One of the great things about the boom in Memphis craft breweries is what we might call the normalization of local beer. That, and the small buzz of boozy civic pride that goes with showing it off. The taprooms around town are great in their own unique ways, but if your clothes aren't tight enough to hang out at those places, you can pretty much go to any restaurant and be confident that there will be at least a couple of locals on tap.
That's good for the people who live here, and it's good for the people who visit. A friend of mine came into town for a meeting the other day, so we went down to the Rendezvous. For one thing, it's one of his favorite spots to eat in the city, and second, nothing says "business casual" like having the one sportcoat you packed smell like award-winning barbecue at 8:30 the next morning. He's also a craft beer enthusiast — and one of the relatively few craft connoisseurs to have actually sampled the vaguely hallucinogenic and entirely unfiltered Murffbrau back in our college days.
I'm old enough to remember when those ribs were invariably paired with an enormous pitcher of Michelob. While I don't remember anyone ever having a problem with the beer selection back then, the 'Vous has updated its beer list.
Barbecue packs a lot of flavor, and even the best of the breed can be a bit heavy, so you don't want to pair it with just anything. But truth to tell, those old commercial American-style lagers went pretty well with ribs, no matter what the dilettantes will tell you. To that end, Wiseacre's Tiny Bomb lager, with its little twist of honey, would be a great choice. Eventually, though, we went with a couple of Traffic IPAs from Crosstown Brewing.
I once described Crosstown's Brake Czech (not currently available, because no one asked me) as the cosmic ideal of Budweiser. Traffic IPA certainly fits this mold. It is a West Coast style that fizzes with hints of citrus or fruit, hopped enough to keep it dry and crisp, but not enough to really wallop you with that tongue-sucking bitter. Crosstown does offer an Imperial IPA for the dedicated hophead (and I've had my moments), but this isn't it. Traffic IPA is crisp and drinkable and doesn't get dense, which is what I like about it with a heavyweight food like barbecue.
Since it opened, Crosstown has done a very good job of not getting too clever with its brews. They don't seem obsessed with inventing a new beer, but are more focused on making the best of some really great styles. In a world that's preoccupied with staying on top or ahead of the latest trend — this is refreshing. The way beer ought to be. True, there is no reason to be stodgy about beer-making, but it isn't all about novelty either.
Of course, to show a visitor the best of Memphis, you have to take them to a restaurant that requires cutting through an alley, around a garbage container, and into an underground bunker. Sneer if you want, but that's the Rendezvous — and Memphis, too. When the royal British princes came to town a few years back, that's where they ate. Although, if memory serves, they went in through the other door. Granted, that example is a little misleading, but it is true enough.
So, I thought it fitting to pair some great food from a long-beloved Memphis institution with a local beer rolled out of the newly revamped Crosstown Concourse. It's pointing to a future that, if we keep our heads about us, will stand on the shoulders of the past. It is the history of Memphis and its future, helping each other out.
No writer worth his salt will ever let a metaphor like that go to waste.