Big Demand Drives Ghost River Brewing To Expand

By Eric Smith

CHEERS: Chuck Skypeck, left, and Mike Campbell of Ghost River Brewing check out one of the fermenters at the company’s 827 S. Main St. brewery. Ghost River today will receive a new fermenter, helping increase its beer capacity by 33 percent, from 2,500 kegs per year to more than 3,300. -- PHOTO BY ERIC SMITH

Less than a year after handcrafting its first batch of beer, Memphis-based Ghost River Brewing is expanding.

The company today takes delivery of a new 900-gallon fermenter, increasing the company’s brewing capacity 33 percent from 2,500 kegs per year to more than 3,300, said Ghost River co-owner Chuck Skypeck.

Ghost River, whose name comes from a remote stretch of the Wolf River in Fayette County, is boosting production to meet the growing demand for its product, which is brewed using water from the Memphis Sands Aquifer.

The company’s beers – Golden, Glacial Pale Ale, Brown and seasonal (this summer it’s Hefeweizen) – have been so popular around town that Ghost River has fallen a little behind schedule.

“It’s an immediate fix, and it’s kind of a life jacket for us at this point,” said Skypeck, who launched the beer in 2008. “This tank will hopefully get us caught up.”

Expanding on the fly

Skypeck called the arrival of the tank a “mini-expansion” because the company won’t need additional refrigeration space or staff to accommodate the extra output. But based on the growing number of area restaurants and bars that now serve Ghost River, a second, larger expansion is coming in a few months.

“We will be expanding capacity in the fall. We have to,” Skypeck said. “Draft beer sales tend to hit peaks in the summer months and then tail off a little bit. It’s fortunate for us that we’re able to do this mini-expansion without a lot of difficulty, kind of on the fly, but we’re planning for a larger expansion for the fall to increase our capacity another 50 percent.”

The growth probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s tasted a Ghost River beer. Ghost River’s parent, Roma Pomodori Inc., is the majority owner of the four Bosco’s restaurants – one each in Memphis, Nashville, Little Rock and Cool Springs (outside Nashville). Skypeck brews beer for the Bosco’s Cool Springs location at the same Downtown Memphis facility where he brews Ghost River, although the beers are different.

“This is our beer. This is Memphis’ beer. Let’s buy our beer, drink our beer. … Support hometown music. Support hometown food. Support hometown beer.”
– Steve Barzizza
Beer Manager, Southwestern Distributing Co.

However, both Ghost River and Bosco’s beers are sold at the 827 S. Main St. facility that doubles as company headquarters for the two brands. That’s where dock sales of kegs and “growlers” – 64-ounce bottles – occur. Sales of growlers have taken off for the company, another reason for the rapid growth.

While dock sales account for only 5 percent of Ghost River’s total sales, they have been an integral part of Ghost River’s mission to offer its product to someone looking to enjoy the beer at home.

“(Dock sales) give people a physical place, an identity to the product, where they can come down and see where the beer is born and spend some time talking to us,” Skypeck said. “I think that’s important for us in establishing ourselves as a local, handcrafted product. I’d be doing dock sales even if we weren’t making money on it.”

Explosion of ‘Memphis’ beer’

Another factor in Ghost River’s success has been the company’s free brewery tours on Saturday afternoons. Also, it began selling pint glasses and T-shirts, and even ramped up its event presence, serving beer at functions such as the Memphis Zoo’s ZooBrew, Tennessee Funfest and chamber mixers.

Ghost River even has a billboard in Midtown that alternates with Bosco’s, and its Web site provides everything from where to buy the product to details on the latest seasonal brew. The company’s partnership with Wolf River Conservancy has yielded donations for the Memphis-based nonprofit organization and exposure for both entities.

Jed McQuown, president of Communication Associates – the company that created the branding for Ghost River – said he has been pleased with how quickly word of Ghost River has spread throughout the area.

“From a marketing and advertising standpoint, we continue to help the brewery build awareness for Ghost River by improving and updating the Web site, pushing the logo into the market through advertising and events and by creating a Facebook page for quick updates and event information,” McQuown said. “Ghost River is growing and we are still very excited about our role, the brand, and all its possibilities.”

Steve Barzizza, beer manager at Southwestern Distributing Co. – the company that distributes Ghost River – lauded this initial mini-expansion and the one that’s coming later.

“It’s going to be fabulous, couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Chuck is just a real good preacher of the good word of good beer,” Barzizza said. “He needs that capability of doing it because it is on fire out there. Not only is it on fire because it’s a quality product, but because Chuck is one hustling dude.”

Barzizza often meets restaurant and bar managers who remember Skypeck from his homebrewing days, when he would share his beer with anyone at neighborhood gatherings. Now, Skypeck’s creations can be enjoyed by more than a few partygoers.

“This is our beer. This is Memphis’ beer,” Barzizza said. “Let’s buy our beer, drink our beer. I’m not here to beat Bud, Miller and Coors; I’m just here to get my little fair share of the action and support the hometown guys. Support hometown music. Support hometown food. Support hometown beer.”