First off, I hope everyone had a great and beer-filled holiday season. Well, I guess we can jump right into the third installment in my Q&A with Boscos and Ghost River co-owner and head brewer, Chuck Skypeck in which experimentation, collaboration, and Memphis are discussed.
Do you feel like you have become more experimental, more willing to push styles over time?
I think you have to look at that in two perspectives, and one of those is that when we opened Boscos, our four beers on tap were the Tennessee Cream Ale which still sells well whenever we brew it, the Germantown Alt— a German-style brown ale, a beer we called Bluff City Amber which kind of morphed into a pale ale over time, and a real mild winter warmer. When we first introduced an IPA in 1993 or ’94, it was only 38 or 40 IBUs which at the time was probably the hoppiest IPA east of the Mississippi. That was Bombay IPA, and that’s grown over the years to the IBUs it has now.
It’s really interesting to me when we take that beer to the [Great American Beer Festival], people will come up and taste it and say things like, “This isn’t an IPA.” It sells like crazy for us, and I’m not going to make it extremely hoppy for a couple of hop heads who tell me I should be ashamed for calling it an IPA. It used to be around 40 IBUs, and now it’s closer to 60. So in that sense yes, [we have experimented]. You see what people are buying and drinking over time. Lately, there’s been a gravitation to hoppier beers.
We’ve always pushed that envelope in terms of challenging our customers’ pallets like that. If you look at me putting rocks in beer in 1993, we’ve always been willing to experiment. And I guess there’s three aims with educational beers. One is experimental beers allow you educate: this is what this is and this is why it’s different, and of course experimental beers tend to create excitement, but the one thing that I like to make those kinds of beers that people are going to like and want to buy.
These beers take a lot of time and effort to make them worthwhile. We probably have 200 Boscos formulas, and we don’t have time to get around to all of them, and for some of them, it’s just not the time to brew them. The first time we brewed our Hefeweizen, we couldn’t give it away. It’s the same beer we’re brewing now, and it’s one of best selling special beers now. Things have their moments.
Could you also say something about the collaborative spirit among craft brewers?
I think that it’s out of necessity. I spoke about us having trouble getting equipment and ingredients when we first opened Boscos, it’s been really clear that we as small individual brewers going against these behemoth companies that have the ability to crush people in any number of ways. We have to have a spirit of cooperativeness, and the industry has always been that way.
There’s probably more sharing of information than the casual consumer knows. When I’ve got a question about anything from ingredients to production issues, we have a professional brewers forum where I’ll get dozens of answers the next day. None of us are going to significantly move the needle on the percentage of craft beer [sales] alone, and I think that everyone else has adopted the view that a rising tide floats all boats, so as craft brewers, we realize we’re all in this together.
There have been a lot of collaboration [between multiple breweries] on individual products as well, and I think that’s been interesting. We haven’t gotten into that mostly because we work in a kind of vacuum in Memphis.
Do you feel like there’s room for another craft brewery or brewpub in Memphis?
Oh, yeah. There’ve been a couple of breweries that have come and gone in Memphis over the years. We opened Boscos in December of 1992. In March of ’93, a brewpub opened up in downtown Memphis in the old Greyhound bus station and who remembers that? The folks that came from out of town that weren’t successful typically made bad location decisions. I think the important thing to understand about another brewery in town is that it’s not that growing interest in craft beer among consumers is going to mean that the brewery will be successful. It’s about how they operate that brewery and the business decisions they make.
In some ways, our operating for as long as we have in Memphis has been really difficult because it’s been rare that we’ve had neighbors that we could rely on for information or ingredients. If Boscos in Nashville, for instance, short on a particular ingredient, Blackstone is more than willing to help, and vic versa. We’ve never had that luxury in Memphis.
The assumption is that if someone opens up another craft brewery in Memphis, they’ll be passionate about beer, too, and they’ll be working as hard to educate as we have over the years.