Smith & Lentz Brewery Makes Great First Impression
All images by Kevin Gibson. Just weeks ago came an announcement that Anheuser-Busch InBev, brewing’s bloated corporate giant, had bought Colorado-based Breckenridge Brewery. On the heels of that announcement came another with the news the behemoth also had gobbled up London craft brewery Camden Town Brewery.
Before that, it was Arizona’s Four Peaks Brewing, Elysian Brewing in Seattle, and Golden Road Brewing in L.A. Remember the uproar among craft beer enthusiasts when the company we once knew as Anheuser-Busch purchased Chicago’s much-respected Goose Island Beer Co. in 2011? Turns out AB InBev was just getting warmed up.
Which is why walking into a place like the new (opened in October) Smith & Lentz Brewing Company in Nashville is so refreshing. I say that because this brewery is refreshingly neighborhood-focused, at least based on a first impression – the tables in the tap room are picnic tables that invite socialization. A pair of ping pong tables sit in the rear of the concrete-and-mason-block space, while a stack of board games sit invitingly near the wall facing the bar.
Owned by Kurt Smith and Adler Lentz (who were working the bar the night I stopped in), this brewery truly focuses on the beer. You want a growler? This is your place. You want to hang out with a group of friends and enjoy beverages made by brewers who love beer? Smith & Lentz. And if you love IPAs, well, this is a hidden treasure, although perhaps not hidden for much longer.
Both are long-time home brewers, and Lentz worked for several years in the brewing equipment side of the business, giving him a base of knowledge of craft breweries. Meanwhile, Smith was honing his management skills working as a risk consultant.
Now they’re making beer. Lots of beer, and with not a huge brewing system. As the website reads, “Having a small brewing system supported by an army of fermenters and aging vessels means the next time you and your friends visit, there will be a new beer to try.”
But what this sort of place, located at 903 Main St. just east of downtown, says to me is that, even if the larger craft breweries end up selling out or focusing more on becoming the sort of brewery AB InBev might want to ingest, this one is here primarily to serve the East Nashville neighborhood. Sure, it’s likely these guys will end up distributing, but it’s clear they also have a keen vision in terms of being a local business.
When I visited, there were 11 beers on tap, including everything from a Vienna lager to a nitro oatmeal stout. The BYOF (bring your own food) tap room doesn’t do flights, but rather serves half pints for $2.50 to give customers a chance to diversify.
My girlfriend Cynthia and I tried a few, starting with a creamy, mild oatmeal stout that was on the lighter side of a traditional breakfast stout. Meanwhile, Smith & Lentz’s coffee porter was medium bodied with a coffee-leaning profile that didn’t hit you over the head like some can. Solid and accessible.
As is my wont, I was keen to try the IPAs, which seems to be something of an S&L focus; a pair of them on the draft list were simply called “IPA #2” and “IPA #3,” so naturally I tried them both. The former possessed a big, citrusy nose and an expected amber body. It was crisp and drinkable, with a bit of a spicy bite on the back of the palate and lots of fruit notes.
IPA #3 had a similar aroma and body, but was perhaps a bit more leaning on bitterness while also being light- to medium-bodied with just enough malt balance. It vaguely reminded me of Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, which is a complement.
I also greatly enjoyed the APA, which also was more hop leaning than most traditional pale ales I’ve encountered; this one bordered on being a session IPA given the way it was hopped. Finally, I asked Smith for a recommendation since I was nearly out of liver space, and he said, “I think we have a really good pilsner.”
He was right. It’s a classic German pilsner profile with an aroma like freshly mown grass, a smooth finish with just a hint of bitterness and a delicious flavor of bready grains and a dab of sweetness. I’m glad I took his recommendation.
Best of all, I suspect we can expect Smith & Lentz to fly under the radar of AB InBev, at least for the foreseeable future. Good beer in a cozy atmosphere wins every time, especially when it isn’t just about making money and preparing for sale, like a dot-com startup in 1999.
And as far as AB InBev and its apparent agenda of strangulation and monopoly is concerned, well, I quote Princess Leia Organa: “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”