Memphis-brewed Beers Bring Flavor to West Tennessee
You’ve probably been too distracted moving along Beale, South Main and Elvis Presley Boulevard to consider what’s under the streets of Memphis. So, I’ll tell you: four natural aquifers flowing with high-quality water – free of toxins and that mineral-y taste. Beer is 95% water, you know. Imagine how good that makes beer brewed in Memphis. Better yet, stop imagining and taste it. My favorite way comes courtesy of Boscos Squared. It’s a brew pub in my neighborhood (Midtown), meaning that the full menu is complemented by beer brewed right onsite – you’ll find eight selections at any given time, including signatures like the Famous Flaming Stone (which attributes its caramel character to a German tradition of lowering wood-fired stones into the beer during the brewing process); Bombay IPA (an “intensely hoppy” amber) and Midtown Brown (a classic English-style nut brown ale whose chocolate malt flavors translate into nutty sweetness).
As you can tell from their descriptions, Boscos beers aren’t average. It’s as though they’re formulated to prove that beer makes a better companion to food than wine – an assertion that Boscos’ co-owner and head brewer Chuck Skypeck convinced me of when he said, “I can tell you a lot of flavors that are in beers that you will not find in wine. And, most wines aren’t carbonated, [though] that acidity really enhances food flavors and refreshes the palate.” And so Chuck keeps on innovating beer formulations – each one based on thoughtfully-selected hops, malt, yeast – and that superior Memphis water. As soon as a variety runs out, he replaces it with something else. That amounts to about 50 different varieties appearing on tap over the course of a year. This week, that means an earthy concoction (yet to be named) starring fresh-squeezed West Tennessee sorghum. And with the restaurant’s 20th anniversary nearing (on Dec. 26), look for a celebratory play on a Dunkel, a dark German lager. You can taste what Chuck’s up to during the Boscos Squared happy hour, Monday through Friday between 3:30 and 7:00 p.m., when pints are $1 off. Or, treat yourself to Sunday Brunch (10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.), set to the sounds of Memphis songstress Joyce Cobb. Personally, I like to go just about any time to sit outside – the restaurant’s deck is just right for watching the revitalization of Overton Square and sampling Chuck’s latest “experiments” – order a full sampler for three-ounce pours of all eight. And keep this in your back pocket: Chuck’s favorite pairing is a Midtown Brown Ale with Boscos Germantown Purist pizza – the beer, based on a malt roasted to the point of caramelization, “pairs beautifully with anything you’re going to grill,” Chuck told me, referring to the pizza’s barbecued chicken, smoked mozzarella and preparation in a wood-fired oven (the same oven that heats the stones for Boscos Famous Flaming Stone beer, natch). Souvenir potential: In 2008, Chuck diverted some of the water from the Memphis Sands Aquifer into Ghost River Brewing. Though Ghost River brews more than three times what Boscos brews annually, it’s still very much a craft brewery, releasing just under 6,000 barrels a year. Look for Ghost River on tap and in bottles around town, or call ahead to buy it right off the dock of the brewery’s cool South Main location. Because Ghost River brews for a larger audience, you can anticipate seven or so different brands throughout the year (Chuck said to get ready for Ghost River’s winter seasonal, 1887 IPA – named for the year the city first tapped into the Memphis Sands Aquifer).
Beyond Memphis: You can visit Boscos in Nashville and Franklin, too. Chuck influences the formulas, though Nashville takes care of brewing everything for the middle Tennessee locations. Something else brewing: A group of home brewers-turned-business partners plans to open High Cotton Brewing Co. within walking distance of Sun Studio by early 2013, with hopes to add a tasting room in spring. Construction and permitting are in the works for the micro-brewery that, as far as I can tell, will distinguish itself by its risk/reward philosophy: I tasted High Cotton’s La Salle Saison at Art on Tap, an annual beer tasting hosted by the Dixon Gallery & Gardens. The peppery, lemony Saison was by far my favorite beer of the evening, and when I complimented High Cotton partner/brewer Brice Timmons on it, I understood why: Brice calls High Cotton’s La Salle Saison a “spooky style of beer” for its inherent volatility (seasonal effects and uncontrolled temperatures during fermentation create a product that’s different every time, requiring the brewer to learn how the process and product will shift under varying circumstances…fitting for a beer named after a French explorer who ventured to establish a fort on the Memphis bluffs in the 17th century, no?). Do you have a favorite local brew? Let us know in the comments.