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Spring Brews

The Flyer's annual taste-test of the season's best local beers.

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These days you can watch the seasons change in your pint glass.

Beers have always changed with the seasons. They do in Memphis now, too, thanks to the maturing craft beer scene here. 

Like the leafers who hit the New Hampshire backroads each fall, you can watch the beer seasons turn here with the changing tap handles at the big draft houses like the Flying Saucer and the Young Avenue Deli. Watch the chalkboard menus change at the Madison Growler Shop and the newly branded Hammer and Ale (formerly The Growler) in Cooper-Young. Heck, even watch the six packs change at just about every gas station in Midtown or downtown.

Just a very few weeks ago, Memphis was a fortress of ice and snow. It was the time for staying warm and inside, brooding over heavy beers — roasty porters and coffee-tasting stouts.

The ice is gone. Flowers are blooming. It's a time for sitting on a patio with your friends drinking lighter stuff, like crisp and clean pilsners and freshly picked pale ales.

Knowing many of you are heading to patios to do just that, we wanted to give you a guide to what has just come on tap now and some of the handy standbys you can drink all spring and summer long.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Photographs by Justin Fox Burks

J.C. Youngblood and the good people at Central BBQ allowed us to set up our tasting shop at their downtown location on the back patio. There, we unloaded our coolers and dug into more than a dozen local, regional, and national beers.

The caveat here is that no one on the Flyer staff is a beer expert. We've seen the business end of our share of pints, but we're no cicerones. We needed help.

So, we brought in spirit guides for this vision quest. David Smith and Kevin Elbe from Hammer and Ale described the beers we were drinking as did last year's cover boy, Taylor James, beer manager at the Madison Growler Shop. 

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Our tasters this year were Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden (BV), staff writers Louis Goggans (LG), Chris Davis (CD), and Toby Sells (TS); senior editor Jackson Baker, former music editor Joe Boone, film and TV editor Chris McCoy (CM), regular Flyer contributor Eileen Townsend (ET), and Inside Memphis Business editor Richard Alley (RA), who made it plain that he doesn't like IPAs. — TS

Toby Sells
  • Toby Sells

Hefeweizen, High Cotton 

What they say: "Traditional German hefeweizen ... citrusy ... doesn't carry the heavy banana flavor as some do."

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I can see drinking a lot of this without thinking very much about it. It doesn't have much "mouth taste" (I think that's what I heard the beer men call it?), once you swallow you are no longer thinking about what was going on before you swallowed. They should call it The Amnesiac. Goldfish Brew. — ET

Don't you want to taste your beer while you're sitting by the pool? With this hefeweizen, you get the clean, summery, effervescence you want in the summer time. It's a beer that tastes like a beer should. — CM

This wheat beer is golden in color and is light enough for sipping on the porch. It has an aftertaste, though, that would make me stop at one. Not an all-day beer. — RA

I'm not a hefeweizen guy. But High Cotton turned down that banana-taste volume way down on this one. I could fall in love with a ... hefeweizen?

Louis Goggans
  • Louis Goggans

Grindhouse Ale, Ghost River

What they say: "A light cream ale designed to be enjoyable to all types of beer enthusiasts. The subtle malt and hop flavors tease your palette and demand another taste.

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A round, almost fruity taste, bright and sassy. An open-voweled beer. — Jackson Baker

We got this beer early in the formal tasting. I called it "normal" beer. It has a drinkable consistency and a distinct lack of banana. I came back to this beer once we were set loose on the goods. I'll drink this on tap. Joe Boone

Tasteless and timid, it is apparently aimed at the Bud Light drinker who is scared of the microbrew. And while it is better than Bud Light, it's not up to the standards of this great Memphis brewery. — CM

Light and creamy, like drinking a big boy cream soda. I like a cream soda, but the aftertaste of this beer stayed with me like grandma's hard candy. Another one that would stop me after a single pint. — RA

Suzy B, Southern Prohibition

What they say:  This dirty blonde with a pinch of wheat has a nice honey malt backbone and a balanced bitterness set apart by its pleasant cascade hop aroma.

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I foresee a six-pack of this appearing on my grocery list in the near future. It was pretty smooth and palatable. — LG

Suzy was the belle of the ball. This is a summer beer that's balanced between flavor and heft. It's a natural beer. It's not some dude showing off with a 20-minute discourse of some aspect of beer culture that his wife must hate. It's just a beer. Order this. — Joe Boone

The Southern Prohibition blonde ale tasted unremarkable at first, but it did boast an excellent balance, even though the finish was slightly bitter. But as our tasting went on (and on...), I found myself coming back to it. This one's a grower, not a shower. — CM

This blonde ale was made in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. But it seems made for a hot night on a Midtown porch. — TS 

Eileen Townsend
  • Eileen Townsend

Starless, Wiseacre 

What they say: Schwarzbier. Dark elegance.

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Relatively bitter, but I enjoyed it. It'll go great with one of my signature grilled T-bones. — LG

Considering it's a black lager, it's lighter on the palate than you would think, nothing at all like engine sludge. — Jackson Baker

Whoa! This tastes like licking a walnut. It is very mellow. If I were to write a fantasy novel about this beer, it would be a gentle but wise animal in a magical forest. — ET

Dark in color, but with a lighter mouthfeel than Guinness, this black lager immediately got my attention by combining the best of both worlds between a lager and a stout. In my notebook from the tasting, in big letters, I wrote "BEST BEER," so this one is a keeper. — CM

Here we go: a stout, malty lager with a roasted flavor, a darker beer I can sink my teeth into. This is what I like, and it was perfect (not too heavy) for this first day of spring on the patio with just a slight nip still in the air. — RA

Hornet's Revenge, Ghost River

What they say: Very medium in body, which gives it a twist with most black beers being heavier set (fatties). A hint of sweetness, followed by the a crisp and clean hoppy finish.

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The saying "Don't judge a book by its cover" fits perfectly with this beer. It's a dark IPA but light in taste. Nevertheless, it didn't sit well with my taste buds. — LG

Nice pale ale, looks a bit dark, but doesn't taste dark. It's got some snap to it. — Jackson Baker

While working on a farm in my youth, I once suffered a hornet's revenge. It hurt like a sumbitch. This Hornet's Revenge was much nicer — a rich, dark, creamy payback that caused pleasure, not pain. I even went back for more. You might say Revenge is sweet. — BV

I would drink anything with this name. A black pale ale involved similar trickery to the Starless: It's a dark beer that has flavor but lacks the knockout tanginess of trendy IPAs. — Joe Boone

I don't feel "hornet" from this, unless it is a literary reference. This is a beer for successful academics in very remote fields and people who enjoy seeing stage productions of English tragedies. It is strange and complicated and good, but probably not to take lightly. — ET 

Ghost River scores with this playful combination of styles. It's bitter, but with a light mouthfeel and just enough hops to keep it interesting. This went really well with the Central BBQ I was snacking on while we were tasting, and I think it would pair excellently with a big, fat burger from the grill. — CM

Beautiful dark beer, but you can't fool me — this is a pale ale. It's fruity and won't abide. Nope. — RA

Love that Ghost River has unleashed its brewing talent with the Brewers' Series of seasonal and one-off beers. This black pale ale is bold, balanced, and delicious. — TS   

Session IPA, High Cotton

What they say: Citrusy hops, low alcohol, kind of deceiving for an IPA, and very smooth. 

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I'm a little offended at the idea of calling a "session" to drink multiple beers. I thought this was America. But given the brewers' tendency to cram as much flavor and alcohol into a can, I get where this beer is coming from. — Joe Boone

This beer is the Justin Bieber of beers (Bieber circa 2013-2014, when he was getting arrested and peeing in public and fighting with Orlando Bloom or whoever) because it knows you are curious about it, and it knows it has a lot of spirit (/spirits) to offer, and it does not give a fuck. — ET

Very sharp, light, and acidic. I'm not sure who this low alcohol beer is designed for, but it isn't me. The first sip made my salivary glands seize up. Not recommended. — CM

I'm a big fan of the ESB at High Cotton, and I love their taproom. But the name says it all: IPA. On this first day of spring, I prefer my flowers in the ground and not in my glass. — RA

Session beers? More beers and more time to drink 'em? Hell, yes. I could drink this IPA for a very long session. Who's buying? — TS

Spring Seasonal, Yazoo 

What they say: A Helles bock style ...nice deep tan color with a slight bready sweet aroma, with a light mouth feel that finishes with a smooth maltiness and clean hop flavor.

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Two thumbs up! This one was fruity, flavorful, and delivered a smooth aftertaste. It's perfect for the springtime.  — LG

Tangy but mellow, a little gold sneaking through, not so much light as buoyant. — Jackson Baker

Spring Seasonal was heavenly — a light, citrusy, easy-to-drink beer that had me wanting to dance around in a field of daisies. Or maybe just sit on my porch and drink more. — BV

Okay, so this is the beer for the boat. This beer is like your best bro from college — not the one that used to do a bunch of coke and now works in investments, but the responsible one who has made good life choices but doesn't brag about them. It is respectable but also relaxed, simple, never shallow. — ET

It's light and citrusy, and the best of these light beers so far. It's the only one I would drink for a whole session (beer term and I have no idea what it means). — RA

Lucid, Memphis Made

What they say: This pale golden German ale is light and crisp. Memphis Made's only year-round beer, it has a slightly bready aroma and a spicy hop note from Herkules hops. 

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This is the ideal brew to guzzle down after you've finished some extensive yard work in the humid Memphis heat. — LG

A little watery, for better or for worse. It's a beer for way down the line when you need something that goes down easy. — Jackson Baker

Bubbly and regional-ish. Deutsche. Ich finde die Memphis Made Lucid Kolsch ich bin sehr gut! Ja wohl.  — ET

This is a carefully controlled, well-balanced, German beer. Nothing fancy, just quality, like a well-made, comfy chair. If you've got this waiting for you after you mow the lawn, you're in good shape. — CM

Light and fruity, but not too much. I could drink a few of these in a sitting, and I probably have. It's a German-style, but none of the bitterness that comes with the hoppiness. — RA

Rockbone IPA, Memphis Made 

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.

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Got some kick to it, all right, as if made of wild grass. Anti-mellow. Lovers of buttermilk probably like it. — Jackson Baker

Long and strong and turgid. Best to finish it quick. Too much of this bad boy and you'll be tweeting embarrassing stuff all over the internet. — BV

When Memphis' beloved Rockbone made his or her ignominious debut into Memphis society, some suggested that, after what must have been a stressful day, people should buy that person a beer. Folks at Memphis Made must have been listening: They created a beer especially for Rockbone. IPA stands for Internet Porn Aficionado, right? No? My bad. — Joe Boone

This is the beer to do your air guitar solo with. But what band will you sample? Not Journey! Nope. Not even Def Leppard. This is a straight-up Axl Motherfucking Rose beer. It wears its denim shirts real tight, with some buttons open. It doesn't shy away from a bandana. — ET

Boomslang IPA, Wiseacre 

What they say: Unlike most Belgian beers with little hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma ... Belgian IPAs are bursting forth with all of those.

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Bitter for no damn reason. Period. — LG

Boom-slanga-langa-langa! Floral-ish, hoppy, Belgian beer that makes a statement: Drink me. Drink me now or die. — BV

By the time we got to this beer, we had smashed almost everything in the place and the staff had retreated next door to call the authorities. — Joe Boone

Again with the IPAs. This was the last beer and, honestly, I was too buzzed to give a shit any longer. I do feel bad, though, about Central BBQ's flower bed on the south side of their patio, where we tossed the dregs of our glasses. On the bright side, their azaleas should look terrific in a few weeks. — RA

Chris Davis, a gluten-free man, tested a number of brews for the wheat-averse. Never let it be said the Flyer doesn't love you. All of you.

Hopsation, Woodchuck Cider 

Hopsation is a "hop forward" cider that aims to be more beer-like by adding a bitter dose of hops to the fruity brew. The result is a more complex sip. I've never been a cider fan, although this somewhat citrusy, riesling-like option has softened my opinion. — CD

Pale Ale, Omission 

Bubbly, honey-colored, and fragrant, Omission comes on crisp and refreshing. It has herbal notes and a distinct toasted-biscuit flavor that, I suppose, makes it a breakfast beer. But I'd happily drink it with lunch or dinner, too. — CD

Redbridge, Anheuser-Busch

Redbridge may not have a complex craft beer flavor profile, but it's completely drinkable. Oh sure, this sorghum-based beer has the malty/yeasty smell of a laundry pile, but it absolutely beats the pants off a Bud Light. — CD

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