Last year, Ghost River Brewing
co-founder Chuck Skypeck raised a few eyebrows when he suggested, in an interview
with the Commercial Appeal,
that Memphis might not be able to sustain its new crop of craft breweries.
His reason? Black people don’t drink craft beer.
“There are about a million people in the Memphis area, Skypeck began. More than 60 percent of them are African-Americans who…largely prefer higher-end alcohol (if any alcohol at all) to beer.”
I decided to run that comment by Trevor Thompson.
Besides being black and loving craft beer, Thompson is the CEO of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tennessee.
On Saturday night, his organization hosted their first annual Taste the Flavors Brew Festival.
Held at Just For Lunch,
the event gave Memphians a chance to sample delicious local brews while raising money for those who suffer from Sickle Cell Anemia.
“Really, it all goes back to exposure,” said Thompson, sipping from a glass of High Cotton ESB.
“I think it’s true that African Americans have historically participated in the craft beer movement at lower rates.
But already tonight, I’ve had two people come up to me and tell me how much they love this beer or that beer.”
For those who don’t know, Sickle Cell Anemia is an inherited blood disease that primarily affects people of African and Caribbean descent. One out of every 350 Memphians has sickle cell, and the crowd at the event—which numbered about 150—was equal parts black and white.
When I caught up with Claire Gentry, she was enjoying a cup of Ghost River’s Honey Wheat Reserve.
“I’m usually a light beer kind of person,” confessed Gentry. “You know, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Michelob. But I liked it! It wasn’t heavy at all, and it was kind of sweet.”
Taste the Flavors featured three Memphis breweries—Ghost River, High Cotton, and Memphis Made
—plus a few beers from farther afield—notably Schlafly
And hey, what’s beer without some food to wash it down? Texas de Brazil
was serving steak, and Aldo’s Pizza Pies
brought some of their addictive garlic knots with vodka cream sauce.
The event was conceived and chaired by Steven Whitney, an enterprising 23-year-old at the University of Memphis. Whitney, who works with sickle cell patients at St. Jude,
says he has always had a passion for craft beer. Combining those interests gave him an opportunity to help introduce craft beer to Memphis’s black community and while helping sickle cell patients in the process.
“Craft beer is blowing up here in Memphis,” says Whitney. “So I figure, let’s knock down the walls and bring everybody in. I mean, why not? It’s a huge untapped market.”