Finding a locally brewed craft beer in the Music City hasn’t always been easy. For quite a while, Middle Tennessee didn’t even have a single brewery within its borders. Food, Drink and Travel Writer Chris Chamberlain has written Nashville Beer: A Heady History of Music City Brewing, chronicling the rise and fall (along with the current boom) of craft beer in Middle Tennessee. Recently, I got a quick interview with him to discuss the past, present and future of brewing craft beer in Tennessee.
First of all, what was your inspiration for writing the book?
– “I was a history major at Stanford and have been a food and drink writer for the past five years. So, when the opportunity to combine those two was presented to me by History Press, I jumped at the chance. As hot as the Nashville brewery scene has become, I knew that if I didn’t write this book soon, somebody else would.”
Please describe on your initial experience with craft beer.
– “I was a horrendous homebrewer in high school and college, but I did gain a basic respect for the process and what made a good beer. In college, I drank beer that was so cheap and bad that my friends wouldn’t even steal it from my dorm fridge. (Which was sorta the point…) But we did have access to brewery tours at Anchor Steam, which was run by a fellow Stanford grad, Fritz Maytag. There, I gained a real appreciation for the craft of brewing and discovered what good beer could really taste like.”
As a Nashville native, do you remember the Dark Days when there were no breweries in Middle Tennessee?
– “Sure, it was a huge deal when Coors finally made it to Tennessee. A friend of mine got a nice chunk of money from his grandmother, ostensibly to fund his Eagle Scout project. We used the cash to buy cases and cases of Banquet Beer and to rent a storage locker to stash it in for the summer. We’ve come a long way, baby!”
What do you attribute to the success of Nashville’s booming craft-beer scene?
– “I think Nashville has a real dedication to creative collaboration, and it’s visible in our music scene, restaurants and visual arts. The craft-beer community has latched on to the spirit of ‘a rising tide raises all boats’ to cooperate and grow. Having interviewed every major innovator in the local brewery biz, I can say that each and every one of them is a genuinely nice person, with a laser focus on constantly improving their products and the industry as a whole.”
What is your favorite type of beer?
– “I’m not a huge hop-head and have to quietly admit that sour beers aren’t my thing. I prefer German styles like altbiers and lagers that are a little heavier in malt profile. I do like a nice porter, though.”
If you could wish for one improvement in Nashville’s craft-beer scene, what would it be?
– “I know everybody would like to see at least one local beer take off as a national cult beer, but I just hope that our brewers will continue to innovate, while at the same time develop their own unique styles that are true to their passions.”
What direction do you see the local craft-beer scene heading in 10 years?
– “Looking at Asheville, there’s a good track record of breweries as sustainable, investable businesses. I think that we could see as many as 10 or more medium-size breweries crop up in the next decade, and I believe that they will be additive to the market demand as a whole. Hopefully, existing breweries will be able to survive by focusing on their individual niches and staying true to their past successful strategies.”
Since the craft-beer scene is constantly changing, do you have any plans for an updated version of Nashville Beer or a second printing?
– “Heck, it already needed an update while it was at the printer, when Boscos went out of business. I joke that folks can just relabel chapter 6 as chapter 11. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write an updated edition in a couple of years.”
Do you have any plans to write any future beer-related books?
– “I’m working with the Tennessee Craft Beer magazine and write frequently on beer topics on the Scene’s Bites blog, so that keeps me striving to stay on top of the pulse of the local-beer scene.”
What upcoming projects or books are you currently working on?
– “I got 11 different 1099s last year, so my plate is pretty full of freelance gigs. I have a couple of larger products, in various stages of development, so I’m sure I’ll stay busy.”
Where can people purchase Nashville Beer?
– “It’s available at local bookstores like East Side Story, Parnassus and Barnes & Noble, as well as on Amazon. Most of the breweries in the book are selling it, plus some of my favorite taprooms, like Craft Brewed, The Picnic Tap and The Beer Pale. Or, call me. I’ve got a trunk full of them!”
What upcoming beer-related events are you looking forward to attending in 2015?
– “I’m a big fan of Matt Leff’s Rhizome Productions events like the East Nashville Beer Festival and the 12 South Winter Warmer. Those are always favorites that I look forward to.”