Ghost River Brewing has always produced great beers that are exemplars of a certain style. But for a seasonal release they wanted to think a little outside the box — or can. To do that, they looked inward to Memphis as inspiration for their Grind-N-Shine Coffee Cream Ale.
"Grind-N-Shine is not our first coffee beer," says Suzanne Feinstone, Ghost River's director of marketing. "Ugly Magic was our first collaboration with Ugly Mug." And while dark beer and coffee are a natural fit, Ghost River's clever twist on the style was to make a coffee beer with a cream ale, a thoroughly American style that started in the middle of last century. The beer has aptly been described as "the bastard child of English ale and German lager." That's as accurate a description as I know. My only issue with it is that I didn't come up with it first.
- Courtesy Baby Grand Instagram (@bbygrnd)
First available in the brewery's tap room in 2016, Grind-N-Shine is a light-bodied cream ale flavored with roasted coffee beans, then a little vanilla to lighten the whole thing up. It's a malty beer that, like a lot of cream ales, floats on the palate. This one, however, does so without losing the deep, roasted flavors. It's a good beer for malt lovers and has returned to the tap room seasonally — and is now also available around town in cans.
Now ... about those cans.
Breaking from its usual branded-label design for its package bottles, Ghost River partnered with local artist Quantavious "Toonky" Worship, whose murals can be seen around the city on walls, trucks, and T-shirts. His colorful work, inspired by graffiti artists, is vibrant and cartoonish and seemingly alive.
The beer was named for the "grind" of late nights and the "shine" of the next morning, and both are captured in Toonky's exaggerated bloodshot eye that stares back at you from the can. "The 'eye' on the Grind-N-Shine label is a fun play with many levels of meaning," Feinstone says. "Toonky's murals are a part of the city's backdrop, and his GNS can art design just feels like Memphis."
When the first Grind-N-Shine keg was tapped this season in late February, Toonky's work was on display in the taproom. And that alone says something about Memphis, that one of our local art shows is held in a local brewery. I don't know what it says, exactly, but it can't be a bad thing.
Just because you can buy six-packs of Toonky's art around town, though, doesn't mean that you shouldn't drop in for a pint in Ghost River's taproom down on South Main. Or, should I say "South Mane"? Outside is Toonky's GNS "Eye," and inside it is all raw brick and exposed beams and industrial this and that. In short, a perfect watering hole.
As the original Memphis craft brewer, Ghost River was looking for a distinctly Memphis vibe, both on the can and in the glass. I think they hit the nail on the head here. The brilliance of a light-bodied but deep-flavored coffee beer is a solid fit. Like a thinking adult's Red Bull and vodka.
The friendly bartender down at the taproom called the pint a "breakfast beer." My personal favorite is that term those pedantic Germans use, a Muntermacher, which means something like an "eye-opener." That these Ghost River folks run such a tight operation in a culture that thinks drinking a beer at 8:30 a.m. before heading into the office is a perfectly reasonable thing to do makes me wonder if our American "no drinking until after work" dictum may be using the wrong end of the stick.