No one goes to France for the beer. We all know that there is beer in the Fifth Republic, but the French tourism board doesn't waste any space on its website about it. So, it would be idiotic for me to recommend Chef Kelly English's Restaurant Iris, with its wondrous French/Creole food, for its beer.
Sure, Chef English is from Louisiana, and he takes the Creole part of his food seriously. And yes, New Orleans is known for beer — but more for the quantity consumed than the quality brewed. Nevertheless, here I am, being an idiot. Go to Iris and drink the beer.
The beer in question is Blackberry Farm Brewery's new line of three canned brews: Screaming Cock Pale Ale, TN Times Pilsner, and Coyote Tactics IPA. All three styles were launched this summer and were available in Memphis originally through Iris, but are now available at Andrew Michael as well.
Blackberry Farm is relatively new to the craft beer scene, but they've done it right. Back in the late 1970s, the farm opened as a six-room inn snuggled on 4,200 insufferably beautiful acres in Walland, Tennessee. Since then, the brand has out-kicked the title of "luxury resort" to become something of an icon of sleepy-eyed relaxation, farm to table food, and a wine and cocktail menu that seems inexplicably wholesome. Even their website makes me mellow. All of this provokes the question: Can that Smoky Mountain air, free-flowing water, and free-range food be captured in a can? No, not remotely. We've all got to go to work in the morning. But it is very good beer.
Given the culinary level at which Blackberry Farm has been operating for 40 years, their move into the craft beer space isn't surprising. Nothing will bring down a fine meal a peg or two like a bad wine or a bland beer. Nor is it surprising that BFB has produced some award-winning craft brews — including taking the gold in the World Beer Cup for its Classic Saison last year. Blackberry Farm beers are typically sold in "cork & cage" bottles, because they are literally corked like champagne. Beautiful, to be sure, but not the sort of thing that travels well. And they just don't make that much of it. They can't. "Craft" isn't even the right word. As much as "artisanal" is overused, it's the only one that will do here.
Admittedly, the lowly can o' beer lacks the style we've come to expect from Blackberry Farm, or from Kelly English, for that matter. Sure, the labels are designed by Tennessee artists because, well, of course they are. In the end, though, we aren't buying the packaging.
So on to the beer. The Screaming Cock Pale Ale is a great, crisp pale ale, and if you prefer the lager style, the TN Times Pilsner is another great choice that won't wrestle with your dinner. The Coyote Tactics IPA is a little hoppier than the pale ale, but you still get the feeling that these are brewed to pair well with good food. And at a place like Iris, you really don't want anything wrestling with the moulard breast.
Which is not to say that these beers aren't interesting. In fact, it's exactly that quality that makes them stand out. The craft beer circus seems to be getting more extreme and in-your-face every season, as opposed to getting better. I've tried a lot of far-out brews in my time, and I've enjoyed most of them. Sometimes, though, you aren't in the mood to pull a sour face or suck your own tongue just to get closure on something as simple as a beer. That is what makes Blackberry Farm's subtle approach so refreshing.
Is that reason enough alone to head to Iris? Maybe, maybe not. But that grilled lamb loin certainly is. So go.