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Nashville Breweries Fire Up

By Joe Nolan

Beer is the third most consumed beverage in the world, ceding the top spots only to tea and, well... water.

While the roots of the bubbly brew can be traced at least back to 7000 BC, the modern rise of artisinal microbreweries in America began about twenty-five years ago. Beginning with the Industrial Revolution and the advent of refrigeration, by the affluent 1950s beer production and distribution had evolved into an industry dominated by a few large corporations. Starting in the 1980s, the microbrewery movement introduced hand-crafted beers to an audience that was drawn to the quality and diversity of the new offerings, choosing them over the low prices and mega-marketing of the big commercial breweries.

* "Beer is the third most consumed beverage in the world, ceding the top spots only to tea and, well... water."

Nashvillians are fortunate to have three local breweries to choose from. All feature unique, award-winning recipes, cozy, comfortable accommodations, and a focus on local ingredients and community that make each of them more than just a place to grab a beer.

The person at the heart of a brewery is the brewmaster. Brewmasters earn their stripes through a brewing guild or a university curriculum. In addition to specialized brewing knowledge, these programs include advanced chemistry, biochemistry, and math.

As we approach the fall season, Nashville's brewmasters are preparing to put out their autumnal best for those chilly nights when nothing says friends, family and fun like a glass full of the foamy stuff.

Blackstone Restaurant and Brewery

The West End establishment's brewmaster for the last two years, Travis Hixon began his career as a homebrewer before earning his brewing degree from Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, home of the oldest brewing program in the United States. Possessed of a passion for the beer-making process, he clearly relishes seeing his creations progress from raw ingredients to the smile of a satisfied customer. "It's one of the few places where you can see a process through from beginning to end," explains Hixon.

One Blacktone specialty is their Octoberfest brew, which features a strong, dark Munich malt; the lager is cooled for two months, as opposed to the normal three week storage period. A small batch, handled with great care, the Octoberfest lager will surely be a seasonal hit that local imbibers will want to get while it lasts. It's this kind of specialty offering that makes local brewpubs a unique treasure in any community.

"The freshness aspect is probably the most important factor," says Hixon. "The fresher the beer is, the closer it is to the brewer's intent. Also, the impact is low. Local is better!"

Yazoo Brewing Company

This brewery derives its name from brewmaster Linus Hall's Mississippi roots. A Nashvillian since 1996, Hall has a decade of brewing under his belt and a craftbrewing degree from the American Brewers Guild in California.

Hall has big plans for the fall. In addition to brewing up "Sue," the brewery's first high-alcohol-content beer, Yazoo has a special treat on tap for the holidays. Yazoo's late-fall Wassail beer is a traditional, spiced ale that boasts a holiday-inspired flavor profile with notes of cinnamon and ginger. "It's a lot like a mulled wine," explains Hall. "But it's a warming, nice, spiced beer."

Hall will also have his hands full this season moving to a new location at 910 Division Street. The new, expanded tasting room and beer garden will add to their efforts at making local connections.

"Another thing we do to strengthen local ties is pair with Provence Breads & Café to make Yazoo beer bread with spent grain from our Dos Perros," says Hall. The brewer is also working with local farmers on a strain of beef cattle fed with Yazoo spent grain to be sold to local restaurants.

Boscos

Hillsboro Village's reigning brewmaster for nearly ten years, Fred Scheer took his diploma in brewing from Doemens Academy in his hometown of Munich, Germany. Producing a variety of beers, including cask-conditioned and bottle-conditioned selections, Scheer's focus on community and his bold approach to local ingredients make Boscos a place where people learn how to drink beer.

Scheer's concoctions serve as a touchstone for Nashville's Music City Brewers club, the homebrewers association that meets at the restaurant to talk shop. In addition, Scheer is creating more local connections by experimenting with growing his own hops, attempting to overcome limited supplies and the high costs that have plagued microbrewers in the past few years.

"People say you can't grow hops successfully in the South, but they grow excellently," says Scheer. "From the first harvest I took 150 grams and I dry-hopped the IPA." This process involves adding fresh hops to the brew during a secondary fermentation. The result is a punchy aftertaste that speaks directly to the current popularity of hops-heavy brews. Scheer adds, "If somebody tells me it can't be done, then I go for it!"

One eclectic brew on Scheer's fall menu will be a summertime beer with an impressive pedigree. "We entered our Hefeweizen in the Great American Beer Festival and we wanted it to be as fresh as possible." The wheat brew won a Gold Medal in 2005, but perhaps the real winners this time around will be Boscos' customers, who'll be treated to one last taste of sunshine as the leaves start to fall.

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