Friday, March 10, 2017

Beer Bracket Unfiltered: Ghost River Brewing

Posted By on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge Ghost River's Jerry Feinstone, Suzanne Williamson, and Jimm Randall (background) with a Ghost River Gold (foreground). - TOBY SELLS
  • Toby Sells
  • Ghost River's Jerry Feinstone, Suzanne Williamson, and Jimm Randall (background) with a Ghost River Gold (foreground).

For those thirsty for more on the Memphis beer scene, we're presenting barely edited versions of the interviews done by Toby Sells for our cover story on the Memphis Flyer and Aldo's Beer Bracket Challenge.

Here's the Ghost River interview with head brewer Jimmy Randall, marketing vice president Suzanne Williamson, and owner Jerry Feinstone.

Memphis Flyer: Ghost River won our (Beer Bracket Challenge). Congratulations. No matter what was going to happen in that final round, y’all were going to win.

Jimmy Randall: It was exciting pulling up the voting for the final round. It was like, oh! Hey! Alright!

MF: I think it says something about how long y’all have been around and the legion of fans you have out there.
So, here, I’ll ask the hard-hitting question I’ve asked the other breweries, what is going on at Ghost River?

JR: Well, at this exact moment, we’re cleaning and we’re putting Golden Ale into bottles. That’s today’s process.

MF: Y’all just opened the taproom in…?

JR: November 5 was the official grand opening day.

MF: How’s it been going?

Jerry Feinstone: We’ve been very pleased. You get a sunny day like today and everybody wants to show up, especially if they can sit outside. They’re having fun and playing games. So, it’s great.

MF: It’s a different way to interact with the brand.

Suzanne Williamson: We didn’t have that before. When we first moved into this building, you had to have a full kitchen to have a taproom. When the laws changed, we were in the middle of a big expansion. So, we had to put this on the back burner. It’s been great. Just happy to be able to do it, finally.

MF: Y’all just had a big brand change, too. That came right along with the taproom. You didn’t change any of the styles. Did you change any of the recipes?

JR: No, we didn’t change any of the recipes. Same beers. We did a little bit of name changing. The Honey Wheat, which is our summer seasonal, that has become Lost Hive. It finally got a name of its own.

We sat around in meetings for probably three weeks in a row, trying to come up with a good name for the honey wheat. Everything we picked, someone had already used it.

So, when Josh Horton and Hieroglyph did the rebranding, they came back with Lost Hive. We were like, that’s perfect.

SW: We did the re-branding because we were brand focused and not style focused. We wanted people to see this as Ghost River IPA not as Ghost River [first] and, then, oh, it’s an IPA.

We had a hard time working with our old font and the tree. That’s when we decided that if we’re going to do this — and it’s expensive changing everything — we might as well…

It’s been 10 years, we’re going to have a taproom. It’s time to change it. The taproom reflect the branding. It all fits.

JF: Losing the tree made me cry.

SW: You and a lot of other people.

JF: But I think it’s OK. We may end up with some retro products one day.
The (old branding) was very hard to get on a tap handle. The tree was fluffy and it didn’t work…

SW: And when you made it smaller it looked like an ink blot.

MF: The lantern is cool. It tells a lot about your brand and still connects your brand to the river.

JF: As the contest showed — being the first — the leader always carries the lantern.

MF: Chuck Skypeck told me one time that the pioneers get the arrows and the settlers get the land.

(Laughs.)

MF: How long have y’all been open now?

JR: It’s our tenth year. It’ll be our 10th anniversary of the first brew on New Year’s Eve this year.

MF: Back then, there wasn’t really any other craft beer in town. Y’all have been doing it since before it was cool, as they say.

JF: Breaking ground can be fun. It worked out.

SW: There were a lot of arrows. How about that?

MF: Have y’all always been in this location?

JF: Yes.

MF: So, y’all were pioneers for the neighborhood, too.

I’ve been talking to other brewers a lot about beer names. Golden Ale got a name change. It’s now just Gold.

SW: It’s our bread and butter. I mean, it’s the number one craft beer in Memphis, right? According to the Memphis Flyer. (Laughs.)

MF: Golden Ale is, of course, a golden ale. Does anybody remember what went into the naming of that beer at all?

JF: Just a color. (Laughs.) It’s a style. I guess if you’re the only game in town, you have all the names available to you. We weren’t smart enough to think of something fancy for Golden Ale.

SW: We were excited to get it in kegs and get it out to the market.

JF: Just getting these projects going is hard enough without trying to figure out a great name for everything.

MF: What was it about that style of golden ale that made you want to make that beer?

SW: Being the first, we were the introductory to craft for Memphis palettes. We wanted to, maybe, set the Golden next to a major brand that wasn’t necessarily craft. We’d say, you’re drinking this, how about try this?

It helped with the whole perception of…you know some people thought craft beer was heavy or too hoppy or whatever. I don’t even know if people recognized what it was that made it heavy. But we were like, just try this.

They would and they’d say, oh wow, this tastes good. It’s a very easy…it’s a transition beer.

MF: The gateway beer.

JR: Yes, a wonderful stepping stone into all the different flavors craft beer can produce.

SW: But people go back to it. It’s kind of your go-to beer in your refrigerator. You want to try all these out-there styles. But when you’re like, I just want a beer, it’s Golden.

JR: You’ve got your Southern comfort food. We’ve got your Southern comfort beer.

MF: Has Golden changed over the years?

JR: It’s been the same. We’ve made minor tweaks for raw material processes. But in the grand scheme of things, that recipe has remained untouched.

MF: When you say Golden Ale, people know what that flavor is.

SW: People come in our taproom and they’ll say, I’ll have a Ghost River. I know exactly what they mean. It’s the Golden.

MF: Jimmy, what are people tasting when they taste your golden ale?

JR: It’s your light American blonde ale. It’s very soft malt flavors, enough hops to kind of balance the profile out. It doesn’t come across as hoppy or bitter. It doesn’t come across as malty.

You get those light golden malt flavors and just enough of a balancing hop to keep it from wanting to present itself as being too sweet on the palette. That little bit of bitterness we do get for the hops helps counteract against the sweetness.

MF: Another high profile beer for y’all is 1887. Where does that name come from?

JR: Way back in the year 1887 was the first time the Memphis Sand aquifer was tapped. We celebrated for that reason. On the branding for it, it is a you’re looking top down into a well.

JF: There’s a story on each label. You have to figure it out, though.

MF: Is Gold the biggest seller?

JR: In overall production, yes. Golden is, by far, the number one beer w’ere producing. It sells the best out in the trade. In the taproom it’s a little different. We have different things that are only available in the taproom.

Then, there’s our other light beer, which is the Grindhouse. It tends to be our best seller here in the taproom.

MF: Did y’all make Grindhouse originally just for the (FedEx) Forum? Is that where the name came from?

SW: We were introducing cream ale and we had bars at the Forum. We wanted to brew a beer that people could dink during sporting events. That was the initial mindset of the naming of Grindhouse.

There will be some exciting things happening with our Grindhouse this spring. With our rebranding, we have a broader interpretation of Greenhouse that we’re excited about. There’s an overall connection with Memphis in music.

JR: Not only do you think about the Grindhouse as the FedEx Forum but also your juke joints are your grindhouses as well.

JF: The story is coming in the spring.

JR: We brought Grindhouse in when we were looking for that dryer, drinkable, very approachable style. We wanted something that’s a little lower in alcohol. You can drink several of them throughout the game and not get yourself too sideways and get in trouble.

MF: What’s the alcohol on (Grindhouse)?

JR: 5.25 percent

MF: Y’all have been around a long time. How have you seen the Memphis market and Memphis beer drinkers change over time?

SW: I think they’re more open to try new styles. I think the new mentality is “what’s new?” That’s the national trend. So, I think we’re catching up with that. With more education and more beers to taste and more variety.

MF: So, what do y’all think about winning our Beer Bracket Challenge and being the two finalists?

JR: Overjoyed. I’m just so grateful for the continuing support we’ve received from our hometown.

JF: It was pretty terrific. Sometimes you don’t expect it. You see new beer come on the market, new names. Then to realize that there’s a bunch of people out there who love your product. It makes you feel good and makes you feel good about what you do.

It’s a real good feeling. I don’t think any of us in the craft brew business have enough money on advertising or anything. So, we just have to blame it on people going out and trying beers and tasting beers and saying, “this fits my palette. I’ll have another.”

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