I’m not here to talk about your father's beer — that yellow, fizzy swill Europeans like to crack jokes about.
What I do want to talk about is beer created with a loving hand, using traditional — and sometimes weird — ingredients (there’s no “choicest rice” here). Beer that has a more diverse range on styles than that of wine and is (at least) equally suitable for pairing with food. Beer that has complex aromatic and flavor profiles. Beer that’s worth drinking.
You’ve probably heard of craft beer, and you may have had your fair share, whether you’ve known it or not.
According to the Brewers Association, which defines “craft brewery” as being small (less than 6 million barrels produced annually), independent, and traditional, the craft beer industry in America has been on the rise.
“Growth of the craft brewing industry in 2010 was 11% by volume and 12% by dollars compared to growth in 2009 of 7.2% by volume and 10.3% by dollars … 1,753 breweries operated for some or all of 2010, the highest total since the late-1800s.”
And yet, with the emergence of U.S. beer Meccas like San Diego (really, the entire state of California and probably the West Coast) and Asheville, NC (voted Beer City, USA for three years in a row), we’re not really seeing the same rapid growth in the Mid- South, and more specifically, in Memphis. And in my most humble opinion, ladies and gentlemen, this is a damn shame.
But not all hope is lost. We’ve got our own locally owned and operated brewery (Ghost River) and brewpub (Boscos). We’ve got beer bars like the Flying Saucer and Young Avenue Deli. We’ve got stores that take pride in providing quality beer like Whole Foods Market, Raffe’s International Beer Market, Joe’s Wines, and Busters. We’ve got a couple of home brew shops and even an organized home brew group (the Bluff City Brewers & Connoisseurs). We’ve got a number of great beer festivals including the Cooper-Young Regional Beer Fest coming up on Oct. 15th. And, as Ghost River’s Chuck Skypeck is always happy to point out, we’ve got some of the best water in the country for brewing.
All of this, I think, gives Memphis a pretty solid foundation on which to build a beer culture worthy of national and international attention.
My goals and expectations for this blog series are fairly simple. I’d like to explore the local and regional beer scene, the craft beer (local, national, and imported) available in and around Memphis, and the extent of which Memphis and Tennessee as a whole are being left behind in terms of beer production and distribution (meaning availability of great beer), looking at both problems — be it legislature, stigmas, whatever — and possible solutions.
In the meantime, you’ve got homework: drink something new. Find a beer from a brewery you’ve not yet tried or in a style you’ve never heard of. You may have to go to a liquor store to find it, but it’s out there. Crack it open, and whatever it is, poor it in a glass, pay attention to its color, clarity, aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel, and most importantly, enjoy.
I’ll leave you with a couple of resources:
For education and food-pairing suggestions, try craftbeer.com
For beer/bar/store ratings, try beeradvocate.com or ratebeer.com