Nashville is experiencing a period of growth. People in the city have mixed opinions about that, but the effects of the influx of new residents brings with it some benefits. For one, there’s now a higher demand for beer, so breweries are springing forth from all corners of the Tennessee metropolis to meet that thirst.
There is a caveat though. The state’s alcohol laws are tricky, and currently, there are two permits offered for “on-premises consumption”: the first is for “low gravity” beers of 6.25% ABV and under (which the below all have), and the second is for “high gravity” beers, liquors, and other spirits of 6.25% or above. The laws are evolving though, and the latter permit has become more affordable for businesses, so while some breweries on this list are still relegated to producing beers within the low gravity category, others — such as Corsair, Smith & Lentz, and Yazoo — have a bit more room for creativity, particularly when it comes to barrel aging.
As more breweries pop up, and the laws relax on crafters, this beer scene will flourish even more than it already is. See below for a few of our favorite Nashville breweries, plus one killer beer bar.
Smith & Lentz Brewing Company
At only a couple years old, Smith & Lentz might be one of the newest brewing establishments around Nashville, but they’ve already earned the respect of fellow prominent brewers about town. The East Nashville spot tends to present a lineup that skews toward a preference for crisp, dry styles — they say you’ll almost always find a fresh German Pilsner and an aromatic IPA on tap — but the founding duo are not afraid to experiment with lesser seen beers too, particularly utilizing classic German recipes. Currently, they have a Helles Bock and a classic Vienna lager on draft.
Tennessee Brew Works
The business of Tennessee Brew Works had always included two major principles: great beer and community. Besides a large menu of diverse styles, Brew Works also houses a space for local live music and two stories for large groups. That theme follows through into its beer as well — many of its offerings pay homage to Nashville’s country roots. The current list, for example, includes a sweet potato stout, a “Southern” wit, and the Rye Basil Farmhouse Ale, which utilizes spicy Thai basil from the local Bloomsbury Farm.
Born in theory when founder Linus Hall purchased a home brew kit from the back pages of Rolling Stone in 1993, Yazoo was never a brewery to play it too safe or conventional. Yazoo was the first to make a (legal) high gravity beer in Sue, its 9.2% smoked porter, and it’s just the establishment to officially revive a style from the city’s pre-Prohibition era Gerst Brewery, in a German-malted amber ale. Today, Yazoo also runs a sour program called Embrace the Funk — one of its most popular projects.
Most people know Corsair for their mostly-nationally-distributed (but still relatively rare) whiskey, but recently, they’ve entered the world of brewing and barrel aging. Calling their Clinton Street location a “brewstillery,” Corsair’s offerings tend to be on the high end of the ABV chart, and sometimes, pay homage to classic and historic brewing methods. Such choices have recently included a smoked rye porter, a sherry barleywine, a hickory alt, and one they’re calling the Viking Ale: a period-reverential ale brewed with juniper berries, coriander, and honey. Then it’s aged in their Quinoa Whiskey barrels with another hearty dose of juniper.
Jackalope Brewing Company
Born from two friends who met in the tiny Scottish village of St. Andrews, Jackalope has become one of the stalwarts of Nashville’s brewing scene. Its beers, which are often takes on classic styles, have become stalwarts in the local repertoire as well. One of brewmaster Bailey Spaulding’s first recipes, the Bearwalker Maple Brown ale, for example, pays homage to her home state in the northeast by adding 100% Vermont maple syrup into the recipe. Others, on the other hand, are tributes to the local soil, like the Rompo Red Rye Ale — a take on an Irish red, but using Tennessee flaked rye. It just wouldn’t be right to visit the city without a trip to the taproom, which also operates as a coffeehouse in the earlier hours.
Black Abbey Brewing Company
Brewing in the style of the wife of Protestant reformer Martin Luther, Katherina von Bora, Black Abbey’s are Belgian to be sure, but with a delicate crispness. It’s not easy to craft the classically high ABV styles under the legal low gravity threshold in Tennessee, but the brewery has proven since 2011 that it is possible to build a rich, full-bodied Belgian without an elevated alcohol content. Signature styles like Belgian blonde The Rose, and Hawaiian and Kenyan coffee bean-infused porter POTUS 44, are always on draft, but experimental makes appear periodically too, including many of which have been barrel aged or treated with wild yeasts.
Beer Bar: The Hop Stop
Tucked away in hip East Nashville, the Hop Stop is a go-to for Nashville beer seekers with an indecisive palate, far from the bustle of tourists. Featuring an eclectic tap list of 36 beers on draft at all times, the bar also offers beer cocktails, as well as a bottle and canned selection. Picks are local — many of the above breweries are generally on rotation at the beer — but you’ll also see selections from across the South, and as far off as New York, California, Belgium, Germany and beyond. Hang by the dartboards and choose from a list of hot dogs, “not dogs,” and bar fare for a low-key evening.