Craft breweries are starting to become as ubiquitous as man buns and Mason jars here in Nashville. But in true hipster fashion, the best thing is often the original.
“A Southern Original since 2003,” Yazoo Brewing Company is one of Music City’s gems. Despite never having visited the brewery, I step inside and feel at home. As soon as you swing open the doors you are immediately greeted by the distinctive smell of hops and the hum of people having a great time. There are the all-too-familiar to Nashville string lights all along the inside and outside porch area. The familiar art that decorates the Yazoo bottles, seen in stores and bars all over the city, cover the walls. It’s not a groundbreaking place—just a no-frills, really good craft brewery.
Inside there is an odd, but welcoming, mixture of characters. A seemingly 8 or 9-year-old kid is playing on his phone, parents or guardians nowhere in sight. A tiara-bedecked bachelorette party has a table littered with empty glasses. At the bar a group of 20-something guys are playing Fantasy Football.
In the corner an elderly couple is having a quiet conversation over a beer flight. A sign behind the bar reads Be Nice or Leave, and the man drinking a pint next to me is wearing a shirt emblazoned with Spread Love, It’s the Nashville Way. There are families, friends, couples on dates and people riding solo. It feels like everyone is welcome at Yazoo.
The lights flicker on and off. A bullhorn sounds. There is a yell of “YAZOO!”
It’s time for me to start my tour.
Despite what I have seen already, this isn’t just an ordinary bar and hangout. Yazoo is a 40 barrel brewhouse that can put out about 6,000 bottles of craft beer per hour.
A group of people eager for beer gather outside. We all get cute 5 oz. glasses printed with “I took a tour at YAZOO and all I got was this glass with beer in it.” Our guide through this adventure together promptly fills up each of our baby glasses from a growler of pale ale. It has a light herbal, citrus aroma that is perfect for this hot and humid Tennessee evening.
“Here’s to the holidays, all of the 366 of them!” Our guide smiles as he tosses back his own 5 oz. glass. “That’s not chugging it’s aggressive sampling,” he laughs.
We are then promptly educated on the beginnings of Yazoo. The brewery started out as many charming success stories do, with a poor college student exploring his hobbies. With a home brewing kit bought from the back pages of Rolling Stone in 1993, Linus Hall discovered he actually had a knack for brewing.
An engineering student who later went on to get his MBA at Nashville’s own Vanderbilt University, Hall’s passion for brews led him to develop Nashville’s first stand alone brewery in decades.
After an internship with Brooklyn Brewery, Hall and his wife Lila opened the doors to Yazoo’s first location in Marathon Village in 2003. They sold kegs of Yazoo Pale Ale, Dos Perros, Spring Wheat, and Onward Stout to local bars and restaurants, and quickly made their mark on Music City. The lineup of beers changed a bit over the years, but many originals remain.
However, their location in Marathon couldn’t contain their constantly growing popularity. So after six years, they moved to their current location in the Gulch, at 910 Division Street. This enabled them to ramp up production, and now Yazoo beer can now be found in most of Tennessee, Mississippi and northern Alabama.
Yazoo’s impact can be seen all around the city. Restaurants are serving Yazoo grain-fed beef and pork. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream is now serving a Yazoo SUE with Rosemary Bar Nuts flavor.
After filling our glasses for the second time, this time with Dos Perros, our guide explains that a bigger space doesn’t necessarily mean a bigger staff. With a “never ending Tetris game inside” trying to accommodate the crazy growth in production, Yazoo is still “a small, lean start-up company in terms of staff.”
We get a chance to really look around the huge stainless steel vats for brewing and the bottling machines. A bunch of young guys are drinking beer out of Yazoo glasses while cleaning and carrying out the brewing process.
The tour is paused to fill up our 5 oz. glasses with beer once again. This time, we get to sample Yazoo’s Hefeweizen.
“That’s bananas!” someone on the tour quips.
And yes, this authentic example of a Bavarian Hefeweizen has a shocking taste of banana. It’s explained that with wheat malt, a true Hefeweizen yeast, and no other extra flavoring they managed to develop this fruity banana aroma with just a hint of cloves.
The taproom boasts eight flagship brews. Already mentioned are the Hefeweizen, Pale Ale, and Dos Perros, their version of a Mexican amber ale. The others include the Onward Stout, Hop Perfect IPA, Sly Rye Porter, Gerst and SUE. In addition to these brews, Yazoo also carries different seasonal and limited release beers.
My personal favorite, and the last one we get to sample on our tour is the Yazoo SUE. It is described as a “big, rich, smoky malt bomb of a beer, with mellow smokiness coming from barley malts smoked with cherrywood, and assertive bitterness from Galena and Perle hops to cleanse the finish.” Our guide explains that this is Tennessee’s first ever legal high-gravity ale, which they were only able to brew after managing to get a distillery license. At 9.2 percent ABV with a rich and smoky flavor, the beer named SUE definitely honors the Man In Black.
If you want to pop in to taste these local brews, you can’t on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. But on Wednesday and Thursday 3-9 p.m., Friday 2-9 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m you can pop in to grab a pint (or several) starting at $4. For more information or to book a tour of your own, check out yazoobrew.com.