels like both. Plus a little bit of Oxford, Mississippi. Street parking and rock music, hippies with dogs, Croakies and boat shoes. They produce four beers commercially and serve around seven exclusively in their taproom.
They, too, have a rotating offering of food trucks. There’s also live music, fun social events, and something called “Pints & Pilates” that I think is pretty self-explanatory. Unless you’re my husband who just said, “It’s like a lot of planks and stuff, right?” Close enough… I think that deserves a beer, don’t you?
You’ll notice in this post that as the day went on, my collection of information tanked but my use of Disney song lyrics to explain life increased as it often does after a pint or two.
You may not know this because you probably have a real job, but it’s hard to remember to take notes when it’s beer-drinking that you’re taking notes on. So here’s my feeble attempt at explaining the beers I tried at High Cotton Brewing Co.:
- Edge of the Craft Lager – Good!
- Red Ale – Good!
- Hefeweizen – Good!
- Belgian Wit – Freakin’ fantastic! But you knew I was going to say that.
Meddlesome Brewing Company
My day at Meddlesome Brewing Company was probably the most fun I’ve had in a suburban office park in a long time.
Named for the fact that the owners were “meddling little shit growing up” (their words, not mine), Meddlesome Brewing Company opened in the summer of 2017.
Unlike the other six Memphis craft breweries, Meddlesome is located in a galaxy far, far away from the likes of Midtown/Downtown. I’m not just referring to the plethora of Star Wars-related artwork–they’re actually in CORDOVA. Yay an option for the out-easters!
On my visit in December 2017, Meddlesome had eight beer offerings: blonde ale, red ale, brown ale, American IPA, imperial IPA, English bitter, stout, and a cider. IPAs are my least favorite beer style and I’m actually allergic to apples so I stay away from cider altogether, but in a brazen act of laziness when ordering I declared to the bartender, “I’ll take the lot!” Meh, eight beers are better than one anyway.
The blonde ale–Brass Bellows–was a hands-down winner as my favorite but you know what? There wasn’t a single beer I didn’t like. I drank them all and I enjoy every drop. Could the fun environment and awesome company have had something to do with it? Maybe. But Meddlesome Brewing Co. is my new favorite spot east of the Agricenter.
Memphis Made Brewing Co.
If you’re in the mood for a beer called, let’s say, Junt, Fuzzbox, Plaid Attack, or, my personal favorite, Business Time, then look no further than Memphis Made Brewing Company. You’ll find everything that sounds like a euphemism for a hipster’s beard right here.
Now, maybe it’s the location, or maybe it’s the owners, or maybe it’s the giant red reminder that we love our city—but this place feels at-home as hell.
Memphis Made Brewing Co. has been brewing beer since 2013 and their taproom opened a year later in Midtown’s Cooper-Young district. Beards-a-plenty! It was started by a couple of local dudes who decided to go big and stay home but, most importantly, they link to a cat video on the homepage of their website. Kudos, guys.
Memphis Made Brewing Co. produces three year-round beers (Lucid Kolsch, Fireside Amber, RockBone IPA) and a slew of seasonal and limited edition beers with names like McFuggle, Waka Waka, and Sieste de Chat (it’s just like their Cat Nap IPA, but with a French accent).
You can find their beers almost anywhere in town but I prefer to get mine straight from the source, mostly because there’s a popcorn machine. The way to my heart is 100% THROUGH THE GIVING OF POPCORN.
The taproom is pretty large and more or less a glorified loading dock. It has indoor space, outdoor space, half indoor/half outdoor space, parking lot space, the space with the popcorn machine, a space with pinball machines, and a space where people hang out on the loading dock ramp that I’m going to propose be turned into an adult-sized slip-n-slide on hot afternoons.
Sometimes there’s a food truck parked outside. Sometimes there’s not. You can always grab a pizza from the joint next door and bring it over or just eat 32 servings of popcorn like moi.
The beers I tried were:
Memphis Made’s “lawnmower” beer that’s a favorite of mine. For your information, a lawnmower beer is a traditionally lower alcohol content beer that is also light and crisp – something you’d want to drink after working in the yard on a hot summer day. Or in Tennessee’s case, something you’d want to drink while driving your John Deere.
Easy to drink wheat beer that’s slightly fruity with hints of banana and, this is the best part, bubble gum. Sometimes I’m a serious beer drinker; other times I just wanna party like it’s 1989.
Tastes like you’re roasting weenies in the woods. And that’s a good thing.
Their description for this beer is literally: “The Party seeks beer entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in beer, pure beer.” DubbleThink clocks in at 8.1% ABV, so a party it truly is.
Goddamn y’all are Memphis as hell. Purple Drank is a hibiscus kolsch and it’s as fabulous as it sounds.
Wiseacre Brewing Co.
The Wiseacre story begins some years back with a grandmother scolding two little Memphians using a term they would later name their brewery. I don’t know exactly how the story goes, but in my head I imagine it like this: “Hey, wiseacre! Get yer hiney out from in front of the television—I’m trying to watch Wheel!”
Little did grandma know she was setting in motion a lifetime of travel, research, entrepreneurship, and grand theft auto for these two young boys.
Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, the two brothers… owners… bro-wners? have since been around the country and the globe finding out what makes beer so kickass.
They stole their parents car for a trip to the Sam Adams brewery; they headed for Germany to experience Oktoberfest; and, some years later, they created a popcorn + beer food pairing event and wtf wasn’t I called in to be a judge, hmm? Is it because of my belief that all popcorn pairs well with all beers? [You may want to read the rest of their history here.]
At Wiseacre Brewing Co. the atmosphere is great, the beers are greater, and the fact that they only take credit cards (no cash) is even greaterer—it’s like they know exactly what’s not in my purse.
I don’t really know what part of town you’d call this—I guess, Midtown?—but really I just say, “It’s off Summer” and everyone gets it. And then they get subs from the Chinese Sub Shop on their way there because if Heaven was a sub sandwich, it would be a Chinese Sub Shop sub sandwich.
Wiseacre’s taproom is hella fun—casual indoor space sometimes sans walls, outdoor patio space, more outdoor party space, some outdoor water silo space, and all that will make sense when you get there.
There’s also a parking lot. Like, a big one. You may underestimate the value of this if you are a Memphian yourself but if you hail from a northeastern super metropolis like yours truly, you get me. You really get me.
The beers I tried were: Well, this is a toughie. I’ve been to Wiseacre a handful of times and have tried most of their beers and have yet to steal anything that tells me what is what. So instead, I’ll tell you some beers I have tried at the Wiseacre Brewing Co. taproom over the past two years. Now shut yer yap–it’s the bonus round!
Tiny Bomb, American Pilsner
Delicious, crisp, found all over Memphis, and is spiked with 50 lbs. of local wildflower honey. That means 40,000 honeybees spent their summer ingesting and regurgitating wild nectar until it was partially digested, spit it out into a tiny box, flapped their tiny wings to circulate air until evaporation left it with precisely 18% moisture, then put a lid on it. And all so you could make it through your family reunion without punching someone. How does that make you feel?
Gotta Get Up to Get Down
One of my FAVORITE BEERS EVAH. Before this, I mean, stouts were fine. I liked stouts as much as the next guy whose friend forced Irish Car Bombs on him for the better part of his twenties. But now? Wow–this beer was life changing.
Gotta Get Up to Get Down is a coffee milk stout. It tastes like the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had, but ice cold and smooth as hell. And… it’s boozy! It’s so much better than I can describe–you really need to taste it to understand.
Men, Not Machines
This isn’t one of their year-round brews but, for real, it’s a beer made from popcorn so you know it’s good.
Nope, can’t remember anymore. Note to self: must. steal. papers. (especially. after. multiple. taprooms. in a day.) However, Wiseacre beers are consistently delicious, always unique, and you won’t have a problem finding something that pairs well with Wheel of Fortune.
Memphis craft breweries: superlatives
Because this is my blog and I’m the boss and I get to choose favorites.
Overall best beer
Gotta Get Up to Get Down Coffee Milk Stout — Wiseacre Brewing Co. It’s just so… unique and so freaking delicious and you get happier even just smelling it.
Wiseacre–if it’s sunny day outdoor fun you’re looking for / Ghost River if there’s a tornado watch and you’d rather stay inside.
Wiseacre, and yes–this is totally important. I’ve got some of it on my walls at home.
Boscos — it helps to have a bar and a full-time bartender to tell me what song is playing over the restaurant’s sound system. Plus, I ask a lot of questions.
What? I’m a lady; this matters. High Cotton–it always smells good in there.
Boscos, bro. Eight beer tasters for $10. That’s a 1992 throwback right there! My liver don’t want none unless you got deals, hun.
More Memphis craft breweries
Since publishing this original post three more craft breweries have opened in Memphis. They’re already open for business but I haven’t covered them yet. Coming soon!
In the meantime you can check them out here:
Heading to Memphis? Find great places to stay here.
But where do I personally recommend? Either the Peabody or the Sleep Inn Downtown.
What else have I written about Tennessee? Check out these posts.
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