There was a time, not too long ago, when freedom of choice in terms of beer basically meant the choice between the full octane version of a watered-down domestic lager and its even more-watered-down lite version.
No any more. Today Memphians have an astonishing array of choices when it comes to ordering a brewski: ales, porters, lambics, bocks, double bocks, Hefeweizens, and stouts, just to name a few. And there are more places than ever before to get them: not just the grocery store or local bar but also such new locations as tasting rooms and growler stations.
It is, indeed, the dawn of a new age for beer drinkers in Memphis, thanks to new local breweries like downtown’s High Cotton and Wiseacre in the Broad Avenue Arts District, as well as the Madison Growler station, a place where consumers can buy a jug of their favorite micro-brew, located inside the Cash Saver Plus store on Madison, all opening in just the past year.
But increasingly it is Cooper-Young that is being seen as the center of this renaissance, with one of the city’s biggest beer events, one of its newest breweries, and one of its must unique beer establishments all within its borders.
“Our customers love it,” David Smith, co-owner of Cooper-Young’s The Growler, an establishment with a similar concept to Cash Saver, says of the response he has seen from people coming in his store. “Memphis is certainly a beer city. They enjoy good beers. And now that they’re being educated on the local beers they’re very receptive.”
Cooper-Young has long had a serious claim to being Memphis’ most beer-centric neighborhood. The Young Avenue Deli was one of the first bars in the city to carry a large selection of craft and import beers.
Then in 2010, organizers staged the first Cooper-Young Regional Beerfest, an event where beer lovers could sample dozens of regionally made brews in a day. Similar events had been tried in the past with varying degrees of success, but the Cooper-Young festival, with its emphasis on locally produced artisanal beers, struck a chord. Last year’s event sold out in advance, a feat organizers expect to repeat when tickets for the fourth annual Cooper-Young Regional Beer Festival go on sale September 1.
Attendees to the Cooper-Young beer festival are used to seeing such regional names as Schlafly from St. Louis and Nashville’s Yazoo Brewing Company, but last year they were able to take pride in having four Memphis breweries represented.
That would have been impossible two years ago. Since the 1990s the locally made beer scene had been dominated by one player, the Overton Square brewpub Bosco’s, which in 2008 started a sister label, Ghost River, to sell its beers in stores. It wasn’t until last year that any real competitors came along in the form of High Cotton, Wiseacre, and Cooper-Young’s own Memphis Made Brewing.
Located in the old Pie Factory at 768 S. Cooper St. north of the trestle, Memphis Made was founded by Cooper-Young residents Melodie and Drew Barton and Sydney and Andy Ashby. Ashby, a sometime contributor to The LampLighter, also helped found the Cooper-Young Regional Beer Festival.
Memphis Made shipped its first beers last October and started out slow, focusing on a handful of regional beers. But response has already been great. The brewery has made plans to open a tasting room like its fellow Memphis breweries High Cotton and Wiseacre, and last month it announced that it had added three new fermenters, which will enable it to produce twice as much beer.
“We’re following our growth plan, although this expansion has come a little sooner than we thought,” Ashby said in a statement. “The demand for more local beer has been great, and we’re working as hard as we can to fill it.”
Memphis Made can be found in more than 60 area bars, stores, and liquor stores, including its neighbor down the street, The Growler. Started by Smith and Nashville business partner Anthony Bond, The Growler was conceived as a “craft beer haven.” The 1,100 square foot space at 921 S. Cooper carries a rotating menu of two dozen craft beers, with a special emphasis on local brews. Customers can drink a pint on premises or buy a growler to go.
Like Memphis Made and the beer festival, The Growler has enjoyed tremendous success in the mere eight months it has been open. This month the establishment hopes to unveil its first food offerings. The menu, developed by Tim Barker, formerly of The Beauty Shop, is all fresh made, quick items under $10 that are designed to compliment the beers, including a grilled pimento cheese sandwich, a Cuban sandwich, and pretzel bites as well as really good quality ice cream for beer floats.