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VOL. 123 | NO. 154 | Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ghost River Enters Microbrew World

By Eric Smith

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MEMPHIS’ OWN: Chuck Skypeck has launched Ghost River Brewing at 827 S. Main St. The craft brewery is introducing four beers – Golden, Glacial Pale Ale, Brown and a summer seasonal Hefeweizen – to Memphis restaurants and bars. -- PHOTO BY ERIC SMITH

The roots of Chuck Skypeck’s passion for handcrafted beer dates back to the late 1980s, when he began brewing at home and sharing his libations with a handful of other homebrewers at gatherings around town.

In 1992, Skypeck turned that passion into a career when he helped found Bosco’s restaurant and brewpub, serving as its head brewer and helping create numerous beers for patrons in Memphis, Little Rock and Nashville.

A new chapter has begun in Skypeck’s brewing career with the formation of Ghost River Brewing (www.ghostriverbrewing.com), a craft brewery whose beers are being introduced in area bars and restaurants. Skypeck said this venture is the logical culmination of brewing beer these past two decades.

“For 20 years I’ve been trying to get people to drink something different, first with my homebrewed beers and second with Bosco’s,” Skypeck said. “We’ve seen people’s tastes grow over the course of those years. For us at Bosco’s, it’s truly a one-customer-at-a-time deal for us. But Ghost River represents the chance to expand that influence in terms of being able to get a good, local, quality beer around to other folks.”

Local at heart

Ghost River Brewing – whose name comes from a little known section of the Wolf River in Fayette County – is local in every sense of the word. The company brews all its beers at its 827 S. Main St. facility and uses water from the Memphis Sands Aquifer, a point of pride for Skypeck and his staff.

“Memphis water is great water, and that extends into brewing with it as well,” Skypeck said. “It’s 95 percent of beer, so it impacts the product in so many different ways.”

Using that water, Ghost River has released three year-round beers – Golden, Glacial Pale Ale and Brown – plus a summer seasonal Hefeweizen. It plans to add a new beer with each season.

Ghost River Brewing’s parent company is Roma Pomodori Inc., which is the majority owner of the four Bosco’s restaurants – one each in Memphis, Nashville, Little Rock and Cool Springs (outside Nashville).

But Skypeck was quick to point out that Ghost River Brewing and its beers are completely separate from the Bosco’s brand, even though the facility handles all brewing for Bosco’s Cool Springs location, which doesn’t have onsite brewing.

Ghost River is already working near capacity, which is 2,500 kegs a year, and it will sell kegs to the public at its South Main dock. Skypeck said there are no immediate plans to bottle the beer, because that is too much of a “capital-intensive investment” at this time.

Steve Barzizza, beer manager with Southwestern Distributing Co., which is handling distribution for Ghost River Brewing, said a local, quality beer should be an easy sell to restaurant and bar owners – and also to the public.

“I love beer, I love selling beer, I love to give people the opportunity to try something that’s a little bit different, but this product was built from the inside out,” Barzizza said. “Chuck is an outstanding brewer. He’s produced a great product that I’m happy to go out and sell.”

Here to stay

Craft breweries are defined by their size (producing less than 2 million barrels a year), their independence (they aren’t owned by a large brewery) and their traditional brewing practices (using only high-quality ingredients).

It’s a $5.7 billion industry, with sales and percentage share climbing steadily each year, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group that represents craft brewers, including Bosco’s and Ghost River.

“Nationally it’s not a flash in the pan,” Skypeck said of craft brewing. “There’s a core of people out there that really want flavor and character and diversity in the products they choose to drink in regards to beer.”

Marketing the beer locally is the responsibility of Jed McQuown, owner of Communication Associates, the firm that helped Skypeck design its branding. That includes a logo featuring a cypress tree growing out of a river and tap handles in the shape of canoe paddles.

“Our object, of course, is that people will start to recognize the logo, affiliate it with the beer, with Ghost River and say, ‘I don’t know where I saw that, but it’s here at the Hi-Tone, it’s here at the Flying Saucer and I’m going to try one,’” McQuown said. “We want to keep putting it in people’s head.”

Giving back

Another way to brand the beer will be through Ghost River Brewing’s affiliation with the Wolf River Conservancy. The brewery will donate a portion of its proceeds to the organization, which was important for Skypeck as he formed the company.

“We wanted a community partner from the get go, and we chose the Wolf River Conservancy,” he said. “That gives us the opportunity to really make a unique statement about a great local product using Memphis water and tying it to a great local resource in the water, and also a natural area that not a lot of people are familiar with.”

More than anything, however, growing the brand in Memphis and beyond is about getting beer drinkers tuned into what craft brewers long have told consumers – to “think global, drink local.”

“People are starting to see that there are other beers besides the big red, white and blue beer,” McQuown said, “and they’re starting to appreciate that full-bodied taste that the other ones don’t have.”

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