Columbia World Beer Festival-One Great Time
The gang from Tradesman Brewing in Charleston back from their tasting expedition (except David on the right who was left minding the shop).
This is the Sixth World Beer Festival I’ve attended in Columbia. Each time I’ve tried to come up with a plan to cover the more than 200 brews and stick to it. Each year I fail miserably because once you start tasting beers and talking to some amazing brewers you miss about half the brews you wanted to try and the four hours is up.
This year I decided to go simple. Hit as many South Carolina brewers as I can and don’t bother shooting video. My news photographer roots tells it just slows you down.
I did pretty good this year. I hit 14 breweries and I was impressed with each. I still wish I could have stopped by Legal Remedy Brewing to find out how they got their name or check out Birds Fly South Ale Project….a cool name. But I figure there’s always next year.
This year’s festival, which the All About Beer folks estimated would have 5,500-6,000 between the two sessions (the snow might have caused that dip below 6,000), had 20 South Carolina brewers together in a South Carolina Beer Garden on the lower level. It was fairly easy to move from one to another but despite the ease I only hit 9 breweries and I shouldn’t count 3 of those because their brews were in the VIP area and I could only talk to the volunteers.
But that’s the beauty of a beer festival. You get to explore new brews and if you are smart you don’t rush it. You’ll get your money’s worth. You can’t possibly try 200 brews and or 250 if you get the VIP ticket. Beside if you get the VIP ticket you are lucky to try 10 brews because many of their brews are in 10-13% ABV range and face it, sometimes the alcohol takes front seat and the taste is meaningless.
Dan Gridley and his farm grown products
Friends, brews and education. Speaking of education I met Dan Gridley of Farm Boy Farms, who I had misunderstood to be a new self-contained brewery… making beer with their own hops, malts and grains on their farm in Pittsboro, North Carolina (about 20 miles southwest of Chapel Hill). I got that impression because their website is www.farmboybrewery.com.
But they aren’t making brew and they aren’t new, they have been growing the ingredients for beer, starting with 2-row and 6-row barley, since 2009. They have been working with NC State, Appy State and Virginia Tech to find barley, hops and other grains that aren’t normally grown in the South that will thrive in the warmer climate. Growing it locally provides the freshest ingredients to brewers and homebrewers in North Carolina. They are growing hops that you typically don’t find outside of Montana or Canada.
They constantly test their products to make sure they meet all quality standards expected by brewers. They prefer low crop yields if it means providing only the finest ingredients. They control the entire process from planting, harvesting, debearding, seed cleaning, malting, kilning and packaging.
Gridley had a booth setup outside the lower hall, displaying hops, barley, and grains they’ve produced on the farm. The aroma of fresh barley is quite amazing.
Right now Farm Boy Farms only provides the ingredients…. “We just sell the ingredients, we don’t brew anything. At least not yet. Our goal is to some day produce our own beer.
I was possibly the first person to get a tasting sample as the doors popped open at noon to start the first session. I had my tasting glass in hand and Gridley poured me some Ponysaurus Rye Ale. This 4.5% rye pale ales is produced by Ponysaurus in Durham using Farm Boy Farms ingredients. This brew wasn’t on the main festival sheet so if you didn’t check out his display you missed a really nice rye brew. I haven’t had a rye-based ale in quite sometime. This one had a really long finish that turns slightly bitter. There is a sensation of sweetness on the sides of your mouth. Shame Ponysaurus wasn’t there with some of their other brews listed on their website. .
I headed inside to check out River Rat out of Columbia. They are one of the newer kids on the block being in their third full year of production. I had tried their Hazelnut Brown Ale during the media briefing on Friday and wanted to check out their other offerings. Their barrel-aged Sir Barley Wine was amazing. I talked to Nate Warner who was pouring under their tent. He said the Sir Barley Wine was a seasonal because it takes almost a year to ferment. There is a quick intense sweetness on the front that mellows out to a nice heavy mouthfeel that is incredible. It’s an English Style ale that comes in at 11% ABV. It was a great way to start my search for South Carolina Breweries.
The River Rat Crew serving up Sir Barley Wine and My Morning Stout
Before leaving I took a quick sample of their My Morning Stout, a nice breakfast stout with toasty chocolate flavors and hints of vanilla and their Pilsner, a Czech-style lager that was very light in body but being a Bohemian style was a tiny bit bitter on the finish.
J. T. Stellnach of Holy City Brewing.
Next stop was Holy City Brewing out of North Charleston. Brewery rep J.T. Stellmach was serving up brews. Unfortunately he was having tap issues and could only serve their Pluff Mud Porter. Their Overly Friendly IPA would have to wait for another day.
He said Pluff Mud is one of their flagship brews. Very dark in color but amazingly light mouthfeel. Little chocolate notes, starts off really smooth and goes dry on the finish. This is an American Porter that (many find American Porters are best served during cooler times of the year) is light enough to drink when things warm up especially at 5.5% ABV. (Check out their website, they’ve got an impressive list of brews they’ve experimented with since starting their operaton in 2011. It will also explain what pluff mud is).
Bryan Fisher, President of Seminar Brewing
Next door to Holy City was Seminar Brewing. I met up with Bryan Fisher who was enjoying his role as supervisor and beer educator. I say that somewhat in jest because he actually is a college professor. They have been producing beer in Florence, SC for “one year and 9 months.”
That being said you can sense where the name “Seminar” comes from. He said that many years ago he and others met on Wednesday nights to discuss homebrewing and beer. Most of the attendees were from the faculty and staff of Francis Marion University. It didn’t sound quite right that they were having a beer meeting so they started calling it their “Wednesday Night Seminar.”
Once they got serious about actually starting a brewery they said the name Seminar just seemed natural. Fisher is one of 5 owners, which breaks down to 2 professors, 1 medical doctor, a retiree and a graphic artist. Nice mix I would say.
They are only producing draft beer and do a little bit of bottling but their space is small so regular bottling is in the future. They available in South Carolina from Greenville, Rock Hill, Columbia and down to Charleston.
Seminar had 3 brews with them: Citrocity and Alpha Crucis, both IPAs; and Craver, a peanut butter porter. The Citrocity is their flagship. Its citra hop gives it grapefruit and mango notes. A little dark for most IPAs. Citrus on the nose. Got a malt backbone to counter the heavy hops. Fisher called this a crossover IPA for people who don’t usually care for IPAs.
Fisher’s personal favorite is the Alpha Crucis. This brew’s signature hop is from New Zealand called Southern Cross. The name of the beer comes from the brightest start in the Southern Cross constellation: Alpha Crucis. Heavy body, lemon up front, pine resin at the end. All the flavor of this beer is from the hop. The barley is just there to give it a backbone. 7.6% ABV. Nice little IPA with a different flavor profile. I seldom taste something lemony that also has a heavy body.
Last was a beer that was supposed to be in the VIP area but due to a mixup was on the floor. Fisher said ” if you are expecting Jif you’ll be disappointed.” Some brewers will use a peanut extract in the brew and will taste like medicine. The Craver Peanut Buter Porter, uses dehydrated peanuts. The peanut aroma is lighter than expected. “Nice residual peanut flavor on top of an English style porter.”
It’s 5.3% ABV. My pour was one of the first off the barrel and was a bit cloudy. Fisher said this is typically not a cloudy brew and that the beer was coming off the bottom and was picking up some extra color. I’m not sure this was affecting the flavor or not. It has a hoppy peanut taste. Unfortunately they were stuck with putting the barrel in the ice bucket with the other 2 brews so it was colder than the way they prefer to serve it. This brew, he said, is better when it warms up.
They have a tasting room that is open Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings. Don’t bother stopping by on Wednesday nights. They are attending their weekly seminar.
The Tradesman’s crew. From left is Hank Hanna, Chris Winn, Titus Haney and David LeBlanc (Haney and LeBlanc are with Bear Island Distributors).
Right next door was Tradesman Brewing out of Charleston. I found David J. LeBlanc, of Bear Island Distributors, serving up samples from a tap table made from a yellow toolbox. They were serving up 3 brews–they only had 2 listed on the sheet. They decided to bring a little extra. Almost all their brews have contruction related names. On tap they had Bricklayer Red Ale, Welder’s Agave Wheat Ale and Pipewrench Porter.
Out of nowhere came the rest of the Tradesman Brewing crew, headed up by Chris Winn, one of the co-owners. They had been on a beer expedition, seeing what the other brewers have been up to. Hank Hanna, a “friend” of the brewery told me “Beer is the basis of civilization. If it weren’t for beer there wouldn’t cities. It forced nomadic people to stop so they could make beer.” With the history lesson over I continued to sample their brews.
Winn, whose business card reads “Nice Guy, Likes Bikes,” said they have been in production since April 2014. They are all draft production right now and will probably bottle/can in the future. They are available only in South Carolina right now. Everything is small batch and unfiltered. They tend to use large malt profiles.
David, of Bear Island Distributors, serves up brew from their toolbox tap
The Welder’s Agave Wheat is a pretty amazing little brew. “Drinks like a beer” said LeBlanc. It has a malty body and a sweetness from the agave nectar that is even from first sip to the last. This brew has no ups and downs. It does drink like a beer. At 7.0 ABV you might pace yourself. I wouldn’t mind getting a growler to share back home.
Co-owner Chris Winn, nice guy who likes bikes
Bricklayer Red Ale is an Imperial Red. Winn called it a double red. Barley malt sweetness (relatively sweet not “sweet”), toffee flavors, a dry clean finish from the Cascade hops.
Last was the Pipewrench Porter. A smoky, roasty porter. Dry and clean, this traditional porter has smoked pecans in it. Nutty and smoky on the nose. The dryness makes it much lighter than the darker color would make you think. This is one of the dryest finishes of any porter I’ve had.
Ozzie Shuler, of Swamp Cabbage
Next up was Swamp Cabbage. I met Ozzie Shuler one of the co-owners. He said his Columbia-based brewery is 1-1/2 years old and is currently draft only but has plans to bottle within the next few months.
Native South Carolinians probably know what a swamp cabbage is. It’s the nickname for a young palmetto palm found in the many swamps in the Low Country and has the appearance of a small bush or cabbage. Lopping off the top reveals the edible heart of palm. Seems like a cool name for a brewery.
Shuler says their flagship brew is ASB, a hopped up version of an ESB.
They were pouring four brews on Saturday, including their Session IPA, a seasonal brew that has some honey and lemon notes to it. Got a burst of different flavors up front I couldn’t quite process. Then it shows a little lemon as it jumps from being slightly smooth to dry. The lingering flavor reminds me of a lemon cough drop. This is a session brew and wouldn’t mind having a full session rather than a 2 oz. pour.
Their Dunkelweizen is a dark German wheat beer. Has the banana flavors you might find in some Belgians. It is very dark and cloudy but is much lighter in body than your nose preps you for. That lighter mouthfeel and hint of sour on the finish makes it a “girl friend beer” according to Shuler. If you want to look cool drinking a dark brew but really want something lighter then this is the beer.
They also had a VIP brew, their Anniversary Ale which celebrates their 1 year anniversay. It was supposed to be in the VIP area but they were allowed to serve it after 2. This has some smoked cherry wood. Got the cherry flavors framed by a little smoke. The lack of a head prepares you for a brew that is much like a hand-pulled cask ale. All flavor and little or no effervescence. 9.0 ABV.
The last was their Stout, Shuler’s favorite brew. He added, “Very drinkable and makes incredible bratwurst.” He was referring to a great way of prepping brats, pre-boil them in beer before grilling/baking… I meant to ask him if he adds onions or not.
“It is a very drinkable beer.” He suggests you don’t rush it because the flavors start to come out as it warms up. It’s nice cold, better warmer. A little smoke on top of coffee/toffee flavors. He suggested that if plan to drink 2 brews try ordering two at the same time, one maybe being an IPA that you might drink a bit quicker, and the other being the Stout. Sample the Stout then let it sit until after you finish your other brew. By then it will have warmed up and the real flavors come out.
By now I’ve been on the floor for over an hour and needed to make a decisiom where to go next. I stopped a couple taking selfies and asked them what they were really liking. Lisa V. told me she tried a Irish Honey Ale but couldn’t remember which brewer had it. So I set out to find it.
Weston Gaskill serving up Thomas Creek’s brews
Around the corner I found Thomas Creek where Weston Gaskill was serving up River Falls Red Ale, Trifecta IPA and their Atypical Series’ Banana Split Chocolate Stout. I told him he still wasnt “Katie”, a reference to Katie who was their marketing maven I met several years ago when we mounted a GoPro in the bottom of a beer pitcher and got shots of her filling it up.
I had their River Falls Red Ale the previous day during the media briefing so I wanted to try the others. The Trifecta IPA has a bit of sweetness on the roof of your mouth while being drier on the sides. Finishes surprisingly smoother as it warms up. Nice little IPA.
The Banana Split Chocolate Stout tastes like its name. Chocolate notes, banana and has a long finish that turns to coffee flavors. Gaskell said the Banana Split had been the most favorite so far. He suggests serving it at 50 degrees. Like most, they are stuck with keeping the kegs on ice for the other brews.
I took a photo of Gaskell serving a couple, David and Nicole, who are both Chicago ex-pats now living in Columbia. I asked them which of the local brews they’ve tried and David said, “I’m avoiding all of the local brews because I can get them anytime. I want to try things I can’t normally get.” So far he was liking about 95% of what he had tried. He added that he really enjoyed stopping by Goose Island, being a Chicago brewery.
Bryan O’Neal and David Lail with their Problem Solver
After nabbing a Thomas Creek coaster I recognized the brewer in the next both as Bryan O’Neal the brewer from Lancaster I met 2 years ago at the festival when he was a producing beer 1/2 barrel at a time. I didn’t recognize the brewery name on the beer sheet because back then he was changing his name from Boxcar Brewery, the name of the road where the brewery is located. He’s now Benford Brewing. He was on the verge of expanding when we last talked. He had some amazing brews then. He started brewing beer with a Mr. Beer kit someone gave him back in 2001. He developed his brew talents while running a pool installation business. I remember him telling me back then that some of the pool guys would occasionally be stuck with cleaning barrels.
He has gone from Mr. Beer to 1/2 barrel nano-brewer to now producing 30 barrels and “knocking it out in Tennessee.” Their first run of 40,000 cans sold out almost immediately. The pool business is gone saying “I finally sold it.” He is also South Carolina’s only Agricultural Brewery, which means that all of the grains from the brewing process is used to feed the animals on the farm. He started listing off the number of animals.. “7 heifers, 1 steer, 13….. ” I couldn’t keep up. You know you’re talking to a real farmer if he can name off the number every animal on the farm. He says he feeds them 2,000 lbs of grains per week. It also doesn’t hurt that water from the 3 springs on his farm provides a clean water source for brewing.
They were pouring 2 brews at their booth. I realized one was Irish Honey Ale, the one that Lisa V. had been praising. Unlike most of the brews I’ve had so far, this one is filtered. “I filter everything,” O’Neal said. “It’s got the malt backbone of a stout but an irish strain of yeast that gives it a honey finish. This is the house beer at Carowinds and is their biggest seller.”
The other on tap was the History and Heritage Vanilla Porter. Has madagascar vanilla beans and a lingering sweetness. The aroma shows the vanilla beans but the light mouthfeel makes for a drinkable beer. If you don’t go for heavy vanilla brews that taste like a milkshake you should try this brew.
The Problem Solver side label
They had cans/6-packs of their Problem Solver IPA, a golden amber that is not super hoppy and has a bittersweet honey finish. He couldn’t pour me any because it was only being served in the VIP area.
This 11.5% brew, says O’Neal, sparked an international controvery involving gypsy brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, of Evil Twin Brewing fame. Rather than explaining it he suggested reading the All About Beer write up. He’s right, too long to explain here but still a great story. (The cans being served in the VIP area were produced by Benford and were not the collaboration brew shown in the article. The label does thank Jeppe)
As luck would have it my armband got me into the VIP area. And my first stop was Problem Solver. Wow. What a brew. It is probably sweeter than any IPA you will ever try. O’Neal happened to walk by and I complimented him on it and saying it wasn’t like any IPA I’ve ever had. He said they make it like an IPA but somewhere along the way the flavor changes. “Might have something to do with the 90 pounds of hops we put in. It’s 109 IBU.” I think my internal spectrophotometer is broken. I would never guess the IBU was that high. I need to see if Green’s has this on tap because my beer buddies in Augusta wouldn’t believe this beer. (I’ll settle for cans if I can find them).
While I’m here in the VIP area I can’t pass up some brews I will never get to try otherwise. I know I need to be careful. One of the reasons why most brews are in the VIP area is that these are high gravity brews. Most are 10% and higher. By law they can only serve 1 oz brews at the higher ABVs. Easier to control in this setting. It’s up to the taster to be reasonable. I wanted to limit my self to 5 brews and changed my mind time five times. I stopped going down the line because as I saw the labels I kept changing my mind. I turned to two knowledgeable volunteers for their recommendations. I tempered their suggestions toward the South Carolina brews.
Goose Island’s Pere Jacques
I started with the Pere Jacques, a Belgian style abby ale from Goose Island (defintely not a South Carolina brew). I was hoping to meet someone from Goose Island upstairs to talk about their brews (long story for later) and thought this was a good start. The brown sugar flavors hit you. Unfiltered for sure. Really opens up as it warms up.
Next they recommended Boulevard’s Smokestack Series’ Stout Tart Cherry Stout 2015. Not sure what the real name is because it has Imperial Stout on the label with a slanted “Tart Cherry Stout” across it. (11% ABV). This Kansas City brew, sold in a 750 ml bottle, is very dark, has tart cherry flavors and is very bubbly. It has dark roasted caramel in the malts that takes backseat to the cherry. Not my favorite brew of the day. Maybe it would please my palate as it warms up but with a 1 oz. pour you don’t have enough to warm up.
My unnamed volunteer pours up some of the Conquest Brutus
Next on tap, literally, was Conquest Brutus, very dark, starts out very creamy then shifts to dry on the finish. As it warms you start to taste some banana flavors. Nice brew from a Columbia based brewery.
Also on tap was River Dog’s Percolatte, a coffee milk stout. Porter like aromas but has a hint of pine or maybe wintergreen in the flavors. Kinda like an adult milkshake said Frankie the volunteer and another taster. I really like this brew but I have trouble describing the coffee and milk stout flavors. I keep winding up on the sweet piney flavor hiding in the background. These guys are located in Ridgeland, South Carolina.
Next was Southern Barrel‘s Milk Stout. Now this was more in line with what I would expect from a milk stout. Dark in color, dark fruit aromas, sweet edge that reminds me of cherry flavored cough syrup. Don’t let that throw you off. It’s nice. Smooth with no bitterness. I would give this one a thumbs up. These guys are out of Bluffton, S.C.
Volunteer Frankie with the Stone’s Crime.
The other volunteer disappeared before I could get her name. I liked what she was recommending. Frankie steered me to Stone’s Crime, an ale infused with hot peppers and aged in bourbon barrels. Good luck getting through to the bourbon barrel tastes with those hot peppers. But then again if the bourbon barrels weren’t used this one would probably be too hot to drink. I think it’s time to get something to eat and drink water.
Matthew Hubbard, of Whole Foods, presents the last cheese/beer pairing
Time to head upstairs to find the special Cheese and Beer Pairing session. This was an extra fee and was limited to 55 participants per session. I got there as they were serving up the last beer and cheese.
Matthew Hubbard and Clay Gorton, of Whole Foods were presenting the beer and cheese.
The fifth beer was Green Man’s Porter and the cheese was a Borough Market Stilton from London’s Neal’s Yard Dairy. Very nice pairing. The Porter and the cheese blended nicely. The cheese was firm yet creamy. The beer was dark, full-bodied, malty with chocolate notes. I would enjoy either alone. Together is was amazing.
The Borough Market Stilton
Before I got there they had paired up Westbrook’s White Tai with Maple Leaf Smoked Gouda; Brooklyn Brewing Lager with Swiss Le Gruyere; Unknown Brewing Over the Edge IPA with Parmesan Sarveccho from Wisconsin and Warsteiner Pilsener with Metropolitan Triple Cream Brie.
Next year I’m reserving a ticket if they have this session again.
At the three-hour mark I’m finally at the upper level. I’ve only got 50 minutes. I stopped to take a pictue of some folks wearing viking helmets. Ann, Wes adn Natalie were having fun. Ann tells me “Oh my god the Bold Rock IPA Cider was amazing.” This dry hopped “India Pressed Apple” cider was featured during the media event. It is an incredible cider. Natalie was all about McKenzie’s Black Cherry Cider.
With 27 different ciders this year the festival decided to have a cider garden and that was on the upper level. But first I stopped by Goose Island where I found Kelly Blaiss, from KW Beverage, wearing a Goose Island T-Shirt. Sorry, no brewery reps here. I tried a toasted lager then realized she was pouring from the Blue Point taps. It was nice. Full bodied lager with a hint of toastiness. I stepped over to the where Claire, a volunteer was pouring and tried The Illinois, a sweet hoppy brew that is part of their Imperial Series.
Before I could head over to try the ciders another KW rep said “You have to check out Catawba Brewing.” He lead me over to their booth where I met Jim Birch, rep for Catawba, one of the 26 and counting breweries in Asheville. Their production brewery is in Morgantown, NC, and their flagship brew is White Zombie, a Belgian white ale at 5.1% ABV. Birch said it is comparable locally to Westbrook’s White Thai.
Jim Birch, Director of Wholesale Operations for Catawba Brewing.
“White Zombie is a really good beer for people getting into craft beers and not sure what to try,” Birch said. It’s got some orange peel and coriander, “smooth but not too heavy.”
I really like this white ale.
Some of their other offerings are Astral Bootie Beer, a sessionable IPA, and LeSexxxy Saison, a 7.6 ABV saison available in February and Mother Trucker, an American pale ale that’s available year round.
Jim Birch serving some of their offerings.
Another of their offerings is Peanut Butter Jelly Time, available in draft and cans in early March each year. which Birch says is one of our most popular speciality beers. It’s a brown ale that is aged on raspberry puree and roasted peanuts.
Their brews are available throughout the Carolinas (expansion into eastern North Carolina is taking place right now) and into eastern Tennesee.
One cool note, their logo features mountains but if you turn it upside down you realize it’s based on a map of the Carolinas.
Finally I made it over to the ciders. I talked with Richard, a rep with MacKenzie’s Hard Cider. I’m embarrassed to say I lost his business card so I don’t want to get his last name wrong. He said the Black Cherry is their best seller, quite possibly because of their use of natural flavorings. “It’s like a nice cherry soda.” They were also sampling their Pumpkin and Appie Pie ciders. The Apple Pie was so most popular that by 3PM they had to stop serving it save some for the second session. He was kind enough to sneak me a sample and it does taste like a apple pie in a bottle.
Kevin Ryan and Meredith Sutton of Service Brewing
Last stop. It’s 10 til 4. My last visit was to Service Brewing, a Savannah brewer that has helped put Savannah on the brew map. CEO Kevin Ryan and Creative Marketing Director Meredith Sutton were serving the last tasters when the last call announcement came. They are co-owners of the brewery, a must stop in downtown Savannah.
I barely had time to try their Lincoln’s Gift Oyster Stout. This is their winter seasonal. 5.5 ABV with a creamy start that finishes dry. Ryan told me they put the meat and shells from locally harvested oysters in the last 30 minutes of the boil. One of the more interesting winter seasonals I’ve ever had.
They also had their Honey Saison that they feature year-round in their tasting room. They use local honey from Savannah Bee Company. It has nice honey notes and a yeasty finish. The malts take a backside to the yeast. A great little brew.
Time’s up. That’s all I can do in four hours. I could have stayed for the second session but to be honest after 20 something brews and ciders I’m not sure I could be very objective. I wasn’t able to stop by and visit the Beglian Beer Garden they had setup on the lower level (That was an extra $15 fee). And in reality I only scratched the surface on the 20-plus South Carolina breweries.
The bottomline: I had a great time and tried some great brews. I applaud the folks at All About Beer Magazine for a great beer festival.