Nashville's beer has long reflected the region’s complicated history with spirits and ale. Influenced by the competing forces of lager-drinking German immigrants and a Bible Belt interest in moderation, the city's available beer has historically been limited to light-bodied, mass-produced lagers.
But Music City is quickly changing its tune. Since 2010, over 15 new craft breweries have opened in Nashville and the surrounding area. More recently, the state of Tennessee passed legislation to relax strict drinking laws, allowing breweries to craft and stock high-gravity ales (beers over 6.25% alcohol by volume). The result is a heady era of craft brewing in Nashville, with breweries willing to explore new territory and test recipes, all the while keeping a knowledgeable (and thirsty) clientele under the influence of top quality ales.
Yazoo Brewing Company
Hop onto a taproom bar stool or relax on the patio at this popular brewery in the Gulch, Nashville’s urbanite hotspot. Yazoo has been rolling out barrels of their beer since 2003, so they’ve had plenty of time to hit their stride. The lineup here includes classic ale styles like a Hefeweizen (wheat beer), a pale ale and an American brown ale, but Yazoo (pronounced YEAH-zoo) is also on Nashville’s leading edge of the sour movement. Their Embrace the Funk series of concoctions will make your lips pucker with pleasure. Grab a pint of the tart and fruity Barrel-Aged Brett Saison, and then put your name down for a brewery tour ($8, 45 min, includes tastings).
Best for: hanging with friends before bar- and restaurant-hopping in the Gulch
Tennessee Brew Works
The opening of Tennessee Brew Works in 2013 generated a lot of buzz, and the brewery has continued the momentum with an ever-evolving lineup of beers and events. The taproom has also become a popular place to hear live music, with boot-tapping local acts playing the brewery every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Headliner beers include the Basil Ryeman, a spicy farmhouse ale brewed with locally grown Thai basil, and Country Roots, a sweet potato stout that uses real sweet potatoes from nearby Delvin Farms. Their kitchen serves up dishes that are several notches above the usual taproom fare. Head upstairs to the patio for some excellent sunset views.
Best for: Nashville newbies and locals who want a taste of the music scene
Czann’s Brewing Co
Czann’s is the new kid on the block, but this brewery is making a name for itself with clean, crisp, easy-to-drink beers. Located in the brewery-laden area south of downtown, this one-man operation (brewer Ken Rebman runs both the business and the brewhouse) stocks several solid ales, including a pale ale, an IPA and a blonde that are all excellent summer beers.
Best for: small-group hangouts in the intimate taproom
Bearded Iris Brewing
Named for Tennessee's state flower, this inventive brewery, which opened in 2016, occupies a former industrial space in a quiet corner of the booming Germantown neighborhood. It's worth the trek, though, to sip their perfectly balanced flagship beer, Homestyle IPA, in the eclectic, grandma's-attic style taproom, which boasts an elegant antique wooden bar and wing-back chairs. There's a 'hoppy hour' from 5-6pm on weekdays, with $3 IPAs and $5 double IPAs.
Best for: open mic hip-hop, every Tuesday
Jackalope Brewing Company
Located just a block away from Yazoo Brewing, this upstart brewery had the benefit of buying all of Yazoo’s old equipment second-hand. Jackalope’s relaxed, well designed taproom appeals to both young, urbanite Gulchers and their kid-toting Nashvillians from all around. The brewery offers entertainment in the form of board games (including oversized Jenga) and flights of envelope-pushing beers. Try the Casper, a Gose sour beer brewed with sea salt and coriander that emits an herby, mango-tinged aroma.
Best for: sampling experimental brews
Little Harpeth Brewing
Welcome to Nashville's most eco-friendly brewery. Almost all the materials and equipment (except the stuff used directly in brewing) at Little Harpeth has been donated, recycled and upcycled from nearby businesses. Beers here channel a German tradition of Pilsners, lagers and white beers. Their standout is Chicken Scratch, a refreshingly crisp American Pilsner that’s perfect for pairing with some of Nashville's famous hot chicken. Their dog-friendly taproom boasts an enviable view of the Cumberland River and often hosts live music.
Best for: getting supplies for a day canoeing down the Harpeth River
Smith & Lentz Brewing
You may never see the same thing on the menu twice at Smith & Lentz, a small-batch brewery that serves up American-inflected suds like fruity Cheerbeer (inspired by the cherries of Door County, Wisconsin) and the Tryin to find Jebus IPA. The spacious taproom is easy to spot on Main Street in East Nashville, and filled with picnic tables that make settling in with a large group a breeze.
Best for: those who like a little unpredictability from a beer menu
Taking inspiration from the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther’s relationship with beer, this brewery focuses on approachable Belgian-style ales (never mind that Luther was German). Opened by two beer-brewing brothers, Black Abbey’s taproom, or Fellowship Hall, is true to the monastic theme with seating at picnic-tables to encourage mingling with friends and strangers alike. The range of Belgian beers are malty and drinkable. Grab a pint of The Special, a biscuity, crimson-colored ale, and make some new friends.
Best for: out-of-towners who want to dip into Nashville's beer scene far from the scrum of downtown
Nashville's best craft beer bars
Want to sample them all in one tipsy sitting? Here's where to head:
- The Village Pub & Beer Garden Specializing in regional beers, this East Nashville pub serves up German-influenced food (pretzel sandwiches with lots of sauerkraut) in a homey, wood-lined atmosphere.
- 12 South Taproom & Grill A retro-style alehouse in the restaurant-packed 12 South neighborhood.
- Flying Saucer Stop here for an unbeatable selection of beer before heading down the hill to Broadway’s strip of flashing neon and honky tonks.
- Craft Brewed This tasting room has a pet-friendly patio and high-gravity offerings in the bottle shop next door.
- Homegrown Taproom If you want to be the only out-of-towner in the tasting room, head to Homegrown in Donelson. It may be located in an unassuming strip mall, but the beer variety is vast, there's a full menu and the service is friendly.
This article was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2018.