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VOL. 131 | NO. 180 | Thursday, September 8, 2016

Memphis Brewers Say Success Breeds Success

By Madeline Faber

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DREW BARTON

Three years after Memphis’ craft brewing scene exploded, the city is poised for immense growth.

“There’s no reason why dozens of breweries couldn’t open in the city,” said Drew Barton, co-founder of Memphis Made Brewing Co.

Barton spoke about the local beer industry along with Kevin Eble, managing partner of Hammer & Ale, and Brice Timmons, co-founder of High Cotton Brewing Co., on the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines.”

BRICE TIMMONS

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

Before 2013, Timmons said Memphis’ local beer industry didn’t get as much attention. Ghost River stood alone as the tri-state area’s production brewery. Now in its 10th year, Ghost River is bridging recent trends by creating an open-to-the-public taproom at its Downtown facility. The latest wave of craft beer consumers care about diverse, local offerings in a unique environment, Eble said.

KEVIN EBLE

At his craft-beer focused restaurant, Eble will often bring in local brewers to give talks about the beer. He regularly rotates offerings so that people always have something new to try.

“It’s gotten busier and busier over the past three years, especially in Memphis. We’re kind of catching up to the rest of the country,” Eble said.

Barton, who got his start brewing in the craft beer capital of Asheville, N.C., said Asheville is now booming with more than two dozen breweries. Memphis has four breweries and one more, Crosstown Brewing Co., planned for the Crosstown Concourse campus.

Barton believes Memphis is far from reaching its saturation point and the market has a strong enough customer base to support many more breweries. However, at a certain point the craft brewers will have to break the Shelby County seal.

“The more breweries that are going to be here, the more breweries that are going to have to look at selling their beer outside of here,” Barton said.

Wiseacre is one of those breweries poised to break out regionally. The brewery is considering a move from Broad Avenue in Midtown to the Mid-South Coliseum in an effort to increase its production to 100,000 barrels of beer a year. Timmons said that move would push Wiseacre up into the top 15 craft beer producers in the country. Since its founding in 2013, Wiseacre has expanded four times and has reached capacity on Broad.

“Those guys have had a plan from day one to be big,” Timmons said.

High Cotton and Memphis Made, which only sell in Shelby County, believe national notoriety for Wiseacre would be a boon to Memphis.

“I think that what we’ve seen in other cities, when one brewery gets really big, the smaller breweries end up being able to be niche markets, and the big brewery becomes a draw and little breweries are like the interesting exhibits in a museum,” Timmons said.

Local breweries don’t necessarily see themselves in competition with each other for customers, he added. In the big picture, having more craft breweries puts Memphis on the map for out-of-town beer lovers who want to tour the city’s offerings.

Timmons said Memphis could become a national brewing capital. The water is abundant, the real estate and labor markets are available and inexpensive, and Memphis’ distribution networks are unparalleled. What are seen as challenges in the “craft brewing meccas” of Colorado, California and Oregon come easily to brewers in Memphis.

“I think this industry in Memphis could have happened a long time ago, but it took a while for all of us to figure it out,” Barton said.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 0 131 1,047
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 19 170
BUILDING PERMITS 28 305 3,056
BANKRUPTCIES 25 98 716
BUSINESS LICENSES 4 26 302
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0