Local Beers You Can Believe In
Memphis folks making beer down the street from you.
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Without a doubt, Boscos blazed the trail for the modern craft beer scene in Memphis. Founded by Jerry Feinstone and Chuck Skypeck, this locally owned brewpub opened its first location in Saddle Creek Shopping Center in 1992, moving it to Overton Square in 2002. Nine years later, in 2011, Skypeck and Feinstone opened Ghost River Brewing downtown off South Main, and the brewery’s flagship Golden Ale and Glacial Pale Ale began flowing to Memphis bars and restaurants, and then into bottles that could be found in stores all over town.
But craft-beer culture in Memphis is still in the very early stages. Fresh questions arise daily at The Growler, a 24-tap bar and growler shop in Cooper-Young. David Smith, co-owner of The Growler, says he’s always happy to initiate new customers with a quick “30-second spiel” on how the whole process works. Much of the time that conversation begins at the beginning: What exactly is a growler, anyway?
Basically, it’s a jug of beer. Growlers are typically stumpy, small-handled, glass vessels that look like the moonshine jugs seen in cartoons or Ozark gift shops. They usually hold 64 ounces, or four pints. Growler shops will sell the jugs to customers, with a separate charge to fill it with beer, of course. Bring the jug back to the shop and you’ll only be charged for the beer.
Beer education will continue in Memphis as the industry becomes better established here, Smith says. Craft breweries make beer in small batches. This means they have the flexibility to change quickly the styles of beer they make. Brewmasters usually time new offerings with the changing seasons. Lighter beers usually come out in the spring and summer, for example, and darker, richer beers are more likely to be seen in the fall and winter.
“It’s changing constantly and you can always test your palate with something new,” says Smith from behind the bar at The Growler. “It’s exciting and it keeps people in tune with what’s going on the beer world.”
Consumer tastes are already changing in Memphis. Alan Creasy, a bartender at Celtic Crossing for eight years, says he sees new patterns every month. When Ghost River first came around, for example, patrons asked for it by name, passing up international powerhouses like Guinness, Smithwicks, Harp, and more.
Now those patrons are better-educated. “If we had had five Ghost River beers on tap in the past, we could have handed any one of them [to the customer], said it was brewed in the 901 area code, and they would have been happy with it,” Creasy says. “Now, customers are much more discerning about the beer they drink.”
Patrons will now ask which particular Ghost River, which particular Wiseacre, which Memphis Made, or which High Cotton beer is on tap, and which of those beers are seasonal, Creasy says. And this demand for craft beer now has reached mainstream Memphis establishments. Even Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, the iconic Memphis rib institution that prides itself on tradition, now serves Ghost River and Wiseacre beers.