These days, Nashville — as befitting any city of reasonable hipness and cultural worth — has its share of microbreweries, craft beer joints and brewpubs. But more than a century ago, before all the strawberry wheats and milquetoast stouts, the orange-peel infused cherry porters and what have you, there was mighty Gerst.
The William Gerst Brewery was a massive operation, spanning multiple city blocks near Sixth Avenue South and Lafayette Street. In the days before Budweiser became the King of Beers, each city had its own monarchial brew and Gerst was Nashville’s, its Amber our own sudsy duke.
Things have changed, of course. Prohibition, the homogenization of national taste and economies of scale drove down the market share of Gerst and its analogues, the regional beers that dominated America’s stein scene for decades: Louisville’s Falls City and San Antonio’s Pearl, for example.
Gerst brewed its last batch in Nashville in 1954, and the name survived only at the Gerst Haus restaurant, then run by William Gerst’s grandson. In 1988, Jim and Jerry Chandler bought the restaurant and revived the iconic Gerst Amber, contracting a brewer in Indiana, and later, Pennsylvania.
Now Gerst is coming home.
Local microbrew giant Yazoo has perfected the Gerst Amber recipe, brewing it at its Gulch facility, which is not all that far from Gerst’s original digs.
“I was doing a lot of research when we started Yazoo in 2003. While I was doing it, I ran into a guy working on a book on Gerst. … I was fascinated,” Yazoo head man Linus Hall said. “Later, I ran into Jerry Chandler … [and] I said, ‘When we have space, we’d love to bring it back.’ ”
With the recent move from Marathon Village to the Gulch, Yazoo has that room, and Hall kept his promise.
On Friday, Hall and his team will tap a keg of locally brewed Gerst for the first time in more than 50 years, at the Gerst Haus restaurant with an event that kicks off at 6 p.m. The mayor will be on hand to lift one of Gerst Haus’ famous 5-pound fishbowls. There’s not yet word whether Hizzoner will don lederhosen and toast “the long history of brewing in Nashville and to its bright future.”