Food & Drink » Food & Wine

Here for the Beer

A visit to Crosstown Brewing, the Beer Bracket Challenge.

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It's around 4:30 p.m. on February 16th, opening day for Crosstown Brewing Co. Two lines stretched from the bar to the back wall. The place was packed.

Was this what Crosstown Brewing founders Clark Ortkiese and Will Goodwin pictured when they ditched their old lives — Ortkiese in something that has to do with chain-link fences and Goodwin in sand and gravel — to parlay their backyard brewing hobby into a livelihood?

Ortkiese and Goodwin certainly had a vision. They wanted to tap into Crosstown Concourse's vibe. They saw neighbors walking to a brewery. Folks in their 20s and 30s, on the grass areas and the patio behind the building. "Bring your dog. Hang. Enjoy some beers; enjoy the sunshine," says Ortkiese.

From backyard to Crosstown — Clark Ortkiese (left) and Will Goodwin
  • From backyard to Crosstown — Clark Ortkiese (left) and Will Goodwin

But first the logistics. Originally, they planned to be inside the concourse. With one million square feet, there should have been plenty of room. But being in the building would have meant driving beer through an atrium and down a hall to access a loading dock. Concourse pillars would have to be removed to accommodate the brewery. Chris Miner of Crosstown suggested building their own space on land behind the concourse.

They've got 10,000 square feet. At front is the taproom, designed by Hope Martin of gbsn Design. The mood is industrial, the furniture modular — the better to make room when crowds reach from the bar to the back wall.

The beer is brewed in a large brew room with gleaming equipment — 600 gallons at a time. The beer is available in retail spots, restaurants, and bars. Currently on tap are Crosstown's two signature brews that will always be available: the Siren Blonde Ale, what Goodwin calls a "straightforward beer that you can take anywhere." The brewery even sells a cool sling that holds a six pack, perfect for picnics and other outdoor events. The Traffic IPA is notable for its citrusy notes of tropical fruit and mango. Also currently on tap are the Crosstown Brown, which tastes of caramel and coffee, and the Boll Weevil Saison, with a floral/herbal finish but without the overly bitter taste associated with a saison.

The beer is brewed by home-brewing buddy Stephen Tate, whom they lured back to town from another brewery in Alabama.

One thing they had to figure out is how to scale up from backyard to industrial carbonators in a professional setting. They hired a consultant for that.

Ortkiese says one thing that separates Crosstown Brewing from the pack is its marketing and branding by Tom Martin. The Siren can comes in hot red and gold with aliens and spaceships that shout Metropolis. The Traffic has a warm turquoise-y blue with eyes looking at a rear-view mirror and hands clutching a steering wheel. They look like they could use a beer.

Ultimately, though, Ortkiese says it boils down to the beer. "Our beer is as good as anybody's in town," says Ortkiese. "Once you taste it, you'll want to come back for more."

Crosstown Brewing is open Wednesday through Friday, 4 to 10 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.

Crosstown Brewing 1264 Concourse Avenue, 529-7611

Around this time last year, a name was engraved on an old gray ice bucket and presented to the winner. This year, the same thing will happen, another (same?) name on the same ice bucket. It's like the Stanley Cup.

The Flyer's annual Beer Bracket Challenge launched last week. 28 beers going for glory.

Last year's winner was Ghost River's classic Gold, the old reliable of Memphis Beers.

This year, three new breweries are heading into the fray: Meddlesome, Crosstown Brewing, and Boscos. Toby Sells explains that Boscos, while not new, wasn't included last year because he featured only breweries with beers readily available in stores and bars/restaurants. But this year he figured, "You like beer, you need to have Boscos."

Round One began last week, with the Final Two starting Wednesday, February 28th, at 8 a.m., and running through March 1st, midnight. The winner will be announced in the Flyer's March 8th issue.

Sells says he has plenty of favorites among the 28, though he's not rooting for one beer over the other. "There's so much good stuff out there. We'll see how it goes."

In addition to revealing the winner, the March 8th beer-iffic cover will examine the state of the Memphis beer scene. Can Memphis accommodate more breweries and beers from outside the area? Have Memphis beer-drinkers changed since the scene exploded in 2013?

Check it out and stay tuned for Beer Bracket-related events.

If you are serious about whiskey, you should seriously already have your tickets to the Flyer's Whiskey Warmer, set for March 23rd at Overton Square. Twenty-five-plus whiskeys will be available to sample. Those include George Dickel, Old Dominick, Johnnie Walker, Bushmills, Wild Turkey, and more. There will be food from Babalu, live music, and cocktails, with proceeds going to Volunteer Memphis. Tickets are $34 and can be bought at whiskeywarmer.com.


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