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VOL. 131 | NO. 100 | Thursday, May 19, 2016

Grant Touts Ghost River Brewing as Neighborhood Asset

By Madeline Faber

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The Center City Development Corp. has awarded its largest storefront improvement grant to date to Ghost River Brewing Co., which plans to use the $65,500 to building an outside patio and taproom at its 827 S. Main St. facility.

Ras Rossetti filters a batch of beer on its way out of the fermentation tank at Ghost River’s South Main brewery.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

When it opened in 2006, Ghost River was the only brewery in town.

“We began this brewery as a commercial venture. No competition in town. Nobody had a taproom,” said Jerry Feinstone, one of the founding partners of Ghost River and Bosco’s Restaurant and Brewery. “We just perceived it as a manufacturing location. But the longer we were there, we realized there is potential.”

Since that time, High Cotton Brewing Co., Wiseacre Brewery and Memphis Made Brewing Co. sprouted up across Memphis following a 2013 city and county decree that made it easier for breweries to sell beer for on-site consumption.

The new breweries produce less quantity, but their brands are strong, with taprooms packed over the weekends.

“We’re probably a little bit behind the times on getting it done,” said Feinstone.

About a year ago, the brewery completed an expansion that doubled capacity at the facility to the equivalent of 4 million bottles a year. With the project completed, the brewery has some breathing room to catch up with its competitors in the consumer-facing side of the beer business.

With the grant from the CCDC, an affiliate board of the Downtown Memphis Commission, the Ghost River building will transition from a manufacturing facility to neighborhood asset.

Brett Roler, director of planning with the DMC, said Ghost River garnered a substantial grant because of its location and the proposed use.

The 15,000-square-foot building sits at the corner of Crump and South Main, making it the southern gateway to the restaurants, retail and high-end residential that line the South Main corridor.

“It’s also an area that is frankly not that active in the evenings,” Roler said. “It needs more vibrancy, people walking there and lights and signs of activity going on.”

Opening up a part of the Ghost River building to public use will be a “high impact” project, he added.

“It’s maybe not the most welcoming building. You can’t even see through the windows,” he said.

The grant will only be used for the exterior part of the project, including new signage, replacing windows and doors, fencing and sidewalk repairs and constructing the 800-square-foot patio.

The hand-painted lettering on the brick façade will be supplemented with a neon sign bearing Ghost River’s new logo. The deteriorated fabric awning will be scrapped to make way for an industrial metal awning, and the heavily tinted windows will be replaced so that passersby along the South Main strip can catch a peek.

“I’m not saying it (a taproom) wouldn’t have worked, but with all the energy down here in South Main, now there’s more of a push behind it,” said Suzanne Williamson, vice president of marketing with Ghost River.

The other half of the project, the interior taproom, is estimated to cost $250,000.

The L-shaped patio will serve as entry into the larger, 2,000-square-foot interior taproom.

There will be 12 taps and seating for 100 in the taproom. In addition to constant favorites like Ghost River’s Golden Ale and Riverbank Red, the brewery will serve up limited-runs and one-off recipes. Feinstone said he’s planning on adding a new beer every month as part of the existing brewer’s series, where brewery employees design and brew their own batches.

The taproom is one part of a re-launch of Ghost River’s brand, with a new logo and new labeling hitting shelves next month.

“We started this project with the brewery just trying to figure out ways of getting beer into kegs and bottles, and we had not paid much attention to what we were doing as far as what the brand looked like,” Feinstone said. “We sort of let it happen as it happened, and now we’re trying to put some more thought and intent into it.”

The new brand will be an antique-looking lantern, replacing the cypress tree logo, an icon of vegetation on the Ghost River section of the Wolf River. Individual brews have their own art and colorful labeling, as opposed to variations on the cypress tree.

Williamson said the lantern logo stakes Ghost River as Memphis’ first production brewery.

“The light is the leader. It’s at the front of the pack, and lanterns mean an adventure or new territory,” Williamson said. “We’ve been working so hard for growth and filling production that we missed out on the fun part of beer.”

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