By: Ezra Wheeler
Although Kelvin Kolheim, the founder of Beale Street Brewing Co., takes an undeniable sense of pride from owning the city’s first (and only) Black-owned brewery, he’s clear that he wants his business to reflect the city of Memphis as a whole. “When we first launched, a friend told me ‘man, you’re going to be able to help every brewery in town by introducing a whole different demographic to craft beer,’ to which I said, ‘well that’s great, a rising tide lifts all boats’,” he says. He points out that one of Beale Street Brewing’s taglines is “BEERrrbody,” a phrase that illustrates the business’s commitment to celebrating community through the love of craft beer. “From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to make a beer that was for all Memphians,” he says.
Even before he became a brewery owner, Kolheim had a long history of celebrating Memphis and investing in the city’s economic growth, notably serving as the Director of Economic Development with the Greater Memphis Chamber for eleven years. That all changed when he was given a home brewing kit from a friend, which he says immediately reminded him of another one of his personal passions, cooking. “Coming from a culinary perspective, I realized that I could manipulate flavors and come up with new combinations with the beer, just like I’d always done with food. I just got bit by the brewing bug,” he says with a chuckle.
Kolheim decided to turn his hobby into a business after participating in the Pink Palace’s Science of Beer competition. “At that time, which was about six years ago, Memphis was definitely underserved when it came to craft breweries, so I saw an opportunity,” he says. The venture eventually became a true family affair, with Kolheim employing several friends and family members to help bring his dream into fruition. “We’ve got a strong, tight-knit team, which is important for any business,” he tells me.
While creating delicious and innovative beer will always be at the heart of any successful brewery, Beale Street Brewing Co. has also earned a reputation for their beer’s names and artwork, many of which pay homage to the city’s musical heritage. “I’m a huge Memphis music fan and knew that I wanted to celebrate that legacy, so that element has been there since the beginning,” he says. While Isaac Hayes, Al Green, and Three 6 Mafia are all referenced in Beale Street Brewing’s beers, a special relationship has formed with hip-hop legends 8Ball & MJG, who collaborated with the brewery on the beer “Space Age Sippin’,” a play on the group’s song “Space Age Pimpin’.” “Basically, I just told them my story and pitched the idea to them, and they loved it…I’m just so glad that the beer lived up to the legends themselves and that they’ve been so involved.”
In addition to forming relationships with local musical icons, Kolheim and Beale Street Brewing have also forged bonds with Memphis other craft breweries. “The Memphis brew scene is really great and supportive as a whole and I’m really glad to be a part of it,” he says. He points to his efforts last summer of bringing the Memphis brew scene together to produce a beer called “Black is Beautiful” as a particularly memorable moment of unity. The project, which was started by Weathered Souls Brewing Company in San Antonio, aimed to bring attention to the injustices faced by people of color by donating the proceeds of the beer to organizations that help support police brutality reform. “We had an overwhelming response from the other breweries in town, and it marked the first time all of the city’s breweries had collaborated on one project together,” he says.
Unlike Memphis’ other craft breweries, Beale Street Brewing does not currently have a taproom, although Kolheim says that finding a permanent home is now a top priority. “We’ve been looking for a space for a few years now, but of course Covid put that a bit on the backburner. However, we’re currently looking for a taproom Downtown, so keep your eyes peeled,” he says.
Until then, Memphians can find Beale Street Brewing’s current selection of beers basically anywhere that craft beers are sold, as well as on tap at various restaurants and bars around town. The brewery is also currently working on several new beers, which should be released next month. “We’re working on two new beers to celebrate our one-year anniversary, which should be out in March, and we’re also working on a beer for the virtual Memphis Beer Fest, which is a collaboration with Bosco’s called ‘It’s 901 Somewhere’,” says Kolheim. “One this is for certain: folks can expect a lot more of the same love and energy in our new releases.”