Most brewers would be on edge, even nervous. On a 1999 tour of American breweries, Michael Jackson had scheduled a visit to Boscos Nashville Brewpub. Owner/brewer Chuck Skypeck watched, waited and listened as the acclaimed beer author tasted, contemplating the beer at hand. Having recently visited Bosco’s original brewpub in the suburban Memphis community of Germantown, the bearded Englishman posed a question to the brewer. “The IPA in Germantown doesn’t taste the same as it does here in Nashville. Why” he queried? Succinctly, the wizened brewer responded “why should it?” Jackson smiled, nodding approvingly. Though their history and experience vary, brewer Skypeck and author Jackson share common philosophies, at least when it comes to beer. Both would agree that individuality and creativity are as important, if not moreso, than any other ingredient in the making of great beer.
So just how did Skypeck ever get his “audacious idea” that he could open the first brewpub in Tennessee? Never a wine enthusiast, his early 1980s interest in beer was merely moderate because “there was no good beer” at the time. But by 1984 the Memphis-native had become an active homebrewer, so active that he opened a homebrewers supply store two years later. Piqued by the concept of craft brewed beer, he began visiting microbreweries and brewpubs, analyzing their successes, learning from their experiences. Eventually touring nearly 200 breweries, he spent as much time as possible at Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City and Free State Brewing in Lawrence, Kansas.
So when the Tennessee legislature, spurred on by the state’s beer distributors association, passed a law permitting brewpubs, Chuck was already on the move. The new regulation took effect in July 1992. By December of that year, Boscos Pizza Kitchen & Brewery was up and brewing in Germantown. As the first in the state, Skypeck and Boscos had to pave the pothole-riddled road for all to follow. In meeting after meeting, state and local officials work with the patient brewer to establish guidelines for this fledgling homegrown industry. From boiler permit to health department approval, even state tax revenuers had to deal for the first time with a brand new concept in their business paradigm. This was an entirely new Tennessee industry.
Nearly ten years later, Chuck’s idea – now reality in triplicate- is still rewarding. He “likes having a job” and enjoys what he’s doing everyday. And now, in his own humble style, he wants to give back. Along with Wynkoop Brewing owner John Hickenlooper and Rogue owner Jack Joyce, Chuck is Chairman of the Institute of Brewing Studies (IBS) Board of Advisors. In addition, he serves on the Board of Directors for BJCP, the beer judging certification association, and is a Member of the Board of Directors for the Association of Brewers, the body that overseas the IBS, the AHA, Brewers Publications and Brewing Matters. The latter organization runs the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup competition. It’s “exciting to work on both levels” of the industry, he says, because his work on the home front in Tennessee continues without end.
Besides the obvious, his personal goal at Boscos is “working to introduce craft brew to younger drinkers,” who are hounded by the media blitz of budmillercoors. Chuck strives to make interesting, drinkable beer, with little regard to stylistic categories. He has no favorite beer because he’s “not a favorites person.” Pursuing different beers for over 20 years, he readily admits that his tastes have changed. “Now ‘freshest beer’ is [his] main criteria.” That’s the “beauty of a small brewhouse. It encourages variety and freshness, though it does work a brewer hard.”
By January 1996, the Germantown brewpub was well established and under capable management. But Skypeck was not satisfied. He wanted to take his beer to new markets, to establish another pulpit for the almighty word of craft brewed beer. Leaving Germantown in capable hands, Chuck commissioned his second brewhouse in Nashville. An almost identical seven-barrel brewhouse, Boscos Nashville Brewhouse was Skypeck’s humble abode for over four years, until seasoned veteran brewer Fred Scheer signed on in April 2000. That left Chuck just enough time to move back to Memphis, where plans and equipment were being assembled for Boscos number three. Located in the Midtown section of Memphis, just across from the original TGIFriday, Boscos Squared opened its doors for business in August 2000.
Skypeck is amused that some industry insiders look at the three Boscos operations as a brewpub chain. He correctly notes that each has its own identity, its own loyal patrons with different drinking preferences. Boscos eschews cookie cutter sameness. Chuck’s preference is “to be a neighborhood place rather than the next Applebees.”
With three of eight taps available for seasonal brews, each brewer has ample artistic license. Combined, the brewing trio has over 50 years of experience (more than half of it Fred’s). Together – though B2 was open only the last five months of the year – the brewpubs produced 1500 barrels in 2000. 2001 looks like a 2000 barrel year.
These fresh and various Boscos beers were not derived necessarily to fit a particular style. Skypeck’s recipes have been honed through the years to suit Boscos’ patrons, regardless of category specifications. “Categories are a US invention anyway,” states the knowledgeable brewer who is determined in his fight against “style nazis” who want everything by the book.
From Boscos beer offerings, it’s easy to see that conformist is not in Skypeck’s vocabulary. Famous Flaming Stone Bier, brewed using ancient brewing technique, was studied and R&D-ed diligently before becoming a successful, award-winning addition to the Boscos lineup. Medium bodied with residual sweetness and a token hint of burnt caramel, the result of wood oven heated stones added to the boil and later to the fermentation vessel, this is one of the few stone beers brewed worldwide. It hit “ a homerun with customers” and is Boscos best seller, followed closely by IPA. Sporting 50 IBUs, this Americanized English ale is one of many reasons, according to philosopher Chuck, that people come to Boscos- “for adventurous things.” “It’s simple and elegant,” brewed with Cascades and Centennial hops. Bright orange-gold, this tasty IPA is hoppy all over, tickling the tongue with intervals of spicy hoppiness. In its cask version, IPA carries a thick white head of foam. Its citrusy/grapefruit finish, bitter but not overpowering, is harder to detect in its carbonated rendition.
Chuck uses his IPA as a learning tool, often offering both his American IPA along side a more traditional English IPA at a special two-fer price. Almost unanimously, customers prefer the bolder US recipe. Similarly, when Boscos first introduced Hefeweizen, Chuck couldn’t give it away. Many free-tastes later, the Hefe became Boscos’ best selling summer seasonal. The Belgian Wit style, laced with coriander and dried orange peel, is Boscos’ newest educational and marketing challenge. Initial response has been underwhelming. Chuck will not give up without a fight.
Ruby-hued Isle of Skye Scottish Ale is sultry, slinky in smooth exuberance, while Boscos Brown, done close to English style, is mildly malty, barely sweet within its medium body. Presenting faint bitterness amidst thick malty taste, Ed’s Porter is the year-round dark brew. Darkness truly is embodied in the richness of roasted malt and dark caramel flavor. Boscos Wheat is also smooth and fruity with rounded sweet finish, while copper-colored Dunkel is strongly sweet, emphasized with a quick tart-sweet bite for the finale.
Unlike other, more-typical brewpubs, Boscos emhasizes cask conditioned ales, a tradition for the Tennessee brewpubs since 1994. Chuck and his brewers have won multiple Real Ale Festival awards. Six in 2001 alone. As part of the customer educational program, each brewpub holds its own Cellarman competition. Each weekday a drawing is held to select a happy-hour patron to tap the firkin. Once each year, a grand champion Cellarman is selected from among the daily winners. The spoils of this celebration is a trip to the Great American Beer fest in Denver. Boscos also keeps their own bottle-conditioned beers in a 53 degree cooler. While state law requires that these 22 ounce delicacies be consumed on premises, selling cask and bottle conditioned beer in a tough market is another in a long list of out-of-the-ordinary things that brewer Chuck and his Boscos brethren do to bring their beer to the people.
Though Boscos has not adopted a catchy motto or slogan, when queried thusly, brewer Chuck sums it all up. “Boscos offers freshness and variety and we take care of our customers.” Michael Jackson is still smiling.
From an email from Owner Chuck Skypeck in December 2011:“Boscos is 20 years old in 2012! Only one more year until we can legally drink a beer! One of the things that I think get’s lost in translation sometimes with a brew pub is how many beers we actually brew each year. So while we only have eight on tap at any given time, we will offer 40 to 50 different beers a year. And best of all, they are always fresh! To bring this to peoples attention, we are going to have a program in 2012 that will reward customers who try twenty of our beers in our 20th year. There will be special recognition for anyone that tries all the beers we brew in 2012. Customers will be able to visit our website, www.boscosbeer.com to get details. We are going to pull a few formulas out of mothballs, brew current favorites and, as always, come up with new brews.
As has been our tradition for a number of years, we will have a Fat Tuesday Brewmaster’s Beer Dinner on Fat Tuesday. Once again, Fat Tuesday is on a Tuesday, Tuesday, February 21, 2012. Five-course meal paired with one of our handcrafted beers. $50. Reservations required. The menu will also be on the website by our publication date.
Cask Conditioned Stout at all location on St. Patrick’s Day., March 17, 2012.
Boscos Squared in Memphis will once again participate in SoulsvilleUSA’s and the Memphis Grizzlies Staxtacular, benefitting the Soulsville Charter School. www.soulsvillecharterschool.org/ Boscos Squared will brew the official beer of Staxtacular, Shaft on Draft. Staxtacular 2012 is Saturday, February 11, 2012.
Boscos Pizza Kitchen & Brewery
7615 W. Farmington, #30
Germantown, TN 38138
2120 Madison Avenue
Memphis, TN 38104-6502
Boscos Nashville Brewpub
1805 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37212-3705