12 South Taproom, Nashville’s premiere destination for on-premise craft beer, turns a ripe, old five years this month. Since opening its doors in June 2006, the Taproom—inspired by a love of well-made beer and a deep commitment to simplicity—has swiftly established itself as a tastemaker for Music City revelers. A recent visit gives at least one writer solid evidence that these inspired taps will flow with many more happy returns.
Even in the scorching midday heat the bar is bustling, inside and out. The atmosphere can be a little hard to pin down; it’s closer to a beer garden than a pub, with tables sprawled across the open concrete interior and a large wooden deck full of lightly clad patrons. And if not for the large and carefully chosen list of beers, one might mistake this for an outsized café.
The beer list, big as it is, evolves consistently and ranges from mainstream favorites (“just a pint of Guiness”) to esoteric adventures (“does this one use wild yeast?”). Maintaining such a dynamic list is a momentous accomplishment when one considers what they’re up against: a state regulatory system that’s as opaque as it is dated, where rules change to suit the suppliers and where brands seem to come and go at the whim of something far too fickle.
Still, in five years time,12 South Taproom has managed to introduce Nashvillians to some of America’s most interesting beers while staying intimately connected to the local brewing scene. They take risks, but they also supply their customers with a knowledgeable staff who will, time permitting, help you find just the pint you crave.
Whether sampling the personal stash of John Maier, Rogue Ales’ master brewer, or tapping the latest cask offering from Nashville’s own Blackstone Brewing, the folks at 12 South Taproom are dialed in to a serious cadre of American beer makers. These relationships afford the Taproom access to hard-to-come-by beers and ensure a steady supply from a diverse group of sources. The benefits are passed on directly to their customers.
Fans of the Fort Collins Brewery will swoon for a draught pint of “The Incredible Hop” Imperial Indian Red Ale. This is a very high-gravity beer (10% ABV) that drinks like a brew half its weight—the term imperial is synonymous with double in this case, and designates IPAs that range from 7.0–14.0% ABV, according to Beer Advocate. “The Incredible Hop” shows a little creamier on draught than in bottle, reveals notes of mandarin orange on the palate and exhibits first class head retention, lacing the glass as it drains.
A good follow up is the Lucky Bucket “Certified Evil”, an imperial stout that is as dark in the glass as your morning coffee, maybe darker. Also lean for its size, this beer is aged in neutral oak cabernet sauvignon barrels. The cabernet aromas are immediately accessible and the flavor is bolstered by an unexpected, wine-like tannin structure. Burnt sugar, coffee chaff, blackberries and currants. “Certified Evil” weighs in at 8.0% ABV.