Chuck Skypeck, co-founder of Boscos and its master brewer with 18 years in the business, feels strongly that locally made beer should be available in area bars and restaurants. He says he finds it hard to believe that Memphis, a city of more than half a million people, has only two breweries — the small-batch operation inside Boscos' Overton Square restaurant and Boscos' main brewery on South Main.
That's why Skypeck started Ghost River Brewing, a subsidiary of Boscos Brewing Company.
The Ghost River beers — Ghost River Golden, Glacial Pale Ale, Brown Ale, as well as seasonal beers, such as a German-style Hefeweizen and a Scottish ale — are draft-only beers and are currently being marketed to local restaurants and bars by Southwestern Distributing.
Ghost River's beers are brewed with water from the Memphis Sands Aquifer, source for the area's drinking water.
"Water is the main ingredient in beer," Skypeck says. "Its quality has a big influence on how the beer tastes, and we have some of the best water available right here."
The aquifer is a deep segment of saturated sand and gravel, which acts as a natural filter, making the water that trickles through it extremely pure.
"The great thing about Memphis water is its low mineral content," Skypeck says. "We believe this is ideal water for brewing beer. If you want to change the beer's character, you can add certain minerals to affect the taste."
Beers brewed from soft water with a low-mineral content tend to have a milder flavor than those made from hard, mineral-rich water. In Europe, breweries were historically located on sites with consistent water supplies and a characteristic mineral makeup. This explains the many regional beers, and the tradition of adapting the recipes to the shortcomings of the brewing water. Acidic dark malts, for example, were used to neutralize the high alkaline levels of carbonate waters.
Today, the mineral composition of "brewing water" can be controlled scientifically to create a larger variety of beers. Craft breweries, such as Ghost River Brewing, however, treat the brewing water only minimally, if it all.
Ghost River beer is brewed at Boscos' main brewery downtown. The brewery was inaugurated on New Year's Eve 2007, when it turned out its first batch of beer, with kegs headed to the Boscos locations that don't have a brewery on-site.
If you expect bottles rattling past on a conveyor belt, the earthy smell of beer, and foaming brews bubbling in a kettle, you won't see that here. In fact, the brewery is reminiscent of a milking parlor, minus the cows (although a local farmer does pick up the spent brewer's grain to use as animal feed). The brewery's centerpieces are three stainless-steel tanks in which the beer ages for about three weeks. Each tank holds 50 kegs of beer, each a different variety, rotating between the Boscos signature beers and the Ghost River varieties.
"Beer is food, and as the focus shifts more and more to what's available locally, we are thrilled to contribute a beer that is made in Memphis," Skypeck says. "Many restaurants and bars that we talked to were excited about the prospect of being able to offer a local beer to their customers, and we hope Memphians will see Ghost River beer on tap at their favorite places soon."
Although the beer will only be available in restaurant and bars, individual kegs for private parties can be purchased through Southwestern.
And while Skypeck is tapping the aquifer for water, he's giving back, too. Ghost River Brewing donates a portion of the proceeds of every barrel of beer sold to the Wolf River Conservancy.
Mark your calendar and grab your steins for two upcoming beer events.
The Memphis Zoo is holding its second Zoo Brew on August 29th, from 6 to 9 p.m. Anyone who's 21 and older can sample beers from around the world on the grounds of the zoo. The event includes appetizers, an exclusive pottery show by Hayden Hall, and live entertainment.
Price for the event is $10 for zoo members and $15 for nonmembers. For more information, visit memphiszoo.org.
Tickets for this year's Art on Tap at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens will go on sale on August 18th. The event is on September 5th, from 6 to 9 p.m., and advance tickets are $40 for members and $50 for nonmembers.
All guests must be 21 or older to attend. Visit dixon.org. for more information.