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Memphis In the Meantime

August, 2001

By Bobby Bush

This was my first trip to Memphis proper, ever. We were there on a mission. Yep there was a beer fest, some great music and several new brewpubs to add to my list, now totaling 527 US breweries. Memphis is not only a great city for the blues, but the metropolitan area covers nearly 300 square miles and is home to 1.1 million people and four brewpubs. Unfortunately, in the summertime itís hotter than hell and more humid than a shower.

But we made the most of the sauna weather with a trip to Boscos Squared during its first anniversary party and Cellarman of the Year celebration. This Overton Plaza brewpub, which sits almost directly across from the original TGIFriday, was a whirlwind of activity as we sneaked through the door. A festive crowd was gathered at the long rectangular island bar. Chuck Skypeck, master brewer behind all three Boscos locations, was making merry behind the bar. Drawing a ticket from a bucket he screamed the winning number. A door prize was bestowed upon a lucky patron.

Skypeckís congregation consisted of previous winners of Boscosí weekday cellarman contest in which the daily winner is allowed to tap a tiny keg of cask conditioned ale. Of those 250 applicants, most were one hand for the grand prize- a trip for two to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver in late September. Similar drawings were also held at Boscosí Germantown (east Memphis) and Nashville locations.

Amidst all the hullabaloo, we managed to sample some of Skypeckís great brew. Hefeweizen was lemon-esque, smooth with a tart finish. Famous Flaming Stone Bier was fruitier than the Nashville-brewed version. It was medium bodied with a slightly sour closure. Wheat was also smooth and fruity with rounded sweet finish, while copper-colored Dunkel was strongly sweet, emphasized with a quick tart-sweet bite for the finale. Ruby-hued Isle of Skye Scottish Ale was sultry, slinky in smooth exuberance, while IPA worked the opposite extreme. Bright orange-gold, this tasty ale was hoppy all over, tickling the tongue with intervals of spicy hoppiness. In its cask version, IPA carried a thick white head of foam. Its citrusy/grapefruit finish revealed a dose of Cascades hops that, while bitter but not overpowering, was harder to detect in its carbonated rendition. Boscos Brown was mildly malty, barely sweet within its medium body. Presenting a faint bitterness, Edís Porter was dark in taste. Darkness was embodied in the richness of roasted malt and dark caramel taste.

This time we were able to sample Boscos bottle conditioned ale. Well, at least one, theyíd given all the Wheat away as door prizes. Stored at 53 degrees, Famous Flaming Stone Bier was decanted from a 22 ounce bottle into our pint glasses. Foamy and much richer than the draft, this brew was provocative in taste and presentation.

The next morning I had time for a quick run by the original Boscos Pizza Kitchen & Brewery in Germantown Heights, a Memphis suburb. This cramped kitchen, complete with open brick oven, and bar restaurant with a small copper-clad brewery in the back was just greeting Sunday lunch diners. Situated in the bustling confines of Saddle Creek shopping center, the beers of choice, with one exception, were identical to those of its Memphis sibling, though all were brewed on site. So thatís what I tried. Brewer Jeff Opielís Prohibition Pilsner was gold and cold. Beneath its creamy white froth was a pleasant light lager accented by bittersweet aftertaste. Boscos in Germantown opened for business in December 1992 and lays stake to being ďTennesseeís Original Brew Pub.Ē For more info on the Boscos trio see www.boscosbeer.com.

From there it was a quick jump over to Hops Restaurant Bar Brewery. Open since September 1998, the brewers slot had recently been filled by Katherine Wood. She had the typical Hops brews on tap. Clearwater Light, Lightning Bold Gold, Hammerhead Red and a seasonal Bavarian-style unfiltered Wheat beer. I ordered a pint of Hammerhead and forgot to ask for a room temp glass. Low-and-behold, this Hopsí glasses were not caked with ice. The $2 pint of Red was clean, fruity with a tart citrus finish. It was a little over-carbonated but actually a nice session drink. Bartender Mike Simpson (no kin to Bart) was a friendly, helpful kid. The Florida-based Hops chain, which has more breweries than any other US company, needs a few more brewers like Katherine Woods to go around.

Thatís it for Memphis, beer-wise, but the city has much much more to offer in terms of entertainment. Just one suggestion, stay away in July in August.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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