Nashville’s Corsair Artisan Distillery is best known for creating award-winning innovative spirits, particularly what they refer to as “alt whiskies.” Karen Lassiter earned a reputation as a creative and solid brewer working at the popular Boscos location in Hillsboro Village. You wouldn’t necessarily think that the two would go together. But when the Memphis corporate office of the brewpub decided to shut the Nashville taproom and brewery down suddenly with less than a day’s notice, Lassiter wasn’t without a job for very long.

Two of Corsair’s founders, Darek Bell and Andrew Webber, were homebrewers before they started to experiment with distillation, and they were familiar with Karen from shopping at the brewers supply store where she worked. They also knew of her through her connection with the Music City Brewers club, which ironically met at Boscos even before Lassiter took the assistant brewer job there. Ironically, the partners tried to hire Lassiter to brew the washes for their whiskey distilling runs, but she had just been promoted to head brewer at Boscos.corsair_blackberrybrownale_1

So when Lassiter found herself without a brewhouse, the brewer and the distillers quickly got together for a chat, and she had a new gig within a day. At Corsair’s Marathon Village facility they already had a craft beer taproom in a space where Yazoo Brewing Co. used to brew their first batches and introduced many Nashvillians to their first taste of local beer. Corsair has served regional craft beers out of the taproom for a few years, but with Lassiter on board they saw the opportunity to brew their own beers to augment the selection. Soon enough, the newly named Corsair Hi Grav Beer Lab was pumping out enough beers to fill 6-8 tap handles in their bar and stopped offering guest beers anymore.

Even though the Corsair facility still has the 10-barrel brewing system that Yazoo started up on, they still use that for their whiskey runs, so Lassiter works on what she calls “a glorified homebrew system.” A 1-barrel brewing system from Ruby Street Brewing feeds four conical fermenters plus various carboys scattered around the brewing area. She needs to have a great mind for scheduling to keep the taps filled out of this small system, especially considering that under their distiller’s license, Corsair can only brew high gravity products.

Just because the output is small doesn’t mean that Lassiter isn’t brewing some fantastic creative beers. It merely means that you must visit the taproom or the rare beer festival to try them since there simply isn’t enough beer to supply any other retail outlets. Lassiter tries to keep 6-8 beers in serving tanks at any one time ready to pour, and since she needs at least 14 days for fermentation and settling because all their beers are unfiltered, most of her days are filled with brewing and cleaning up or transferring beers from tank to tank.

Fortunately, since all the beers are high gravity, including some monsters up to 15% ABV, most patrons drink them by the 3 ounce taster glass or by the half pint. This means that the volume of throughput is a little slower than at your typical craft taproom. Pints are available though if you have a particular favorite that you just can’t get enough of. Lassiter usually has both the Citrus Bomb and Ancient IPA brews on tap at all times, while the other taps feature a rotating selection of recipes with 4-5 new beers coming on every month as the seasons (and the brewer’s whims) change.

Since her days as a homebrewer, Lassiter has had an avid interest in historical beers, so patrons can expect special treats like her Viking Ale with juniper and honey, an Egyptian Ale with carob, dates, cardamom and vanilla or even herbal Elderberry or Cranberry gruits. Lassiter also gravitates toward traditional English-style ales, but she’s also willing to occasionally slow down production a little bit to brew some lagers.

An added benefit of her association with the distillery side of Corsair is her access to their inventory of barrels that have been used to age a wide variety of spirits. “For a lot of brewers, that’s their dream.” Lassiter explains. “But I have access to barrels pretty much all the time.” A particularly successful barrel experiment of late was a stout made with Turkish coffee that was aged in Corsair spiced rum casks. Other popular stouts include a Cocoa Hazelnut Stout, a Chocolate Mole Stout and a freeze-distilled rye imperial stout that they called Black Ice.

Corsair also runs their own malting facility on the Bell family farm north of town where they smoke and sprout grains, mainly for spirits experiments but occasionally for Lassiter to play with too. She has used salt smoked at the maltery as an ingredient in a gose as well as hemp seeds which were grown on the farm (legally, of course) which she toasted and added to an American brown ale. Future plans for the Bells Bend farm and malting facility include planting grapes to make brandy, apple orchards for cider and barley for use in the brewery.

Other aspirations for the brewery side of the business include expanding the taproom and either moving Lassiter to the old 10-barrel Yazoo system to brew or perhaps purchasing a new brewhouse. No matter what happens in the future, Lassiter is quite content with her lot. “Yeah, sometimes I feel like a glorified homebrewer, but I’m getting paid like a professional. Brewing is brewing, and scale wise it isn’t that much less work on this system. The response has been quite positive, and I am really fulfilled. Plus I feel like I have more options to exercise my creativity, so that’s all good.”

The craft beer lovers crowded around the bar in the tiny taproom enjoying her rare recipes would definitely concur that it’s all good.

Corsair Brewstillery Taproom & Tasting Room
1200 Clinton St #110
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 200-0320

Taproom hours:
Closed Monday
Tuesday through Friday 11:00 am – 8:00 pm
Saturday noon – 7:00 pm
Sunday noon – 6:00 pm

Written By Chris Chamberlain