Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with co-owner and head brewer of Boscos and Ghost River Brewing Co, Chuck Skypeck. We’ll pick up here where we left the first part of the interview, in which Skypeck began discussing the seemingly exponential growth of passion and geek-dom from those at the front lines of the craft beer revolution, as well as a brief history of craft beer.
From what I’ve noticed, and this is certainly the case with me, most people who drink craft beer are extremely passionate about it. Any idea why this might be the case?
I think another thing besides craft beer becoming hip and cool among the 21 to 25 year old drinker is another thing that’s really pushed craft beer sales recently, and it’s the local food movement. I find it really fascinating that I’ve been preaching fresh and local from day one— that’s twenty years— and it hasn’t really resonated until now because it’s across a broader spectrum of products that people think of as being fresh and local. I honestly think that that the local food movement of the last few years has really helped craft brewing, and I think there’s a huge percentage of our customers drink our beer because it’s local, not because its considered craft.
I’m not really sure I’m going to be able to vocalize why craft beer drinkers are so passionate about craft beer. I was passionate about beer long before I was passionate about craft beer, and I’m not sure I can explain that either.
I guess it’s part of my nature, to a certain extent. Until I became interested in craft beer—until craft beer became available— I grew up drinking the regional brands that existed then, rather than the national brands. In most beer drinkers’ experience that are younger than I am, those regional brands represent more of the same Bud, Miller, and Coors products, and that’s mostly because they were bought out and dumbed down. They weren’t like craft breweries now, but there was a lot of interesting variation and unique flavors associated with those regional brands. Of course, that died out in the 80’s.
I actually spent a fair amount of my life drinking wine for that reason: in the early 80’s, if you wanted to experience variations and differences, that’s where you found it. If you wanted to experiment with something different, or were looking for a new flavor, you went to the wine section of the liquor store. So for me, when craft brewing showed up, it seemed really natural for me, because I was always interested in those variations and looked for different things to try. And that just led to me saying, "we’ll I’m just going to start [brewing] here in Memphis."
I’m guessing you began your brewing career by homebrewing, right?
That’s kind of a yes and a no. When I made up my mind that I wanted to open up a brewery, I started homebrewing as one of the means of educating myself. With craft brewing where you need to know the entire [brewing] process [in order to succeed], there weren’t really any resources out there like there are now. So learning to homebrew was just one avenue to educate myself. And that’s a little backwards from what you normally hear where a brewer says, "oh, I homebrewed, and then I decided to become a brewer."
The other path I took to educate myself, and this was part of the business side of it, too, was that I started Mid-South Malts. This is an interesting aspect of those early days: when we started Boscos, it was difficult to establish the business relationships we needed to get the ingredients we wanted, and the list of available ingredients was much smaller than it is now. I started Mid-South Malts almost primarily to be able to make those contacts with the business and ingredient world. And that’s something that people starting craft breweries now don’t realize: that sometimes getting the things we needed to brew and to function was a real challenge. 1992, when we started Boscos was when it was finally getting a bit better [for microbreweries].
Tune in next week for the third part of my interview with Skypeck for some more regional history on craft brewing, as well as discussion on the collaborative spirit that seems to be unique to the craft brewing industry.