Patios are blossoming all over town. It's a sure sign that Memphians are tired of winter's cooped-up spaces, heavy clothes, not to mention those sturdy, stout, comforting winter beers.
Okay, so maybe your first spring thought isn't: "What new beers are out there?" But it's one of mine. Beer changes with the seasons, and Memphis has five solid craft breweries — Boscos, Wiseacre, High Cotton, Memphis Made, and Ghost River. That means there's now an ocean of new, locally made beer out there. Ever heard someone argue about the best local barbecue? Of course you have. If you haven't heard someone argue best local brewery yet, you will soon.
I gathered The Memphis Flyer staff Friday to sample this spring's offerings of (mostly) local beers. This year's crew included editor Bruce VanWyngarden (BV), Justin Rushing (JR), Chris McCoy (CM), Eileen Townsend (ET), Joshua Cannon (JC), Jackson Baker (JB), Shara Clark (SC), Bianca Phillips (BP), Chris Shaw (CS), Chris Davis (CD), managing editor Susan Ellis (SE), and Kendrea Collins (KC).
I also brought together three expert beer tasters: Richard Heath (RH), president of Bluff City Brewers & Connoisseurs (BCBC), and BCBC members Adam Steele (AS), a certified beer judge, and award-winning home brewer Nick Vincent (NV).
Wiseacre founders Kellan and Davin Bartosch expertly guided us in our tasting journey. Kellan urged us to appreciate (rather than judge) beers, even if it's a style we don't like. "There are no bad beers," he said.
Big thanks to the owners and staff at Celtic Crossing for letting us take over their killer patio, and protecting us from the pattering rain. Sláinte, and may the road rise to meet you all this St. Patrick's Day. — Toby Sells
Greenswarden Saison — Here's what they say: At first glance, the hazy golden copper of this ale makes it appear calm and reserved. But the citrus punch will make you want to get up and yell, GET OFF OUR LAWN!!!
Here's what we say:
This citrusy beer packs a flavorful first punch but mellows out after a few sips. Drink one (or three), then hitch a ride to the Greensward and park your butt (definitely not your car) there for a spring picnic. — SC
If a beer can be "refreshing," this is it. Smooth but sprightly. — BV
Wait for the citrus to sneak in — it'll knock you on your ass. Memphis Made concocted the perfect beverage to share with friends while you protest parking in the Greensward. — JC
This brew has a rich, golden hue that promises a richer flavor than it delivers. At least this version lacks the aggressive aromatics that some saisons offer. — CM
This is a hoppy, full-bodied saison, but it doesn't leave that bitter floral aftertaste. It'd be the perfect beer to pack for a picnic on the Greensward. Oh wait? Nevermind, there are cars parked on the Greensward! Lucky for you, this beer would taste just as good on your front porch. — BP
Smooth and savory with a nice citrus flavor. No bite or bitter aftertaste. — JR
Light and fruity, with a healthy serving of that saison yeast character, with just a hint of citrus hop flavor behind it. — NV
An aggressive, "Americanized" version of the Belgian classic. Spicy and peppery yeast phenolics make way for a slight toasted note, followed by a bitter, citrusy finish. — AS
RockBone IPA — What they say: A heavy hand of Herkules hops gives this IPA a real bang, while the Mosaic hops do the dirty work and ooze out flavors of passion fruit and berries.
What we say:
Ok, this one really smells like urine. Thank you for everything you do, precious RockBone. Store up your treasures in heaven. — CS
This IPA stands tall in a flaccid field. Where some IPAs stuff the hops to create a bulging taste profile, RockBone goes deep, hitting the pleasure centers with practiced stimulation. — CM
Tastes like good porn. Hoppy but well-balanced, and you don't get that overpowering floral aftertaste. – BP
A healthy dose of hops keeps this stiff IPA bitter yet deliciously fruity, and will stimulate even the most flaccid of taste buds. —NV
Compared to my last RockBone experience, this iteration has a sharper, more well-defined hop flavor, reminiscent of citrus and cherries.The finish is dry, and the bitterness doesn't linger; an exceptionally drinkable IPA. — AS
ESB — What they say: Medium-high to medium bitterness with supporting malt flavors evident. Normally has a moderately low to somewhat strong caramelly malt sweetness. Hop flavor moderate.
What we say:
The "ESB" (Extra Special Bitter) in the name may fool you: This beer isn't really bitter at all, though perhaps it is "extra special." Smooth and light and would be a great go-to for less adventurous drinkers. — SC
A light but satisfying ESB, not much going on here in terms of hops. I always thought ESB stood for Extremely Shitty Beer. I now realize I've been living a lie. — CS
Hoppy but calm. A journeyman taste (and that's no insult). — JB It tastes like biscuits. It's totally acceptable to drink this for breakfast, right? — BP
Light, with hints of biscuit malts and a lingering sweetness that's pleasant. Sure to appeal to many palates with its conservative flavor. — NV
A balancing act of floral, earthy English hops, fruity yeast, and nutty malt character. Ever-so-slightly buttery, which is common in English-style beers. Thinking of introducing your Michelob Ultra-drinking dad to craft beer? Start here. — AS
Red Ale — What they say: The unique grain bill lends the beer to an easy-drinking malty body, with no lack of Perle hops to provide earthiness and subtle spice.
What we say:
I call this one "Old Reliable" because it's always on target. A good drinking beer for any occasion. — BV
High Cotton has another hit on its hands, starting with the substantial mouth feel, enabled by the relatively low carbonation. The sign of careful craftsmanship that is not chasing trends. — CM
Very light and refreshing. Mild flavor. Good beer! — JR
Dark copper in color, this beer is rich with malty and sweet flavors, low in hops, and is a tasty alternative to yeasty/hoppy spring offerings. —NV
Slight caramel sweetness up front, but finishes dry and clean. This one would serve well as an inoffensive introduction to craft beer that you could drink a whole bunch of. — AS
Adjective Animal Double IPA — What they say: This is as hop-forward as it gets. Sticky, resinous, orange peel, pine, and grapefruit aromas shall waft forth.
What we say:
Surprisingly, this double IPA isn't as hoppy as one might expect. It's fruity, floral, and way easier to drink than other hop-forward beers. 10 out of 10. — SC
A big, bouncy, perky brew that packs an 8.6 alcohol punch. Careful with this one, cowboy. — BV
Apparently a hop called Nugzilla is used in making this beer. I feel like Muck Sticky is super bummed he can't name his next album that now. Or maybe he can? — CS
Wiseacre's Adjective Animal Double IPA made me take back every comparison to pissed-on lemons I've made about IPAs. This beer is hoppy as hell, but it rubs you the right way. — JC
It has a complex flavor profile, balancing all of the elements perfectly. There are hoppy notes you expect, but it's not trying to slap you in the face with it. — CM
Smooth with delicate hints of floral hops and citrus, and spiciness adds balance. Also, the name is the buzzy bee's knee. Or maybe it's the grumpy cat's pajamas. (You see what I did there? Don't even get me started with dreaming up adjectives for animals. I could go all day.) — BP
Good sipping beer, great taste. Nice change-up from your typical domestic or import. — JR
What can I say — hops, hops, hops! Full of aroma, flavor, and bitterness, wreaking havoc on your palate with a piercing yet smooth hop bitterness that easily masks its hefty alcohol content. — NV
Huge resinous pine, citrus, and tropical notes with a slightly sweet malt undertone that's hard to describe. Smooth, clean, yet intense bitterness. Enough to keep you interested until the last sip. — AS
Familie Freund: Dusseldorf Altbier — What they say: German, copper-colored ale with rich, toasty malts (smells like really toasted bread with a touch of honey on it) balanced with a firm bitter backbone.
What we say: Lots of pop. Lots of flavor. Like that crazy uncle who shows up for Thanksgiving every couple years. — BV
Bitter and malty at the same time, kind of tastes like those Haribo candy Coke bottle things. — CS
It starts sharp on the tongue, defined by its Champagne-like effervescence, but the flavor opens up quickly, revealing a pleasing hoppy note. — CM
Wiseacre is known for upping the hops in just about every style, and this bitter, malty brew is, indeed, hoppy. But I don't find the hops as off-putting as I do in some of their beers. It seems more balanced, and has a nice mouthfeel. (Did I seriously just say "mouthfeel"?) — BP
Rich with malty, yeasty lager character, this copper-colored beer is a refreshing choice for a those who want a richer, fuller spring beer experience. — NV
Malty aroma and flavor reminiscent of bread dough, grapes, toast, and caramel. Not sweet, though — the finish is nice and dry. Assertively bittered to provide balance and drinkability. Damn near perfect. — AS
Quiet Man Irish Stout — What they say: The beer packs a roasty punch yet remains light on its feet. A carbonated version of the classic Irish style will leave you wanting to go back in the ring for another round.
What we say:
The wise guys from Wiseacre told us that comparing different beers is a bit like comparing burgers to tacos. My question is: Why is this cheeseburger not a taco? Just kidding. This is a great cheeseburger. — SC
Surprisingly flat and watery despite its heavy look. A late, somewhat bitter aftertaste . — JB
Perhaps the only remnant of my Irish heritage is that I love stouts. Also, I'm stubborn and often belligerent. But back to the stouts. This is a very good one, even if it doesn't have the giant head you might be used to from pulling Guinness taps. — CM
Much hoppier than I'd expect from an Irish stout, but it's drinkable. It has that nice soy sauce aftertaste that I love in a good stout, but the heavy hops would mean I'd probably just drink one and switch to a more classic stout. — BP
This beer is light and drinkable, yet still hits the mark with its subtle roasted flavors. A great example of the style. — NV
A pleasant, roasted, coffee-like aroma with some mild fruity yeast character. Prickly carbonation and thin-bodied. Think Guinness, except fresher and more flavorful. — AS
Hop God — What they say: In this version of it, the more hops the better. We took fresh hops and some new varieties we've never used in here before — Summit and Horizon. It's actually going to have the hop profile behind it and is not as malty.
What we say: Praise the Lord and pass the beer. And hop to it. — BV
Smells like pee, but tastes way better, I guess. I'm not saying I've ever drank pee. I've never drank pee. Damn. This isn't going well. Amazing beer. — CS
Smooth, mellow, vaguely sweet, large in its suggestions. — JB
Least favorite beer of the tasting. Overly flavorful to the point where it's sour. Like drinking a beer out of a marathon runner's tube sock. — JR
I was not a fan of this beer and have tasted better versions of it in the past. — NV
Hello, grapefruit! Moderately bitter with a clean-ish finish and just enough malt backbone for balance. — AS
Oatmeal Stout — What they say: Obviously, we brewed this for St. Patrick's Day. Pretty Dry. Easy to drink.
What we say:
Some may argue that darker beers are better for colder months, but this one's good year 'round. A roasted malt aroma and flavor makes way for coffee and bittersweet chocolate notes. — SC
Dry enough to slow you down and make you thoughtful. — JB
The beer that eats like a meal! Bosco's has been brewing some variation on this beer since the brewpub was in Saddle Creek, and they've got it dialed in. — CM
Too sweet! I want a beer, not a cupcake! I love oatmeal stouts but not this one. — BP
Full body of roasted and chocolate flavors, but I don't detect any mint flavors. Overall still very good, but falls a tad short of its description. — NV
A little sweet up front; full-bodied, with a bit of a slick mouthfeel from the oats. The roast malt character is pretty restrained. — AS
Wee Heavy — What they say: This is a maltier amber ale, a stronger amber ale. It's a darker seasonal. Try to get it on tap when it's colder outside.
What we say:
This slightly sweet and caramelly brew has a nutty flavor with a hint of smoke. Easier to drink and not as heavy as its dark beer brethren, but rather a wee bit heavy, as the name suggests. — SC
More like "wee disappointing." I was expecting something more along the lines of a stout, but on first taste, I'm hit by an overpowering sweetness. — BP
Good flavor, but the texture was very filmy and wheaty. — JR
This beer is smells strongly of caramel sweet malts, but has a strange taste to it I've never gotten from the style. I'm not a big fan of it. — NV
A full-bodied malt bomb. Tastes of caramel and prunes with some slight roasty notes. This is the right beer to have next to a fire with a steak and some blue cheese. — AS
Barrel-Aged (Midnight) Magic — What they say: We let it spend four months in some oak barrels which had recently been emptied. Along with the dark malty flavors already present in the beer, the months spent in the barrels added some smooth oak and a hint of bourbon aroma we were able to unlock from the wood.
What we say:
I'm a huge fan of the Midnight Magic. Sadly, I'm not a huge fan of bourbon. The barrel aging added such a pungent bourbon aroma and flavor. — SC
A bridge beer — hard and heavy, a prelude to going home or going on to drinking harder stuff. — JB
What normally is a highly drinkable light stout, this version of MM is overpowered heavily by the barrel aging. — NV
Holy bourbon, Batman. Boozy with some vanilla and oak notes from the barrel. This might work if the base beer had been a fuller-bodied, higher-ABV offering. — AS
What's Good IPA — What they say: The brewhouse staff have created a solid foundation of golden malt flavors upon which they built a glorious monument to the hops.
What we say:
You know the rare occasions when you see beams of sunlight bursting out between cracks in clouds? They're called crepuscular rays. If those had a flavor, this would be it. — SC
I really liked this one. Drink it if you know What's Good for ya. — BV
What's good is this here beer. This has my favorite elements of an IPA. Super bitter with a fruity aftertaste. Definitely getting some of this for the fridge. My favorite so far. — CS
Full of fruity, citrusy aroma, this beer smells as if it's got actual fruit in it, and its flavor matches that theme. A good choice for those new to IPA. — NV