Warmer days are ahead and that can only mean one thing: Beers will turn from dark and hearty to light and clean. Winter months belong to the dark beers, like rich and roasty stouts and porters. Spring and summer are for crisp and refreshing ales, and blondes, and more.
Brewers have been planning for and working on their spring and summer beers for months now. It takes a while to brew a beer, and they want to make sure that when the temperature rises and tastes change, you'll have a beer to match the weather.
In no previous spring in Memphis history have beer drinkers had it so good. Last year was a watershed year for beer here, with three new local breweries and two growler shops opening their doors. So now five local breweries will have brand new beers in bottles, cans, bars, and restaurants all over town: Ghost River, Memphis Made, Wiseacre, High Cotton, and Bosco's.
For some, this is a patch of untrampled snow, but for others, the volume of new options can be intimidating, especially if they're new to beer or looking for something beyond the Bud Light rut.
That's where we come in. Part of the Memphis Flyer's mission is to educate. So, here we are. There's a flood of new craft beers out there, all unique and delicious in their own way, and we want to introduce you to many of them. We hope our Spring Beer Guide will help you find a beer you like and that you'll give it a try the next time you're out.
There was really only one way to approach this task and we did it so you didn't have to: We drank them all. The massive beer run required for this project made a frat party look like a temperance rally. The run led to nearly every craft beer hotspot in Memphis — Ghost River Brewing, Madison Growler Shop, Bosco's, Memphis Made Brewing, The Growler, and Wiseacre Brewing.
J.C. Youngblood and the good people at Central BBQ allowed us to set up our haul in the back room of the their new downtown location. We unloaded our trunk and lined up some of the nearly dozen growlers, showing off the orange and amber and yellow beers inside. We ate good, hearty, salty foods, which is crucial to this kind of work. We drank (some) water, another crucial trade secret. But mostly, we drank beers.
The "we" being Flyer staff writers Toby Sells, Alexandra Pusateri, and Chris Shaw, Music Editor Joe Boone, Associate Editor Bianca Phillips, Film and Television Editor Greg Akers, and Flyer Editor Bruce VanWyngarden. In all, we sampled 16 beers. Most of them are local, but we threw in a few national seasonals to present a more-complete picture of the beers you can find in Memphis at the moment.
The caveat here is that no one on the Flyer staff is a beer expert. Beer fans and beer drinkers, of course, but none of us is anywhere close to being a cicerone. So, our descriptions don't always follow the lingo. (For example, you probably know what a hot dog tastes like but can you describe the flavors that comprise that taste?)
But we weren't flying blind. We had help from two key players in the Memphis beer scene. Big-bearded Taylor James, beer manager for Cash Saver and its Madison Growler Shop, and medium-bearded Jimmy Randall, Ghost River's head brewer, served as our guides, as we charted the waters of some of the coming season's new beers. — Toby Sells
Ghost River Golden Ale, Ghost River
This is a perfect of example of a good, hearty beer that I could sit and drink until my wife made me stop. Ghost River's Golden is not as chunky as their Red. You would rather have this beer with food: It has lower carbonation and less enthusiastic hops content, all for good. I may have tried this beer once at Park Pizza Café, which is why they pour one when I walk in the door. — JB
This Bluff City standby never disappoints and is a great place to start for any beer drinker looking to tap into the local craft market. Ghost River Golden Ale would go great with grilling food in the middle of the day, and the light mix of flavors suggests you could get away with drinking a few in the afternoon without spoiling dinner. — CS
Ghost River Riverbank Red, Ghost River
I love the balance of this beer. It has a medium body to it, but the tangy hops flavor is not overwhelming. For some reason, people like to make beer that tastes like syrup. This beer counters that aggressive tendency and inhabits a Goldilocks Zone of floral hops and lively carbonation. I could live here. — JB
Kind of Fat-Tire-like. A little hoppy but not IPA hoppy. Seems a little heavy for spring but carbonation makes it taste very fresh. — BP
The full mouth feel and big citrus and roasted flavor lets you know you're drinking a beer, by god. Not one of those watery, yellow deals from the major brewers. — TS
Mama's Little Yella Pils, Oskar Blues
Super light. It's like sunlight in a glass. — GA
Crisp, light, very drinkable. A good beer with which to introduce someone to craft beer. Grassy notes, tastes like summertime — and tastes like a beer I'd drink after mowing the lawn. — BV
Very light, very drinkable pilsner, perfect for those who prefer quantity over quality. Slightly sour and slightly sweet, this is one you could drink four or five of, and the aluminum-can packaging suggests that it can (and probably should) be shot-gunned. My favorite today. — CS
Bent Note IPA (India Pale Ale), Memphis Made
Sweet, perky IPA with a nice nose. Slightly bitter but pleasant, backofthetongue aftertaste. Makes me want to eat some ribs. — BV
This amounts to a softer approach. Some beer company that sells vile swill used the word "drinkability" in their advertising. I think that's what Memphis Made was going for here with this good, aromatic beer that's lighter on the palette and belly. More please. — JB
Malty up front. A little bitter in the back. Perfect for spring drinking and a good introduction to craft beer for anyone looking for one. — TS
Redheaded Alt, Memphis Made
Darker than a spring beer. It's closer in color to the Ghost River Riverbank Red, but it tastes lighter and has a less aggressive taste. The Redheaded Alt could accompany a meal at an upscale restaurant. — AP
Five stars! It was my favorite beer of the day. It tastes coffee-like from the chicory but no hoppy taste, very smooth and creamy, but it smells like a wet dog, which is okay because I love all things dog. I would drink this beer all night long. — BP
The Readheaded Alt has an interesting smell, and an amazing taste of complex roasted coffee flavors. A remarkably light-tasting beer, considering all of the flavors involved. Extremely smooth tasting, this beer is a testament to the skill of the brewers at Memphis Made. — CS
Belgian IPA, High Cotton
Did I set out to fall in love with a beer that tastes like grapefruit? No, I did not. It just happened. It's like I woke up in a flower garden with a delicious, lively beer on my palette. Good morning. Between now and July, I expect to down a flat-bed's worth of this stuff. Don't touch it. It's mine. — JB
These guys are known for experimentation. Last summer's oolong tea saison is an example of this and it was delicious. Belgian IPA isn't even a category of beer, according to the High Cotton website. But theirs is bold, crisp, and oh, so drinkable. — TS
A very fruity and floral tasting beer that is similar to grapefruit juice in both taste and bitterness. A good beer to drink before your morning jog. — CS
Lightning Rod, Wiseacre
Very low alcohol? What's the point? Guess it's good for camping or something. — BP
Super clear. Little kick at the end. Immensely light, in a good way. Sweat it out and keep drinking and working in the yard. — GA
Session beers don't get enough respect! This beer is 3.5 percent alcohol by volume. That means you can drink a ton of it without getting completely faced. Lightning Rod's got that "biscuity" flavor that beer nerds cherish. Perfect for spring and summer. — TS
Azazel Belgian Golden Ale, Wiseacre
Fantastically flavorful. Its light appearance is deceptive, because it packs a punch on taste. Outstanding. A high-gravity beer that I'm compelled to try to make into a session beer. (Don't try this at home.) — GA
This is a bigboy beer at 10 percent alcohol content. Blood-orange color, powerful thick, rich, sweet flavor. Great beer to drink on your porch if you don't plan to leave your porch. — BV
That's how I say "ale" when I've had enough of it. This has blood orange in it. I didn't want to drink beer with the word "blood" in its name, but I'm glad I did. This has the balance of carbonation and aromatics that incite my beer hoarding tendencies. — JB
Kind of like the high-alcohol brew La Fin Du Monde, this beer isn't for the faint of heart. Full bodied, full taste, and full-alcohol, the Azazel could get you into trouble if you drink more than a few. The blood orange taste is subtle and refined, making for one hell of a tasty beer. — CS
Shaft on Draft, Boscos
Familiar tasting. Brought back memories of high school. Not complicated or particularly memorable — like my sophomore year. — BV
This fun, Staxtacular-themed beer from Boscos has nailed malt liquor. The flavor isn't sharp, and this beer could even be somewhere like Alex's Tavern during a late night. — AP
Sweet! Love this high-class version of malt liquor. Reminds me of my early 20s. I'd brown bag the shit out of this. — BP
Shaft on Draft tastes a lot like Colt-45, which might be a novel throwback for some, but for those of us who spent our college years playing Edward 40-hands, this Boscos brew might recall memories that were better off forgotten. — CS
10-Year IPA, Yazoo
If you drink enough Nashville beer, the pink elephants start reciting Bible verses. I wish I hadn't done the spit-take when they said it was from Nashville, because that was some pretty delicious beer that I aerosolized. It also has that grapefruit-hops thing going on. The low carbonation kept it from being my favorite. Thank the Lord. — JB
I'm a hop head. The bitterer the betterer. This stuff has been out for a few months now and is on a limited-edition run. So, I'm drinking it like it won't be here tomorrow. It's bitter but it doesn't turn your mouth inside out. It's clean and smooth and I can (and will) drink it all day. — TS
Citrus leaps out of the glass. I do like it. It's from Nashville, so of course it's a "White" IPA. — GA
Strawberry Harvest Lager, Abita
A breakfast beer. This beer signals springtime like a hipster version of the return of the swallows of San Juan Capistrano. — GA
The Abita Strawberry Harvest lives up to its name, with real Louisiana strawberries used during the brewing process. I usually file things like these under "beer for people who don't drink beer," but Abita may have finally persuaded me to try more fruit-infused brews. — CS
Abita Strawberry arrives just before the trees and flowers bud. I drink exactly one of these every year. If that helps spring get here just a little quicker, I do what I can to help. — TS
Restoration Pale Ale, Abita
Brewed to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, this ale benefits an amazing cause, and tastes pretty amazing, too. This golden ale has a rich body and mild bitterness, meaning it can be drunk pretty much anytime — which it should be, as each six-pack sold helps the Katrina Relief Effort. — CS
Same beer as the one Huey's serves as Gold Nugget. An accessible beer for the cautious. — GA
I am an Abita fan. This is a great cause (for what remains a great need) and a great beer. It's not plowing any new ground, but you could do much worse than sipping this slightly hoppy, totally accessible beer in your backyard. — TS
Berry Mardi Gras, Madison Growler Shop
This concoction from the Madison Growler Shop is my favorite in this bunch — three-fourths Abita Purple Haze, one-fourth Lindemans Raspberry Lambic, four-fourths amazing. Berry-smelling and sweet-tasting — could be a party favorite for Mardi Gras, satisfying even those who have sworn off beer. — AP
Excellent flavor. Like a rich man's Boone's Farm. — GA
Sweet, tangy, rose-colored Great mouth feel. Goes down easy. Probably too easy. — BV
Pistil, Magic Hat
Much better than some of the other hoppy IPA-like beers we tasted. This has the right balance of hops and maltiness. — BP
The packaging might make it seem fruity, but the Pistil is a serious beer with a light but complex taste. Seems ideal for drinking outdoors. – CS.
Spring Blonde, New Belgium
Has a hint of sweetness, enough that it could be the beer of choice at a garden or spring party. — AP
Brings to mind the great Belgium blonde beers, with lemon peel and pepper to keep things interesting. It's not too malty or too sweet, as many Blonde ales can be. A great beer to hit the trails with this spring. — CS