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Spirited

Ghost River Brewing's new bottling line underscores local craft beer accomplishments.

Chuck Skypeck, head brewer and co-owner of Ghost River Brewing, doesn’t like the term “microbrew.”

“It’s too vague,” he says. “A brewery that produces about 2,000 barrels a year like [our sister brewpub] Boscos is considered a microbrewery, but so is a brewery that produces 2,000,000 barrels like Sam Adams.”

He prefers the term “craft beer” instead, and it’s more than semantics: Skypeck is dedicated to the craft of high-quality, fresh, local beer.

Ghost River Brewing started in 2008, producing draft beers (Golden Ale, Copperhead Red, Glacial Pale Ale, and seasonal beers) for local restaurants and off-the dock sales at its South Main brewery.

“We were successful with our brand,” Skypeck says. “We quickly started selling out of our entire stock of beer.”

This prompted their first expansion, which took the production capacity from 3,000 to 4,200 barrels a year. With the addition of its new bottling line this year, Ghost River expanded again. Skypeck anticipates a 6,000-barrel year in 2012.

The brewery’s immediate success and subsequent expansions are testaments to its public popularity, while a 2011 silver medal for Copperhead Red at the Great American Beer Festival vouches for its acclaim among beer aficionados. The addition of the bottling line represents a new era for the company — one that could usher in regional and even national opportunities. But not quite yet.

“It’s part of my business philosophy that if I can’t be successful in the local market first, then I have no business moving to a larger market,” Skypeck says. “And it’s part of my brewing philosophy that I want to create fresh, local beer to satisfy the Memphis demand first.”

Satisfying that Memphis demand has required a lot of hard work and flexibility. In just three short years, Ghost River has expanded twice. As soon as the end of October, Ghost River will be moving into grocery stores, where fans will start to see six packs of Ghost River Golden Ale. In keeping with Ghost River’s previous success, Skypeck is anticipating robust sales.

“I think we’ll be selling all we can make right away,” he says, hinting at the limitations of a small-scale brewery. “We could maybe expand a little more, and then after that we’d have to do something more drastic.”

So, will they?

“It’s like Yogi Berra said, ‘The future is hard to predict, especially when it hasn’t happened yet,’” says Skypeck. “But we know we want to grow organically.”

That means staving off the regional and national distributors clamoring for increasingly popular craft beers and instead focusing on perfecting the Ghost River brand in Memphis.

And that’s a process we’d all like to be a part of.

For more information, go to ghostriverbrewing.com.

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