When you visit Memphis, the home of the blues becomes a part of your soul. From its rich history in shaping music as we know it to its modern breweries and eateries catapulting the birthplace of the Rock ‘n’ Roll into the future. You can enjoy an ice-cold craft beer, indulge in mouth-watering ribs, and immerse yourself in the stories of how artists like Elvis Presley, BB King, and Johnny Cash made history.
Our first stop in Memphis was Wiseacre Brewing Company. Industrial and hip with an outdoor patio that has a flair of southern elegance you will find Wiseacre tucked back along the railroad tracks just 15 minutes from Beale Street. Delivering delicious standard style beers like the Gotta Get Up To Get Down Coffee Milk Stout and Adjective Animal Double IPA, Wiseacre’s true stand out is their unique dive into specialty styles. The rotation of styles like Altbier, German Rauchbier, and Dunkelweisse allows you to step outside of your craft beer comfort zone to experience something different. The Dr. Gibbler Smoked Helles has a beautiful smokey taste with the characteristics of a lager that rolls off your tongue and delivers a feeling of the old world into your mind. You can sit outside on the porch enjoying a variety of unique styles where the large communal tables encourage strangers to become friends, and funky tunes are piped straight from vinyl on a record player to set the mood. My one tip for Wiseacre is to expect the train horn if you are enjoying your beer outside, the conductor has a sense of humor! With our first brewery stop complete, it was time to dive into the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
“…At Sun Studio in Memphis, Elvis Presley called to life what would soon be known as rock and roll with a voice that bore strains of the Grand Ole Opry and Beale Street, of country and the blues. At that moment, he ensured – instinctively, unknowingly – that pop music would never again be as simple as black and white.”
– David Fricke, “Rolling Stone,” 1986
While Graceland is the main tourist attraction of Memphis, our top choice of historical places to visit was Sun Studio on Union Avenue. Have you ever stood where history was made? The feeling is overwhelming to know that something that shaped our musical history so profoundly happened right on the small piece of tape that marks the floor where you are standing. On December 4, 1956, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash stood within the white walls of Sun Studio during an impromptu Jam Session and recorded the “Million Dollar Quartet.” The greatest blues, gospel and country musicians in history had their start in Sun Studio, and you can take a 45 minute guided tour experiencing the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll. There is no need for reservations, but you can purchase your ticket voucher in advance online. Tours are first-come-first-serve, but as you wait you can enjoy the soda shop vibe while you listen to the blues greats and browse the records for sale that hang on the walls.
A visit to Memphis wouldn’t be complete without devouring the infamous Memphis style slow-smoked barbeque. The locals directed us to Central BBQ in Midtown to satisfy our craving for mouth-watering ribs. While a newcomer to the scene, founded in 2002, Central BBQ is a heavyweight in competitions and has been voted Best in Memphis every year since they opened. Don’t let the armed guards scare you away, there is magic found behind the barbed wire fence in the form of juicy ribs smothered in sweet, smokey sauce and the spicy, cooked to perfection collard greens. With an extensive local craft beer selection to quench our thirst, we enjoyed the cafeteria-style ordering and open seating that Central BBQ offered.
Just steps from Central BBQ Midtown you will find a gem of a brewery filled with Arcade games, board games, and daily food trucks. As if Memphis Made Brewing didn’t have a lot already going for them, they are also dog-friendly. Located in the hip up and coming Cooper-Young district of Memphis this brewery has great beers and a great laid back atmosphere.
First, let’s talk about food trucks. The day we visited Memphis Made, there was a little hot dog cart outside. I’m not a live and die by the dog kind of gal, I could take them or leave them. To be honest, I was less than enthusiastic about having my only food choice to be a hot dog. After perusing the interesting menu, I realized that these are not ordinary dogs, and I proceeded to order a Memphis Belle. Locally made cheese dip, pickled onions, bacon, and Fritos. Fritos, ya’ll…Fritos on a hot dog. What have I been doing with my life that I haven’t been eating Fritos on my hot dogs? It was crunchy, it was salty, and it was the perfect complement to a hot dog. This is just one more reason why I love breweries. Not only do they have their own business, but they are lifting up other small businesses in the community like food trucks, and then I get to enjoy all that cheesy, hot-doggy, Frito-covered goodness. I don’t know who decided to make hot dogs fancy, but I salute thee.
Memphis Made produces three year-round beers alongside seasonal and limited-run brews. Their flagship IPA, Cat Nap delights with notes of mango, pineapple, and peach with a light, crisp taste that begs you to fill your glass for another round. We also enjoyed their limited release of Huggy Bear brown ale that tastes like the warm embrace of a grizzly bear without all the sharp claws and the biting. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take two!
Memphis is a city that you can come for a day or come for a week and always find something new to experience. You can explore tourist favorites like Graceland, the Civil Rights Museum, and have breakfast at the iconic Arcade after watching the Peabody Ducks waddle through the hotel lobby. You can watch the tigers lounging at the Memphis Zoo, chow down on the infamous dry rub Barbecue at Rendezvous and make your way through six delicious breweries and a distillery. There is something for everyone in the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll to enjoy. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and explore Memphis outside the gates of Graceland.
I have to agree with Elvis, “I’ll stay in Memphis.”