The Southern States
Last Updated :27/10/05
Southern US of A - by Mark Enderby.
rather tame holiday to the southern states insearch of Blues (and Booze of course). A carefully constructed itinerary took in the odd brew pub (or two) of course.
The South is not very fertile ground for good beer. The oracle ( www.beerme.com ) showed that many had come and gone so weren't expecting that much.
We made use of the direct Delta Manchester to Atlanta flight which got us in at a respectable 4pm in order to pick up the car for the 100 mile trip to our first stopover in Columbus (Georgia).
The centre of Columbia is small scale and walkable, our motel being a couple of blocks away from the Cannon brewpub. This had 6 beers - styles were the usual suspect ... IPA, Stout, Red, Golden, Wheat and an Autumn special. Managed to try 4 before the jetlag caught up and we had to retire. All the beer sampled were in good nick.
The next day was a long haul of 250 miles to Jackson, MS (via Hank Williams grave !). Jackson promised a single brewpub which we were looking forward to as it had been a long hot drive.
There were 2 problems. Jackson is full of Katrina refugees and insurance assessors. On top of that, the State Fair was starting the next day. Hence began a seemingly fruitless search for rooms. Eventually we came across what seemed like the last 2 - fortunately within a mile of our target.
Jackson is a style of town, common in the South, which is pedestrian unfriendly ... both in scale and lack of pavements. We made the hazardous trek to Hal & Mals ... situated in an old railway warehouse. So far so good. However, when the waitress arrived we were offered national blands plus bottled Sierra Nevada. We were told that they'd run out and the brewer might be brewing the next day !
Given the need for food, we had to make do with the bottled pale ale. Later we headed off to a local blues club for some great music (and bottled Heineken) - being introduced to the guy who played drums on Shaft !
The next day's target, Clarksdale, had no brewpub. This was a day searching for Robert Johnson's graves (he has 3 !) and paying homage to the crossroads. The evening juke joint produced the ubiquitous Heineken, Sam Adams Lager and a "Belgian White" called Blue Moon. This had Denver and Memphis on the label so was clearly a Coors product.
Next stop was Memphis for 3 nights (and yes we did do Graceland). Gordon Biersh had recently shut down, so this left Boscos. This is situated in Midtown - up Madison Ave. Unfortunately, the new Madison Ave trolley only goes half way so taxis were in order.
Boscos had 8 beers available so a taster board was ordered. Styles included an IPA, London Porter, Scottish Ale, Stout, Stock Ale, Oktoberfest, Brown, Golden. Cask ale is available after 1730 Mon-Fri and in this case it was the Oktoberfest. All beers and the food were excellent and, in the end, this rated the best brewpub of the holiday and received a second visit.
In the city centre, there is a multi-tap bar called the Flying Saucer. This had a reasonable number of micros and I tried Flying Dog Tire Bite and Bridgeport IPA. The guest "brewers" beer was Boddingtons from Manchester. I didn't have the heart to tell them that it was actually from a small village in South Wales.
A word on public transport. The Trolleys are a flat fare of $1 (50c at lunchtime !). This is fed into a machine when you get on. There's no ticket, but a beep sounds so the driver knows you paid ! The bus system is impenetrable - and taxis can be hard to come by. There are multi rider and day trolley tickets but they are not easy to pin down - being available in some office downtown.
So on to Nashville. Four brewpubs beckoned ! The first to be hit was the Big River (an off-shoot of Gordon Biersch). This had a typical card with the exception of an IPA. It also had a light and a pilsner. However, it did have a brown and red on cask - both in very good nick. The barman was very knowledgeable and updated us on the beer scene. This brought the news that the Market had ceased to brew (something which the usually reliable beerme had failed to catch up with). The other brewpubs were Blackstone and Boscos ... both a trail out.
The bus system here is a little more copeable with and timetables are available at the downtown tourist office. The drivers also appear to be amenable to being flagged down. Fares were a flat $1.70 (exact fare) - most customers had some form of card. There were good services to both pubs.
A lunch stop at Blackstone revealed a brown, red, porter, Harvest, Oktoberfest and Kolsch. The Porter was available in cask and was superb. Boscos, on the other hand, was a disappointment. The German brewer meant that an Alt appeared instead of the Stout. The same cask rules applied and todays was IPA. However, all beers tried were average and we quickly left for the Big River. Another point about Boscos was the $4 for 15 fl oz rather than the usual 16.
Our final port of call was the Pirana bar across from the Big River, for locally brewed Yazoo Pale wich was very good (they also serve Sweetwater Pale from Atlanta).
The next day was Chattanooga (of Choo Choo fame) which had another Big River brewpub. This was vast and had 2 separate bars (only one with cask) situated in the former trolley sheds. A similar card but, this time, IPA was on cask. The latter was like paint stripper and the general beer quality was worse that the Nashville establishment. Of note is a free bus service which goes from one end of downtown to the other.
And so back to Atlanta. Another spread out city with a reasonable transport system - metro
and bus which didn't quite go to where you wanted. The unpromisingly named Max's Lager brewpub was the best of the bunch with 6 beers on including an intensely dry and bitter Pale. Our next stop was the Park Tavern. Our taxi driver took us to the front door which was firmly chained up. He helpfully said that people usually only went at weekends. A quick explore revealed some steps which went down to a bar area and the welcome sight of pumps. This place was unusual in that it didn't make a point of being a brewpub (apart from a bit of stainless vessel in the clock tower !) and we had to ask to find what was on. Much relieved that they did have beer we retreated to the large covered patio overlooking the park and the impressive midtown skyscrapers. The Pale and Oktoberfest were tried - both good. It appears that the place concentrated on corporate/group hospitality during the week and the remnants of one of these events were being cleared up.
The next day we checked out the Rock Bottom - another Gordon Biersh offshoot with the same beers as Big River. The cask was off so had Red and a Pale - both average. Our final tick was at a blues club which server the local Sweetwater 420 Pale and also had a spicy Festive ale.
All-in-all an interesting visit which certainly contrasted with our usual East and West coast haunts. People are certainly friendlier, but good beer is harder to find and getting around, if you haven't a car, more difficult.