Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dale Skaggs: Horticulturalist/Brewer

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2009 at 2:23 PM

On Friday, the Dixon Gallery & Gardens is hosting the Brewers' Feast, which will highlight the home-brewed creations of Mike Lee, owner of Mid-South Malts, and Dale Skaggs, a long-time home-brewer who is the Dixon's director of horticulture.

Skaggs took the time to answer a few questions about beer for Hungry Memphis.

You're both a horticulturist and brewer. Where does the twain meet?
The fact that all the ingredients in beer are from cultivated plants is a natural convergence of brewing and gardening. Both involve growing living things for our purposes. In brewing, yeast grows in a media of natural sugars; and in gardening, plants grow in a media of soil. Historically, if you look at the beers brewed in medieval times, many more plant-based ingredients were used than only the barley and hops used today. Both gardening and brewing are celebrations of the natural world.

How'd you get into to brewing?
In my early twenties I borrowed some equipment from a friend and bought two cans of hopped-malt extract and dried yeast from the homebrew shop in Midtown. It was easy and the results were satisfactory, so I moved into more complicated extract beers from there. I impressed a gardening client of mine, a local MD, Dr. Jerry Duncan, with a batch of “Rocky Raccoon Lager” and probably brewed over a hundred gallons of different beers with him during the next few years. Some of it was drinkable, and several batches were poured down the drain as a sacrifice to the beer gods.

You've been an "all-grain" brewer, as opposed to using extracts, for the past 10 years. What does that mean?
The difference is analogous to making instant coffee verses fresh-brewed coffee with whole beans. This type of beer-brewing allows the brewer to have much more control over the end product. The increased quality and freshness of my beers became apparent, and, in spite of the additional time required, I have never gone back to extracts.

How much beer do you drink in a week?
I make it a point not to drink every day, and generally two beers are sufficient on days when I choose to enjoy a beverage. On a weekend night, I might drink three or four. Home-brewed beer, though, is not low calorie, so you really have to be careful not to over-indulge or you will really add on the pounds.

Ever just say "screw it" and pop open a Coors Light?
There are many good beers available in the stores today, and I think it reflects the interest created by a more sophisticated consumer. I do purchase beer but never a Coors Light. Although these beers fill a need in the market and are highly quaffable, I choose to drink fewer, higher-quality beers. This question brings to mind a quote on the wall at the Oregon Trader Brewery in Albany, Oregon: "Life is too short to drink tasteless beer."

Brewers' Feast is Friday, October 30th, 6 p.m. The dinner will include five small-batch beers brewed by Lee and Skaggs, as well as a five-course tasting menu prepared by Sam Long. Tickets are $50 for museum members and $60 for nonmembers. Call 761-5250 for reservations.

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