A mid-sized city with the feel of a large town, Memphis has a great deal of character and a great many characters. Laid-back, welcoming, and ruggedly charming are descriptors easily applied to both the people and places in this river city. So when Memphians seek out space to celebrate memorable events, brewery taprooms offer the perfect mellow match.
Wiseacre Brewing Company, in the vibrant Broad Avenue Arts District, with its colorful 901-proud murals and funky gift shops, is well known by locals for its canned Ananda Indian Pale Ale and Tiny Bomb American Pilsner, sold in six packs at stores throughout the city. Its taproom is a popular rental space for events such as receptions, fundraisers, parties, and corporate gatherings. The venue also offers a private multipurpose room that holds 30 people and can be used for dinners, meetings, and presentations, and an outdoor pavilion has a capacity of 200-plus.
Over in the Edge District, just around the corner from world-famous Sun Studio, the birthplace of Rock-and-Roll, is High Cotton Brewing Company’s taproom. The building was constructed in the late nineteenth century, and because of its proximity to Victorian Village, the building is believed to have served as a carriage house. When the owners purchased the property in 2012, it required a great deal of renovation. The taproom was added in 2014.
High Cotton hosts a myriad of events, including fundraisers for dog rescue groups, art shows, beer fests, live music, comedy shows, trivia contests, college mixers, and even yoga and pilates. The 1,200-square-foot main space always remains open to the public, with the exception of events scheduled outside of business hours.
“If we can fit into our space and make it happen, we’re happy to take on the event, whether it’s private, semi-private, or public,” says Cayleigh Tralongo, High Cotton’s taproom and events manager.
Private events — such as receptions, engagement parties, and retirement parties — are held in a back room, a 2,500-square-foot space with its own private bar that can accommodate up to 150 guests, who also have access to a connecting side patio for additional space.
Over in the heart of Midtown’s historically hip Cooper-Young neighborhood, Andy Ashby, a neighborhood resident and former local business journalist, combined his knowledge of entrepreneurship with a passion for craft beer and community when he opened Memphis Made Brewing Company in 2013.
He partnered with president and head brewer Drew Barton, who previously worked as a head brewer in North Carolina, to open the brewery in an old building that Ashby described as “basically a drive-in cooler for pies. It’s a little unconventional, but it fit us.” In 2014, Memphis Made opened its taproom, for which Barton planned the layout.
Ashby says the main purpose of opening a taproom was to get feedback on the beers.
“Events are kind of secondary,” he says. “Our hours were limited at first, so we started renting out the space. That’s something that evolved over time.”
But Memphis Made Tap Room has evolved into a popular event space. Taproom parties and events often spill over into the adjacent parking lot, where party-goers can play cornhole or jenga, grab some food truck fare, and take selfies at the iconic I Love Memphis mural. The venue offers a patio that can hold roughly 50 guests, and sometimes Memphis Made hosts more than one event at a time.
The taproom has been the site of wedding receptions, corporate gatherings, and employee appreciation events.
“A lot of businesses are looking for ways to retain young talent,” Ashby says. “A brewery is going to capture the minds of young people a little more.”
Memphis Made Tap Room sometimes donates space for other fundraisers and invites local musicians and comedians to perform for taproom patrons. The taproom hosts monthly community concerts, with a percentage of the proceeds from each event benefiting a different nonprofit.
“We kind of treat the space like a community center,” Ashby says. “We’re in this as a business, but we’re also very much invested in giving back to this community.”
Ghost River, named after the section of the Wolf River that provides the local water for the aquifer said to give local craft beer its unique flavor, was a Memphis craft brewing pioneer, starting production back in 2007. But it wasn’t until almost a decade later, in November of 2016, that it opened its taproom, which features a large space that holds 200 guests. Smaller parties can reserve an area with a common table, located on the other side of the bar. There’s also a large patio available for parties.
“We don’t have a private room but we do have private space,” says Suzanne Feinstone, Ghost River’s marketing vice president, who says the taproom will open outside regular hours for group events and is booked for weddings, wedding rehearsals, conferences, and nonprofit fundraisers.
However, its primary purpose is to give craft beer connoisseurs a taste of Ghost River’s award-winning beers, and Ghost Rivers keeps patrons entertained with internal events, such as live music, flight nights, and trivia.
“We’re a taproom for our customers first and foremost and our goal is to be a taproom for people to enjoy our beers,” Feinstone says. “You do have to find a balance.”
The newest kid on the block, Downtown’s Old Dominick, is also the oldest distillery. In the late nineteenth century, Domenico Canale founded Old Dominick Whiskey. Just a few steps away and five generations later, Old Dominick Distillery, established in the fall of 2016, carries on the family tradition of making spirits. The facility was designed by Looney Ricks Kiss Architects.
“Our design was done carefully to mix the old and the new, to keep it somewhere between that old industrial look and something modern,” says owner Alex Canale.
The taproom opened May 1st of this year, but its event space is already bustling with activity.
The distillery’s 50,000-square-foot set of historic industrial buildings contains roughly 10,000 square feet of event space broken up into three areas: a tasting room, bar for rent, and a large, private multipurpose room upstairs called the “Enthusiast Lounge.” Its audiovisual capabilities have made it it popular with corporate groups. There’s also a rooftop patio.
Canale said the space has been booked for weddings, parties, and rehearsal dinners, and the distillery has donated space for charitable events.
Although Memphis was a little late to the taproom/distillery event trend because of prohibitive state laws that didn’t change until 2014, Memphians have shown their enthusiasm for holding traditional events in these nontraditional spaces.