Watching the River Flow: Memphis' Grind City Brewing
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
My tours through the Gulf Coast and New Orleans are always a highlight of my year, and I was grateful that, after COVID canceling my traditional April tour through the region, we managed to put dates together for November. I'm always happy to hit beaches, and doing Thanksgiving in New Orleans with the boys was something we'll never forget.
Normally the trip ends with a marathon 15 hour drive home, but this year I got smart and added one more date halfway home in Memphis, Tennessee.
Memphis has always been one of my favorite cities to party in, so we were looking forward not only trying out this brand new brewery called Grind City, but also getting some famous Memphis BBQ after a week or so of seafood and cajun food (not that we're complaining!). Memphis, of course, has a rich musical history, and I've done the Beale Street Music Festival probably 7 or 8 times, and it's always a fantastic weekend. In 1995 I also saw the Grateful Dead play the city's iconic Pyramid venue two nights in a row... that was another fantastic weekend and a story for another time...
Grind City Brewing – Memphis, TN
The brewery's beers are available at the taproom on tap or to go (cans, growlers, etc.) as well as fine drinking and eating establishments and shops throughout much of Tennessee.
Memphis is a little less than 6 hours from New Orleans, so after a pretty crazy week of shows I actually went to bed shortly after our Thanksgiving feast, had a great heavy night's sleep, woke up early the next morning, and made it to Memphis early enough to enjoy BBQ down on Beale Street and still have plenty of time before playing at the brewery. When we arrived at the brewery I was quite impressed by the layout.
Grind City is off 2nd Street just a few blocks north of downtown Memphis, which puts it elevated above the banks of the Mississippi River with a spectacular view of the skyline, Pyramid, and bridge from the taproom and MASSIVE beer garden. When I say massive I'm talking like “can hold 5000 people” massive beer garden! The taproom is impressive as well, with a long bar, plenty of seating, and tons of woodwork (salvaged from the fact that the brewery building used to be a chair factory, and they left a bunch of wood chair parts which the brewery very creatively repurposed).
At the time of my show the taproom had only been open for seven weeks, which I didn't learn until the end of the night and blew me away as they seemed to have all the wrinkles ironed out already... the beer was good, the staff was knowledgeable and well versed on all of the beers, and they had a good sized selection. At this time food is available via food trucks, but these folks have plans.
The brewers started as home brewers who got serious about it, went to brewing school in Europe, and are now building out their dream step by step. I'm not really sure what I have the liberty to talk about, but suffice it to say that they have the room and vision to expand quite a bit beyond the taproom and beer garden as it exists today.
As for the beers, well let's get into it...
On this, my first visit to Grind City Brewing I stuck more or less to their more traditional brews... one, because that's really what I felt like, and two, because some of their more creative brews (creamcycle, lemon-lime, peanut butter black lager) I'm told were somewhat sweet (by design) and after BBQ I was really in the mood for more traditional styles, so I stuck with their flagships (which also usually served as the base brews for the flavor specialties).
I started with the Soulbier Black Nitro Lager (4.2%), which was a satisfying beer, dark and robust with hints of coffee and chocolate. Black lagers can sometimes play a bit of a trick on you, in that they are so dark that you're expecting a body more in line with a stout, but they are usually lighter in body and a bit crisp. Soulbier is interesting because the nitrogen provides a creaminess beyond what you would normally expect in a lager, yet with the clean finish you want in a lager.
Godhopper Hazy IPA (6.5%) was maybe my favorite of the night, featuring a smooth body true to the Hazy tradition, but packing a fair punch of fruity hoppiness thanks to it's blend of Azaaca, Amarillo, Ekuanot, and Simco hops. This beer is loaded with tropical floral and fruity elements, but extremely well balanced so as not to choke with pine or too bitter a finish. The kind of Hazy IPA you could spend the day with.
Tiger Tail (7.5%) is Grind City's malt liquor. It's funny because earlier in the year I was discussing with a friend about how malt liquors were regional staples when we were growing up (Little Kings, Mickey's, etc.) and with the huge craft brewery boom it seemed to be the one style of beer nobody was making. Literally the next night I was at a brewery that was tapping their brand new malt liquor, and ever since I've been seeing them fairly frequently (I still wouldn't say they are common, but I am seeing them more frequently). Tiger Tail is a pour for those on a mission... and typical of malt liquors it's sneaky in that it drinks real easy like a beer you could pound, but sneaks up on you with that 7.5% ABV. Smooth and refreshing without a bitter finish, I liked this one quite a bit.
Poppy's Pilsner (4%) was also a very easy drinking, poundable beer. I have a hard time describing pilsners, as by their nature there really isn't much to say about them.... light and crisp and refreshing, to me they either have a nice light body and flavor and are enjoyable, or they are too watery... in which case they usually aren't offensive, just kinda plain and watery. That said, Poppy's had enough flavor to make it interesting, so I call that a win. Another beer you could easily drink all day... this place is going to be dangerous when the Spring rolls around and the weather says play and the beer says keep drinking. Maybe they could start allowing camping in that huge beer garden...
Like I said earlier, for only being open 7 weeks these people have it together! I look forward to coming back when they have the place even more broken in, when they are more used to the brewery itself, and see what they start coming up with as they tweak their recipes and experiment further. So now there's yet another reason to visit Memphis!
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